The mother who had her young son plucked from the ocean by a fisherman said the incident felt like a nightmare and her heart stopped beating.

Jessica Whyte told Stuff she was woken by the camp manager at Matata Beach to the news her son had been found floating in the sea.

Whyte said the news dealt like a sick joke when she was told at 7.30am and it was "horrible in between hearing that and seeing him".

"I don't think my heart [beat] from hearing that to seeing him. I don't think my heart worked," she said.

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Gus Hutt, who had been fishing at the beach, said the toddler looked like a porcelain doll, his short hair wetted down and floating still in the water.

"As he floated past I thought he was just a doll," Hutt said.

"So, I reached out and grabbed him by the arm; even then I still thought it was just a doll.

"His face looked just like porcelain with his short hair wetted down, but then and he let out a little squeak and I thought 'oh God this is a baby and it's alive'."

It was simply luck that Hutt was there to save the 18-month-old after he had escaped from his parents' tent at Murphy's Holiday Camp early on October 26.

Usually, Hutt heads straight out from the camp to fish from the beach, but on Friday he decided to walk 100 metres to the left, towards Tauranga.

After returning to check his lines at 7.15am, he saw the seemingly lifeless baby floating in the water.

"He was floating at a steady pace with a rip in the water. If I hadn't been there, or if I had just been a minute later I wouldn't have seen him," said Hutt.

"He was bloody lucky, but he just wasn't meant to go; it wasn't his time."

Hutt's wife, Sue, ran to the parents' tent after the holiday camp managers said they were the only ones staying with a baby.

Whyte told Stuff she gave her son a big hug when she saw him again, describing the entire ordeal as terrifying.

"It was scary but he was breathing, he was alive," she said.

"Oh God, it was amazing seeing him. I gave him a big hug."

Emergency services arrived with the Matata Volunteer Fire Brigade treating the boy for 15 minutes before an ambulance arrived to take him to Whakatāne Hospital.

The baby had pulled the zip up on the parents' tent while they were sleeping and crawled underneath the flap before making his way down to the beach.

When the parents stopped by to thank Hutt before returning to their home in Matamata he said you wouldn't have thought anything had happened.

"He was wriggling trying to get down to have a look at everything, he was just a lovely, cheeky little fella."

The Hutts are still a little shaken after the incident but are grateful Hutt was there at the right time.