DETROIT (WWJ) – A lot of people are hitting the water now that summer is in full swing. But the U.S. Coast Guard is asking you to think twice about sending out a distress call if you really don’t need them.
Making a phony distress call on the water could land you in prison and cost you a fine upwards of $255,000. And it’s no joke, as the number of fake distress calls on the Great Lakes has tripled so far this year over last year. The Coast Guard has received more than 160 false reports this year, when it had 55 at this time last year.
The calls are made by phone or over a marine radio by a person claiming to be in distress to intentionally deceive others and cause an unnecessary search. Many of the calls are made by young children playing on the radio who may not understand the implications of their actions.
“Anyone there? Please, tell us. We’re stuck and we’re stranded. We’re all tired. We’re all hungry. Please come back,” a young girl called over the radio on May 16.
But adults make the hoax calls, too. One man called to say a plane was crashing on May 11.
“Mayday! Mayday! We’ve got a plane going down. Mayday! Mayday!”
Capt. Joseph McGilley said the Coast Guard treats all emergency calls as if they were real until it can be proved otherwise.
“False distress and hoax calls expose not only Coast Guard rescuers, but our partner agencies and other mariners to unnecessary risks, and potentially take away personnel and resources from real emergencies,” McGilley said in a statement.
Anyone who knowingly makes false distress calls can face up to six years in prison, a $250,000 fine, $5,000 civil penalty, and possible reimbursement to the Coast Guard for the cost of performing the search.
The average cost of launching a Coast Guard response boat is about $4,500 an hour, while the cost of a Coast Guard helicopter involved in a search could run as high $16,000 an hour. A hoax mayday case can sometimes last an average of three hours before it is called off.
The Coast Guard says it works closely with the Federal Communications Commission and law enforcement partners to track and pinpoint potential hoax calls. Earlier this year, a Chicago man was sentenced to six months in prison, three years of supervisory release and ordered to pay the Coast Guard $28,181 in restitution for knowingly calling in false distress calls about a body in the Chicago River on two separate occasions in 2014.
If you make a distress call in error or learn that a distress call was made by accident or by a child, you’re advised to contact authorities, or the Ninth District Command Center at 216-902-6117, so that personnel and units can stand down.