Coast Guard urges boaters, paddlers to ID non-motorized vessels

BOSTON – The Coast Guard is urging boaters and paddlers to label their non-motorized, unregistered boats with contact information to help the Coast Guard and state boating agencies better assist mariners in distress.

“Having a name and number on your boat and filing a float plan with a loved one, friend or neighbor can increase your chances of being found if you are in trouble,” said Tim Carton, a search and rescue specialist for the First Coast Guard District in Boston. “When it comes to a potentially life-threatening situation, what may seem like trivial information can change the direction of a search and help us get people home.”

Unlike motorized vessels, there is no requirement that kayaks, canoes, and rowboats be registered, and each year the Coast Guard spends thousands of dollars, man hours, and resources conducting searches involving non-motorized vessels found adrift because they were not properly tied down, or were abandoned.

“If someone reports finding an unmanned or adrift vessel, we will launch resources to investigate unless we can confirm it is a non-distress situation,” Carton said. “Labeling your boat with a name and phone number can help us make that determination more quickly.”

Carton said the Coast Guard considers a number of factors when determining if an unmanned vessel warrants a search.

“If there is no corresponding Mayday call, eye witness account, or hit from a GPS locating device, we then look at whether the vessel shows obvious signs of neglect or non-use,” Carton said. “Additionally, we take steps to try to locate the owner, such as calling businesses and marinas in the vicinity and asking them to check if they’re missing any of their vessels.”

Since 2006 units in the First Coast Guard District, which covers from northern New Jersey to the Maine-Canada border, have responded to about 600 calls that were eventually determined to be abandoned or adrift boats that involved no distress.

One such case happened July 18, 2008.

The Coast Guard received a call from a good Samaritan reporting they found a 12-foot vessel with no one on board near Cape Ann, Mass. The Coast Guard dispatched three rescue boats and a Jayhawk rescue helicopter for a three-hour search that cost taxpayers more than $35,000.

“With one phone call we could’ve determined whether it was a false alarm or not,” said Carton. “If it had been a true emergency, the person on the other end of the phone may have known who was operating the vessel and given input on where to concentrate our search.”

Al Johnson, the recreational boating safety specialist for the First Coast Guard District, recommends boaters use a waterproof, permanent marker to label their boat on the inner starboard, the right, side of their watercraft.

“It’s also important to keep the information on your boat current so we can call to find out where you may be,” said Johnson. “If the phone number changes, draw a single line through the old number and write the new number below.”

Labeling non-motorized vessels also benefits boaters who really are in trouble because the Coast Guard’s resources can be put to better use, Carton said.

“Bottom line is, Coast Guard men and women are lifesavers,” Carton said. “And we want to make sure our resources get to where they’re needed.”

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