Three people have been rescued near the notorious Waikato River mouth sand bar after a passing boatie followed debris floating in the water, including a chilly bin.
It's understood the trio got into difficulty about 10:30am on Saturday when their vessel hit a wave and capsized, leaving them in the water with only one lifejacket between the three of them, Coastguard New Zealand says.
They had not logged a report about crossing the bar.
Shortly before midday Coastguard Radio was notified that someone who had just crossed the bar saw debris.
Surf Lifeguards from Sunset Beach also reported a sighting on a capsized vessel.
A search was launched while the boatie on the spot followed the debris trail and found three people, who had been in the water for about two hours.
One with a laceration to their hand was transferred to a Waiuku Rescue vessel and taken to shore where an ambulance was waiting.
"We can't stress enough the importance of carrying two forms of communication with you and logging a bar crossing report with Coastguard Radio," says Coastguard Duty Officer Tony Winyard.
"The men are extremely lucky that the member of the public raised the alarm when they did," he said.
Wearing a lifejacket, especially at times of risk such as crossing a bar will save your life, says Mr Winyard.
New Zealand has a number of bar harbours, particularly on its west coast. These are harbours that have a shallow sand bar across the entrance which can create dangerous conditions in certain winds and tides.
A system of notifying an intention to cross and completion of the crossing operates.
In November 2016 eight of the 11 men on board a fishing charter vessel died after it capsized crossing the bar at Kaipara Harbour.