Hoaxes: Not a joke

National Safe Boating Week is here! Compass is sharing important safety tips throughout the week and today’s includes two important things you can do with regards to hoax calls.

Hoax calls divert life-saving assets, waste hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars and are illegal. U.S. Coast Guard Photo.

Hoax calls divert life-saving assets, waste hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars and are illegal. U.S. Coast Guard Photo.

Written by Lt. Davey Connor.

Say the word hoax out loud. It sounds similar to the noise you might make if something was stuck in your throat. Just like something stuck in your throat, hoaxes are obstructions to the life-saving work that the Coast Guard does. Hoaxes waste vital search and rescue resources and unnecessarily put the men and women who selflessly serve as first responders at risk.

In 2012, a single hoax caller prompted a 21-hour search on the Great Lakes when he reported a distress flare coming up from a boat as he flew over Lake Erie near Cleveland. His lie drew a 140-foot U.S. Coast Guard cutter, three smaller rescue boats, a rescue helicopter and a Canadian C-130 Hercules airplane.

The caller later admitted his lie and pleaded guilty to making a false distress call. A federal judge sentenced him to serve three months in prison and pay restitution of $277,000 to the U.S. Coast Guard and $212,000 to the Canadian Armed Forces. Those staggering numbers reflect how expensive search-and-rescue operations can be.

The Coast Guard seeks out, apprehends and prosecutes hoax callers that threaten the ability to save lives, but we rely on members of the boating public too. Want to save lives? Here are two things you can do that will make a big difference:

Do not tolerate anyone sending hoax calls.

Many calls originate at marinas, so they might be happening around you. If you know of or overhear someone sending a hoax call, report it to your local Coast Guard or civilian law enforcement agency. The Coast Guard maintains regional command centers across the nation, staffed around-the-clock to respond to distress calls. Anyone can report suspected hoax calls.

Do not let children play near radio equipment.

We take every distress call seriously. A child’s voice calling for help may elicit an emergency response. Inform children how serious a call for help can be. If you overhear a child calling for help over a marine radio, stop them and use the same radio to let the Coast Guard know it was a false alarm.

Hoax calls diminish the Coast Guard’s ability to keep boaters safe on the water. Recent upgrades to communication equipment make it easier for the service to identify, apprehend and prosecute hoax callers, but the Coast Guard still needs your help in eliminating this threat to all who recreate on the water.

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