Authorities are urging people to be careful when it comes to setting off distress flares after one mistakenly let off sparked a full emergency response last night.

A Coastguard rescue vessel, local police, a police Eagle helicopter and the NZ Defence Force were all called on after a distress flare was seen in the sky just off the Whangaparāoa Peninsula just before 11pm.

Coastguard duty officer Nico Doodeman said they received multiple calls from the public -including one from a helicopter in the area of Te Haruhi Bay, or Shakespeare Regional Park and beach.

A police Eagle helicopter was immediately sent to the scene, as were local police officers on the ground.

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A Coastguard rescue vessel was tasked and the NZDF was preparing to help in the search also when a member of the public called police to say he had set the flare off by accident.

"It was foolish to let off a distress flare, but we're thankful the member of the public called police, as it could've cost a lot."

Doodeman said had the phone call not come through, they would have potentially spent hours out on the water and around the area searching for a vessel that was not in trouble.

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It was later found out that the flare had been set off on land - near Shakespeare Beach - where a number of people were gathered at the time, he said.

As a result of the incident, the Coastguard is set to release a reminder and call for people to be extra careful when handling distress flares.