Three people were forced to jump from a sinking boat and swim to safety near Little Barrier Island tonight.

Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter flew to help after being told at 6pm a boat carrying three people - described as two adults and one young adult - was sinking, the helicopter trust's communications manager Lincoln Davies said.

"Enroute crew were notified by Coastguard that a boat in the vicinity had picked up ... three passengers from the sinking boat. [They] had swum to the other boat and were wearing lifejackets.

"When the Westpac 1 helicopter arrived, the stricken boat was fully engulfed in flames."

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The helicopter pilot made several orbits around the burning boat to make sure all onboard were accounted for and, after being told none needed medical help, returned to base.