A man and a woman drowned and another person was in a serious condition last night after an incident at a beach near Raglan.

The deaths ended a tragic Christmas Day for several families after drownings were reported around New Zealand.

Police were called to Ruapuke Beach, on Waikato's west coast, at 5.30pm, after a woman in her 40s died and another person was pulled from the water. A Westpac rescue helicopter flew the survivor to Waikato Hospital in a serious condition.

The body of another person, a 33-year-old man, was found by a Coastguard vessel about 6.40pm.

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Coastguard, surf lifesavers, firefighters, police, ambulance and search and rescue volunteers were all called to the incident, the circumstances of which were initially uncertain because of language difficulties.

Earlier in the day, a youth was swept out to sea after being caught in a rip at a Whanganui beach.

Emergency services were called to Castlecliff Beach about 3.55pm, but extensive searching by air, land and water had not found any sign of the 17-year-old by about 9.30 last night and the effort was suspended. The search was to resume first thing today.

In Hawkes Bay, surf lifesavers tried desperately for almost an hour to revive a 3-year-old boy found in a lagoon at a beach. The toddler was with extended family and friends at Ocean Beach just south of Cape Kidnappers. He was found by a relative in the lagoon, about 400m away from the flagged area, just before 2pm.

Surf Life Saving NZ spokesman Jacob Davies said two guards called to the scene by a member of the public did CPR for 40 to 45 minutes with the assistance of members of the public until firefighters and a rescue helicopter crew took over.

The little boy's body was flown to Hawke's Bay Hospital in the Lowe Corporation chopper.

An NZME photographer at the scene shortly after the drowning said the mood was sombre. He said there were about 100 cars parked at the beach and people were standing around watching as the little boy was taken to the helicopter.

"I spoke to a few people who had been there and they were all very upset by the whole thing," he said.

It appeared the boy's immediate family had been taken away by police.

Senior Sergeant Bruce Adams of the police national dive squad said the deaths were avoidable tragedies; "they are not accidents".

"With the great weather over the country, and the desire to get out on and in the water, police plead with the public to take care. Please actively monitor those with you and stay in arm's length of children at all times.

"People need to keep an eye on conditions and changes in water and weather and need to stay well within their abilities, treat the water with respect and caution and avoid alcohol.

"Our beaches, rivers and lakes become more inviting as the holiday period and summer temperatures approach, but we urge everyone to be cautious before taking the plunge," Mr Adams said.

"Being safety conscious takes a little time but it's worth it.

"We all need to take time to consider all activities around water this coming festive season.

"Make sure your equipment and water toys are appropriate for the activity taking place, that you are familiar with how they operate and remember that if all else fails you can save yourself by ensuring your swimming ability is right for the conditions or you are wearing a life jacket," Mr Adams said.

Water Safety New Zealand figures show 93 people had drowned this year up to Christmas Eve. Last year, 90 people drowned.

This month, Water Safety New Zealand launched a campaign aiming to "get people thinking about the importance of water safety".

Chief executive Matt Claridge said New Zealand ranked in the top four worst countries in the OECD for death by drowning.

As well as the 90 people who drowned last year, 180 others were admitted to hospital. Thirty-five were preschoolers; eight died.

"It sounds simple," Mr Claridge said, "but if we can get New Zealanders to pause and think about how they will keep themselves safe before heading out on or around the water then we're a large way towards driving a cultural change that makes water safety a priority."

- Additional reporting: Hawke's Bay Today