Lifeguards have just finished one of their busiest weekends in recent memory, with reports of exhausted volunteers at northern beaches limping home after 12-hour days.

Yet swimmers continue to do dumb things, including swimming far outside the flags and repeatedly getting caught in rips.

Surf Life Saving Northern Region (SLSNR) volunteer lifeguards have been doing longer hours to make sure people stay safe, chief executive Matt Williams said.

Guards at Muriwai Beach on Auckland's west coast had the busiest two days patrolling, plucking 41 people from the water, including 13 in one mass rescue on Saturday afternoon.

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Williams was astounded at the lengths volunteers went to in looking after the beachgoers, and was concerned at reports of lifeguards "literally limping off the beach after an almost 12-hour day".

Volunteers have been doing more hours as people stay at the beach longer than normal.

"Muriwai for example extended their volunteer patrol till 7pm – they still had more than 1200 people on the beach - and around 300 in the water - at 6pm."

One Muriwai swimmer probably also owes his life to the sharp eyes of patrol captain Damian Molloy and Rescue Water Craft (RWC) operator Andrew Lancaster who spotted the man entering the water 1km down the beach from the patrolled area.

The man disappeared after one rough wave doubled up and Molley immediately sent a crew down to check. The man was found barely afloat in the water. He was taken to hospital and is understood to have recovered.

Williams said the man owed his life to a lifeguard.

"To say he's a lucky guy is a gross understatement. But this simply bears out the folly of attempting to swim outside the flagged area when the conditions are this dangerous."

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From 12pm-2pm yesterday Muriwai Beach had more people than there had been for several years, Muriwai Volunteer Lifeguard Service head lifeguard Oliver Tyack said.

A bad rip and trough in the middle of the beach, running south, caught many swimmers out, and flash rips had also opened up around the flagged area during the two-hour period.

"Despite lifeguards' efforts a number of swimmers got caught in the rips, some – frustratingly - up to four times each," Tyack said.

"We also assisted 70 people back to safety before they got to the point of needing rescue. Our resources were really stretched."

Surf Life Saving Northern Region volunteers in training at Muriwai Beach. Volunteers have extended their hours as more swimmers stay at the beach into the evening. 2File photo / Jason Oxenham
Surf Life Saving Northern Region volunteers in training at Muriwai Beach. Volunteers have extended their hours as more swimmers stay at the beach into the evening. 2File photo / Jason Oxenham

Also on the west coast, Karekare Beach saw nine rescues and 30 assists, while Sunset Beach had one rescue and nine assists.

Peak headcount across all the SLSNR beaches was more than 18,000. More than 2600 preventative actions were carried out.

Nobody drowned at Northern Region beaches this weekend thanks to "exceptional" volunteers, Williams said.

Around the country there have been four drownings in the past few days, including a man who drowned at Waimarama Beach and a 16-year-old who was swept away in the Rangitikei River.