Coast Guard officials urge Pacific Northwest mariners to secure vessels ahead of fall weather

An unmanned, adrift vessel floats in Puget Sound near the Tacoma Narrows, July 30, 2015. Coast Guard crews urge all mariners in the Pacific Northwest to properly secure their vessels and paddlecraft to prevent them from drifting into open water during high winds and storms. (Photo courtesy of John McKenzie)

An unmanned, adrift vessel floats in Puget Sound near the Tacoma Narrows, July 30, 2015. Coast Guard crews urge all mariners in the Pacific Northwest to properly secure their vessels and paddlecraft to prevent them from drifting into open water during high winds and storms. (Photo courtesy of John McKenzie)

SEATTLE — Coast Guard officials are urging vessel and paddlecraft owners to properly secure and label their craft in anticipation of fall storms.

Coast Guard crews treat every unmanned and adrift vessel as a search and rescue case and immediately launch a search for people potentially in distress.

In 2014, Coast Guard search-and-rescue controllers received 91 reports of unmanned, adrift vessels in Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, initiating hundreds of hours of searches. In the majority of cases, officials were unable to locate or contact an owner for the vessel.

“When an unmanned and adrift vessel is reported, we assume the missing operator is in distress and we are duty-bound to respond,” said Capt. Joe Raymond, commander of Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound in Seattle and Captain of the Port. “These types of false alerts divert resources from actual emergencies and can possibly cause our responders to become complacent. So far, we have spent more than $800,000 this year searching on over 60 separate reports of adrift vessels in the greater Puget Sound area.”

Officials are asking all mariners to securely tie their vessels and paddlecraft to their docks or bring them further inland where they can’t easily drift into open water.

Additionally, Coast Guard crews encourage all paddlecraft owners to write their name and phone number or driver’s license number on their kayak, canoe, paddleboard or other craft. In the event that the vessel is lost, crews can use that information to contact the owner and avoid launching an unnecessary search. Members of the public can obtain free Paddle Smart stickers for this purpose at the locations listed here.

If the owner of a vessel is unable to be located after a reasonable amount of time, Coast Guard crews are forced to destroy the vessel or turn it over to the state for disposal.

A mariner who believes his vessel has drifted into open water is encouraged to report it by calling the Coast Guard 13th District Command Center at 206-220-7001.

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