It was a bit strange when one of the men jumped from his burning boat into the sea with a heavy set of spanners in his pockets.

It was also a bit odd that none of the trio could tell rescuer Steve Franich whether their boat was petrol or diesel.

But Franich gave them a beer anyway to calm their nerves as they watched the boat get swallowed by huge flames and sink into the Hauraki Gulf.

He now regrets that generosity, as he believes the boat was stolen.

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About 6pm on Friday night, Franich and his friends heard the mayday call across the maritime radio channel that a boat near Te Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier was sinking, but it couldn't give its co-ordinates.

They weren't far away as they were on their way to Great Barrier to go hapuka and marlin fishing.

"Just by sheer chance we looked into the distance and saw the only boat there and the nose was pointing the wrong way from the way it was drifting, so we thought that must be it."

About a mile away from it, they saw two big puffs of white smoke come from the boat so went over to see if they were okay.

When they got closer, it looked like some of the lettering on the boat's name had been ripped off.

The Herald understands a boat with the same name was stolen from the Weiti Boating Club on the Whangaparāoa peninsula on Wednesday morning.

A picture one of the rescuers took when they went to save three people from a burning boat in the Hauraki Gulf. Photo / Steve Franich
A picture one of the rescuers took when they went to save three people from a burning boat in the Hauraki Gulf. Photo / Steve Franich

Two young men and a boy Franich believed to be about 13 years old were onboard, all wearing lifejackets ready for a rescue.

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"And they said: 'No, we're on fire'. I said: 'Well I can't see anything.'

But within 10 seconds of Franich being there, it went up in a thick black smoke so the trio jumped in the water and swam over.

"We got them sorted with some dry towels, but it all seemed pretty funny to me.

"At one point the guy was telling me it was insured, then it wasn't insured, that it was a petrol boat but then it was a diesel boat.

"I gave them a beer, which I now wish I hadn't have," Franich told the Herald.

Two men and a boy were rescued from this burning boat near Little Barrier. Photo / Steve Franich
Two men and a boy were rescued from this burning boat near Little Barrier. Photo / Steve Franich

He asked the group what the puffs of white smoke were.

"And he said, 'Oh mate, that wasn't white smoke, it was the fire extinguisher that we squirted in the air so we could see it'.

"And I went, 'Wouldn't you use that for the fire?'

One of the men told Franich that the boat's motor started to rev really high and wouldn't stop then started to burn.

"Then when I thought about it yesterday, I knew exactly what happened - the dopey pricks have put bloody petrol in it instead of diesel."

Another head-scratcher for Franich was why one of the men decided to save his "lucky" set of big and heavy spanners and swam with them in his pockets.

"Why would you save your spanners? The mind boggles."

A photo one of the rescuers took of the burning boat. Photo / Steve Franich
A photo one of the rescuers took of the burning boat. Photo / Steve Franich

When they got to the wharf at Great Barrier, Franich said they got some "glory photos" with the trio who were all more than happy to get a happy snap.

"They all stepped in to get a picture like dummies."

Franich has since sent the photos to the police.

A police spokesman has confirmed they've received a report of the stolen boat and are making inquiries but couldn't comment further.