Coast Guard completes summer search and rescue season; significant increases noted

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — The Coast Guard in Northern New England noted a significant increase in the number of search and rescue cases compared to the past few years.

This year between Memorial Day and Labor Day, there were 420 search and rescue cases, a 25 percent increase from 2008.

Of those, there were 146 disabled boaters, 35 unmanned adrift vessels, and 32 reports of people in the water. Twelve people were saved, but eight died during the 2008 season. In the 2009 summer season, 23 people were saved, but 13 died.

The number of unmanned adrift paddle boats and hoax distress calls were still high this year.

Mariners are reminded that hoax distress calls placed to the Coast Guard are classified as a felony punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

“Please teach your boat passengers proper radio etiquette and set the example by not playing on the radio,” said Cmdr. Phillip Thorne, chief of the response department at Sector Northern New England. “Our Coast Guard crews face risks each and every time they respond to a call – including hoax calls and reports of abandoned or adrift vessels. Not only do these cases put responsible mariners in danger, the time and resources expended are a needless waste of money.”

Mariners are also reminded to label their paddle boats with current contact information.

As the air and water temperatures in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont grow colder each day, personnel at Coast Guard Sector Northern New England are reminding mariners to take extra precautions on the water.

Boaters, paddlers, sailors, fishermen and hunters should carry extra gear to protect them from the cold, plan for what might go wrong, and be equipped and prepared for survival.

“We don’t want to keep people from enjoying the water this fall; we just want them to be fully aware of the potential for things to go wrong and to be prepared for the worst-case scenario,” said Capt. Jim McPherson, commander of Sector Northern New England. “Colder weather compounds the problems mariners may face if they find themselves in distress and decreases their chances of survival dramatically if they find themselves in the water.”

On Aug. 2, 2009, a petty officer from Station Eastport, Maine, helped rescue a 21-year old man who fell from the Eastport pier, after two people witnessed him fall in the 53-degrees Fahrenheit water. Click here for photo.

McPherson said this young man was fortunate that he fell near help and that the circumstances may have been different if he was by himself with no one around.

In another incident on Aug. 23, 2009, the Coast Guard saved two lives and recovered one person when several victims were swept into the water by a large wave off Acadia National Park, Maine. Click here for the full story and visual imagery.

“Use common sense around the water, and do not underestimate Mother Nature,” Thorne said. “This case was a prime example of how important it is to be aware of your surroundings and to pay attention to warnings from the authorities.”

Boaters are also urged to follow these safety rules:

  • Leave a float plan with a responsible individual who knows your intentions, location, and who they should call if you do not return as scheduled.
  • Wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket and set the example for your passengers or paddling partners.
  • Carry a VHF radio and other reliable means of communication.
  • Be prepared for the shock of sudden immersion and the disabling effects of cold water. Plan for the worst by dressing as though you are going to get wet and be cold.
  • Maintain situational awareness on the water by being aware of activity around your vessel, including changing weather, and always know your location.
  • Be responsible. Know that alcohol and drugs cause accidents and sometimes death.

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