One person is dead and three others winched to safety after a yacht they were in sank north of Cape Brett have been admitted to Whangārei Hospital.

The New Zealand Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre received a distress call from the occupants of a 47-foot yacht floundering in choppy seas, about 20km north of Cape Brett, about 1pm today.

Communication from the four sailors said they were abandoning their vessel, having lost their liferaft in the five to six-metre swells and 40- to 50-knot gusts.

A Coastguard Bay of Islands Rescue vessel, a Navy Seasprite helicopter, an Air Force Orion aircraft and a Westpac Rescue Helicopter from Auckland were dispatched.

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The Orion located the four people in the water around 2.47pm and dropped a raft, before the Westpac Rescue Helicopter winched them up, but one of the people died.

One sailor was in a critical condition while two others were in moderately unwell.

They were flown to the Northland Rescue Helicopter base on Western Hills Dr before being transported by ambulances to Whangārei Hospital.

The Bay of Islands rescue vessel was nearly halfway to the sunken yacht before the survivors were located and winched from the water.

Police are in process of notifying the dead sailor's next of kin.

Investigations on what caused the yacht to sink and where the sailors were heading to are ongoing.