Operation Paddle Smart: A sticker could save your life

by Petty Officer Melissa Leake

It might be the smallest of detail, but it can also mean the difference between separating a successful search and rescue case from a missing person report or worse.

Coast Guard Pacific Area is launching Operation Paddle Smart, and the campaign, distributed broadly and aimed at reaching small craft owners enjoying the waterways, begins simply with a free sticker.

The weather-proof sticker, self-applied to the small craft, is intended to return property, reduce the number of Coast Guard resources spent on unnecessary search and rescue cases, and foster voluntary small craft owner assistance.

“This is a win-win program for the boating public and the Coast Guard no matter where you are geographically,” said Coast Guard Capt. Charley Diaz, Pacific Area chief of staff. “It makes for a more effective response, and this program will save lives.”

Diaz said putting two correct phone numbers on the reflective sticker is the most important thing to remember when filling out the owner information.

“If someone’s out on the water and their kayak has turned over, their cell phone is now at the bottom of the ocean. We want the alternate number to call and verify if there’s an emergency, or to return the property to its owner,” he said. “It’s all about having the right information.”

The Paddle Smart stickers were also featured at the 2009 Coast Guard Innovation Exposition in Virginia Beach, Va.

“The expo was a great way for us to showcase what we’ve been working on. It gave the Coast Guard a chance to really see what Paddle Smart is, and it’s important because it takes our best practices, expands and disseminates them,” said Vice Adm. Jody Breckenridge, Pacific Area and Defense Forces West commander.

The Coast Guard created a team of Coast Guard and auxiliary boating safety experts to help get the word out to the public. The team worked for months developing strategic ways to make the sticker more effective and help the public obtain the free sticker.

“We all put in a team effort to turn this idea into a reality,” said Jeff Seifried, a member of the team. “Coast Guard districts will distribute the stickers to the sectors and auxiliaries, and each of those assets will provide the stickers to anyone who has a small, unregistered water craft or as they see fit.”

Seifried said the sticker is also going to be very beneficial to taxpayers.

“The benefit comes from being able to identify a real emergency. If the Coast Guard isn’t using resources searching for someone who isn’t missing, it’s going to save a lot of time and money. We’re not putting Coast Guard rescue crews at an unnecessary risk and at the same time, it could ease a family’s anxiety to know there isn’t an emergency,” he said.

Seifried said the team is working to educate the public about the free stickers and their importance. The stickers and further information will be available by the 2010 boating season.

“It’s simple, extremely beneficial and free,” he said. “I can’t come up with a reason why you wouldn’t want to use it. With a little bit of information you can help the Coast Guard find your property or save your life.”

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