Matata Beach, NZ-A fisherman has been hailed a hero after rescuing an 18-month-old boy he found floating in the water.

Fisherman Gus Hutt was checking his lines off Matata Beach, northeast of Rotorua on New Zealand’s North Island, on October 26 when he noticed the boy in a rip about 7.15am, Stuff.co.nz reports. Mr Hutt said he initially thought the little boy was a doll.

“I reached out and grabbed him by the arm; even then I still thought it was just a doll,” Mr Hutt said.

“His face looked just like porcelain with his short hair wetted down, but then he let out a little squeak and I thought ‘oh God, this is a baby and it’s alive’.”

Mr Hutt added the boy was “bloody lucky” he chose to check his lines, believing the child could have been pulled away in the rip.

He told his wife Sue about the baby he had saved and she located his parents, who were staying in a nearby holiday camp.

The boy’s mum Jessica Whyte said the camp manager woke her up to news her son had been found floating at sea.

“I don’t think my heart (beat) from hearing that to seeing him. I don’t think my heart worked,” Ms Whyte said.

Luckily, Ms Whyte’s son was OK. It turns out he had unzipped his parents’ tent while they were sleeping and escaped. However, he was still hospitalised as a precaution.

Mr Hutt said he later followed the little boy’s tracks in the sand down to the water and estimates he wasn’t in the water for very long.

Local fire and emergency authorities advised parents camping with toddlers make sure that zippers are out of reach.