A teenage girl swam ashore and ran 2km across a remote and rugged shoreline to call for help after the boat she was on capsized on the North Island's East Coast this morning.

One person, a man in believed to be in his 60s, died after the boat with three people on board flipped near White Rock on the Mahia Peninsula, police said.

Police were alerted to the incident after the 13-year-old girl swam ashore and ran 2km to the nearest house to raise the alarm.

A man involved in rescue efforts, who did not wish to be named, said there had been three people on board the boat when it flipped.

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As the teenager ran for help, the boat's skipper tried to resuscitate the man.

"The young girl would have ran about 2km and it's all rocky," he said.

"The other chap, who was the skipper of the boat, he did 20 minutes trying to resuscitate the patient."

He said the girl ran until she reached the nearest house with a phone.

"It would've taken a fair while for her to get there, maybe not quite an hour but a while."

A rescue operation involving local boats, the Coastguard and rescue helicopters from Hawkes Bay and Gisborne was launched. Investigations had now begun to establish how the accident occurred, police said.

A St John spokeswoman said the ambulance service had gone in by four-wheel drive and treated a patient at the scene.

An ECT Rescue Helicopter spokeswoman said a helicopter was dispatched, but had since returned to Gisborne.

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"The rescue helicopter was immediately dispatched ... and when he arrived there was CPR in progress."

The Lowe Corporation Rescue Helicopter crew also responded to the incident but said no one was airlifted by rescue helicopter.

A spokeswoman from Coastguard New Zealand said the Gisborne Coastguard unit was contacted by police for a search operation, but then stood down.

Today's tragedy was the second fatal boating incident to hit Mahia in the last month.

On October 16, Mahia local Malcolm Blake, 57, died, after the boat he was on flipped. The three other people on board survived.