Lifeguards warn Kiwis to 'stay out of the water' during lockdown

For anyone considering flouting the lockdown rules and heading for a surf or out in their boat, lifeguards have a stern message: "Stay out of the water".

With the country currently at alert level 4 and stringent self-isolation rules imposed on all Kiwis, Surf Life Saving New Zealand is reminding people that escaping to the ocean is not an option.

Regular beach patrols have been discontinued and although lifeguards will still help in some critical situations, responding to callouts puts them and their families at risk.

Matt Williams, chief executive of Surf Life Saving Northern Region, says lifeguards were alerted to an emergency situation just "hours before lockdown" on Wednesday at a remote stretch of coast south of Raglan. However, with lockdown pending and the safety of staff on the line "we made the call actually not to send our lifeguards", Williams told The AM Show.

"So for that person in the water they didn't have lifeguards respond and we really wanted to push that message to the public: the safest thing you can do is stay out of the water right now."

Although lifeguards would still undertake rescues in some cases, Williams said response time would be significantly slower.

"Surf Life Saving has historically had a very rapid response [but] it will be upwards of 30 minutes in this environment. So if someone gets in trouble are they going to be able to self-survive or maintain themselves for 30 minutes? Again, that's why we're leading to say 'stay out of the water'."

Williams said while lifeguards won't be stopping people from entering the water, the onus is on Kiwis to be responsible with their decisions.

"I think we need to be reasonable on everything in this dynamic environment and people need to make the right choices - ultimately if that person got in trouble for whatever reason lifeguards would not be there to respond, and we need to base our decisions based on that, taking that into account," he said.

There have been many questions around what exactly is allowed during lockdown. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said it's ok to nip out to the supermarket or pharmacy or to go for a walk around the block, but if you want to use the local playground you're out of luck.

On Thursday, Police Commissioner Mike Bush said police "absolutely discourage" any driving that isn't essential, and when you do head out you must "keep it local".

"Don't be driving willy-nilly all over town. For me, it's all about if it's nearby if it's for exercise - that's okay."

Police also confirmed on Thursday that locals are allowed to drive to the beach if it's close by for the purpose of walking or exercise, but people were discouraged from driving along the beach.

Bush also stressed that marine activities where there was a risk people might need rescuing - including swimming - were a no-no.

"With any marine activity there is always a risk you will need assistance or rescuing. This would mean volunteers having to come out of isolation and placing themselves and their families at risk."

The lockdown will last for at least four weeks.