Operation Paddle Smart

By Petty Officer Nathan W. Bradshaw

On Monday, March 29, the Coast Guard received a report of an unmanned kayak near Port Madison, Wash. It is a situation that occurs in the maritime search and rescue community all too often. When a vessel is found adrift without its pilot and there is no way of determining whether or not an individual may be in distress.

Larger recreational or commercial vessels share the fortunate benefit of hull registration numbers and a vessel name that allow for the owner to be identified. On a kayak and other forms of paddle craft, there are no identifying features that allow the owner to be contacted. Furthermore, there is no way to determine if the vessel was washed off of a beach during high tide or was separated from its owner during the course of a boating accident.

As a result the Coast Guard spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year engaged in search and rescue operations for cases where there was nobody in danger to begin with.

In an effort to counter this problem and cut back on the unnecessary use of resources and tax dollars the Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary have teamed up to launch ‘Operation Paddle Smart,’ a campaign aimed to benefit the Pacific Northwest, as well as the entire U.S. maritime community.

With spring upon us and summer just around the corner it is important that small craft mariners become aware of the educational and practical opportunities provided by this program.

The goal of Operation Paddle Smart is to educate small craft owners on water safety and provide them with a waterproof sticker that could be beneficial to everyone involved, whether they’re kayaking or part of a search and rescue operation.

Each sticker provides room for the small craft owner to list his or her name, phone number and cell phone number in case their craft is found drifting. This can greatly assist in the initial investigation of a possible search and rescue case.

“This program will benefit boaters and emergency responders through improvised vessel identification,” said Coast Guard Admiral Gary Blore, Thirteenth Coast Guard District Commander. “A tremendous effort and thousands of dollars are expended each year searching for lost boaters. Our goal is to educate paddle-sport enthusiasts on their responsibilities, how to stay safe and help emergency responders in the event of an actual rescue situation.”

In 2009, 143 separate HH-65 Dolphin helicopter launches took place in Port Angeles, Wash., alone, said Operation Specialist 1st Class Peter Williams of the District 13 command center. At least half of those launches can be attributed to search and rescue cases that were later deemed unnecessary, said Williams.

With the ability to contact the small craft owners, Air Station Port Angeles could have cut back on the number of unnecessary risks placed on the search and rescue operators and reduced the money and resources expended.

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

The Coast Guard, Coast Guard Auxiliary and recreational boating specialists will provide paddle smart safety messages and stickers via boating safety events, boating supply stores and partner agencies such as the United States Power Squadron.

“We all put in a team effort to turn this idea into a reality,” said Seifried. “Coast Guard districts will distribute the stickers to the Sectors and Auxiliary Flotillas and each of those assets will provide the stickers to anyone who has a small, unregistered water craft.”

Operation Paddle Smart could be the key to a safer and more enjoyable boating season. If paddle craft mariners use the stickers, mishaps such as the kayak adrift in Port Madison may be prevented.

“It’s simple, extremely beneficial and free, said Seifried.” 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 and save your life.”

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