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Home > Search And Rescue > Hoax or False Alarm

Hoax or False Alarm

"MAYDAY!  MAYDAY!  Please!  Somebody help!"

For over 200 years the U.S. Coast Guard has responded to distress calls at sea.  But lately, more and more of those calls are found to be false -- hoaxes sent by people looking for kicks.  In 1990, the first year the U.S. Coast Guard began keeping statistics on rescue hoaxes, Coast Guard units responded to 205 hoaxes.  This number has increased steadily every year.  The U.S. Coast Guard, along with the Federal Communications Commission and other agencies, is very concerned about the increasing number of search and rescue hoaxes.

Hoaxes hurt everyone:

  • The U.S. Coast Guard by placing our people in danger by operating ships, boats and aircraft, responding to these false distress calls;

  • The taxpayer by wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars annually; and

  • Those really in distress at sea by diverting resources away from legitimate search and rescue cases.

Are there penalties for issuing a false distress call?  Yes.

  • 6 years in prison

  • $250,000 criminal fine

  • $5,000 civil fine

  • Reimbursing the U.S. Coast Guard for the cost of performing the search

*How much does the U.S. Coast Guard spend on its search and rescue cases?  Plenty:

  • Each hour a U.S. Coast Guard aircraft is aloft costs about $12,742 - and several may be used in a single search.

  • Our medium size ships, referred to as cutters, cost roughly $5,547 an hour to run.

  • Even a U.S. Coast Guard small boat costs $1,855 per hour to operate.

Is there a way you, as a law-abiding taxpayer, can help?  Yes.  If you hear a hoax call, or you have information which might lead to the perpetrator of a hoax, call the nearest U.S. Coast Guard unit or contact the Federal Communications Commission.

Additional Reading...

* From an article "Search and Rescue is no Joke" U.S. Coast Guard Search And Rescue, 28 Sep 2004, U.S. Coast Guard.

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