Flare false-alarms costing Coast Guard

Southeastern Coast Guard News
MIAMI — The Coast Guard is reminding the public that flares are to be used for emergencies only, after a series of false alarms in recent days has cost the Coast Guard significant money and resources.

Since Friday there have been five cases involving flares within the Coast Guard’s Seventh District. One case involving a Coast Guard C-130 aircraft and small boat search crew cost more than $43,000.

Flares are lifesaving visual signaling devices that can be used day or night to alert emergency responders and fellow boaters to an emergency.

The improper use of flares can divert valuable search assets from an actual distress case and place rescuers unnecessarily in harm’s way while responding to the false alarm. False alarms tie up assets that are needed elsewhere, burn up crew hours and fuel, and interfere with scheduled operations. The improper use of flares also costs taxpayers thousands of dollars each time a Coast Guard asset is launched to search for a flare sighting.

The cost of operating a Coast Guard H-65 Dolphin helicopter is $11,061 per hour and an H-60 Jayhawk costs $14,318; the cost of operating an HC-130 Hercules aircraft is $17,866 per hour and the cost of operating an HC-144 Ocean Sentry Aircraft is $15,354 per hour.

Flares are instrumental in assisting emergency responders to locate those in need of help, but can be dangerous if not handled properly.

The following are some safety tips the Coast Guard suggests to properly handle flares:

  • Treat a flare as if it is a firearm: don’t point it toward anyone
  • Do not look at the flare when launching it
  • Hold the flare at arm’s length away from your face and body
  • Keep the flare pointed downwind from you, others and any equipment or structures

If boaters plan to use flares for training, they should contact the nearest Coast Guard unit to inform them of their intentions. Boaters should be prepared to give times, locations and types of flares that will be utilized during the training exercise.

The Coast Guard recommends that boaters properly dispose of old or outdated flares by turning them over to a Coast Guard base or a Coast Guard Auxiliary unit.

An individual who knowingly and willfully communicates a false distress message to the Coast Guard, or causes the Coast Guard to attempt to save lives and property when no help is needed, is guilty of a class D felony and is subject to a civil penalty of not more than $5,000, and liable for all costs the Coast Guard incurs as a result of the individual’s action.

The Coast Guard would also like to remind boaters that Tuesday marks the first day of Spiny Lobster season (August 6 through March 31). Being safe on the water is paramount. For more information on boating safety and required and recommended safety equipment, please visit www.uscgboating.org.

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