A historic ship stranded on a rivermouth bar after undergoing a $200,000 restoration is being wrecked.

The MV Tuhoe, built in 1919, became stranded on the Waimakariri River bar, just north of Christchurch on Sunday.

Efforts to refloat the 96-year-old wooden vessel - well-known by generations in the Canterbury township of Kaiapoi - failed.

A tough decision to deconstruct the water-logged ship was made this morning after being battered by waves.

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A heartbroken MV Tuhoe Kaiapoi Riverton Trust chairman Philip Redmond says parts of the boat -- looked after by volunteers for decades -- will be returned to them.

The mast, wheelhouse and other memorabilia are being recovered in the deconstruction which could take weeks.

Mr Redmond hoped that given time the trust, which took ownership of the vessel in 2004 and operates cruises on the Kaiapoi and Waimakariri rivers, could exhibit parts of the vessel.

Diesel and oil have already been taken off the ship.

Environment Canterbury Regional Harbourmaster Jim Dilley said some deconstruction work started today but would get underway in earnest tomorrow.

He said once the tide had dropped tomorrow they would start to break the boat apart, moving the pieces onto the beach.

MV Tuhoe, understood to be the last working ship of its type in New Zealand, had just undergone $200,000 of restoration work at Lyttelton.