Heroic off-duty coastguard dived in raging seas to rescue couple

An Auckland coastguard has been given Search and Rescue's highest honour at a ceremony in Wellington on Wednesday night.

Ray Burge put his life on the line when he swam out in rough waters to rescue a couple who found themselves in trouble.

Mr Burge said he was just doing his job - but his actions have earned him a Search and Rescue Gold Award.

"I don't feel like a hero, I just did what I was supposed to do," he told Newshub.

On a Sunday afternoon last December, Mr Burge was off-duty, out on a drive with his family to get ice-creams when he spotted a distressed man in the water by Waiomanu Beach.

After speaking with the man's children, Mr Burge phoned the Coastguard before springing into action.

"I don't think I'd call it the survival instinct, but you know you've got to go out and help someone," Mr Burge said.

"If I hadn't gone in I don't think he'd be here today."

Mr Burge, who says he's a strong swimmer but not an endurance swimmer, swam out 200 metres, calmed the man down, got him on his back, and brought him back to shore - all in high winds and high waves.

"I actually stopped about five metres out and thought, 'I need to assess the risk here', because if he grabbed me we'd both be in serious trouble."

Mr Burge's family had learned the man had gone in to try and rescue his wife, who was still out there. Mr Burge radioed the rescue boat, which got her out safely.

"It was a pretty full-on hour or so, from woe to go," he said.

While acknowledging Mr Burge's actions, Search and Rescue says his training and experience is what saved those two lives.

Secretariat manager Duncan Ferner says not enough people know their limits when going in to help someone.

"We see some pretty tragic situations where are attempting to rescue other people and they end up drowning while the person they're trying to rescue manages to recover or is rescued by somebody else," he told Newshub.

Mr Burge credits his family for their efforts on the day too, staying on the shore, making calls, and gathering information.

"I was the one who jumped in the water but they all had a part to play in it," he said.

Typically humble, Mr Burge says it's just lucky he was there, and knew his capabilities.