An off-duty Coastguard volunteer spent 30 minutes trying to save the life of a woman whose boat tipped in the Far North surf on Friday, a local fisherman says.

The woman, aged in her 60s, was one of four people to drown in the first three days of the official holiday drowning toll period. Two others on board the runabout escaped with minor injuries.

The tragedy unfolded about 11am close to shore in Rangaunu Bay, Houhora Fishing Charters owner Rob Parker said.

He was in nearby Houhora Bay, fishing with two clients.

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"I heard a woman on the local Far North [VHF] radio in a distressed voice saying she needed help because there was a boat overturned in the surf."

Houhora Fishing Charters owner Rob Parker was fishing with clients when he heard over VHF radio the efforts to save three boaties when their runabout overturned in the Far North. Photo / Supplied
Houhora Fishing Charters owner Rob Parker was fishing with clients when he heard over VHF radio the efforts to save three boaties when their runabout overturned in the Far North. Photo / Supplied

Parker couldn't go to help as he couldn't put his clients, who also heard the distress call and were upset by it, at risk.

But he later spoke to a Coastguard volunteer who also heard the woman over the radio.

The man was going out fishing but turned around and headed to those in distress, Parker said.

Three people ended up in the water, one of whom was trapped under the boat, during the emergency, Coastguard northern region head of operations Rob McCaw told the Herald.

A Coastguard boat carrying between three and five volunteers was immediately sent to help those in trouble, he said.

On his own boat, Parker heard the drama unfolding by radio.

Later, he heard those on the stricken boat were on the beach.

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"[They were saying], 'There's three people lying on the sand'."

When his Coastguard volunteer friend arrived, he caught a ride on a jet ski to land on the beach and help the woman who had been trapped under the boat, which he understood was a Scorpion "tinnie", Parker said.

"He did CPR on the woman for half an hour before a doctor came."

The doctor pronounced the woman, who has not yet been named, dead at the scene, McCaw said.

Parker, who has been taking fishing charters for 20 years, believed she was from the area and was on board with her husband and another man.

Conditions at the time were calm with not much wind, but Rangaunu Bay had "dumping waves".

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"You only need half a metre to dump a boat over ... I've been waiting for this to happen, because people are so blase," he said, referring to instances of speeding boats in the harbour and people, including children, not wearing life jackets.

The tragedy occurred in Rangaunu Bay, in the Far North. Image / Google Maps
The tragedy occurred in Rangaunu Bay, in the Far North. Image / Google Maps

McCaw said he didn't know if those on the boat yesterday were wearing life jackets.

But not wearing life jackets was one of a trifecta of poor decisions which were in his experience "asking for trouble".

Second was not carrying two forms of communication - one being a VHF radio and the other a cell phone, which should be tethered to someone on board and kept in a waterproof bag.

Third was not checking the marine weather forecast before going out, McCaw said.

"And not your Apple weather app but on the MetService or Coastguard apps."

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READ MORE:
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The woman who died on Friday was the fourth person to drown during the official holiday period, which began at 4pm on Christmas Eve and ends on January 3.

Two died in Northland on Christmas Day - a male crabber at Uretiti Beach and a snorkeller at Kai Iwi Lakes.

Hamilton man Perry Meehan, 60, died on Boxing Day when he got into trouble while swimming at Onemana Beach, north of Whangamatā.

The deaths came after 1-year-old Te Ariki Lee died in Christchurch Hospital on Christmas Eve after his life support was switched off. The boy had been found "drowned in the garden" by his mother two days earlier.

Meanwhile, it was a quiet day for rescues around Surf Life Saving Northern Region beaches today.

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Two people were rescued - one at Pakiri Beach and one at Omaha Beach.