U.S. Coast Guard 8th District Public Affairs Detachment Texas
Coast Guard reminds public of the dangers of hoax calls
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The Coast Guard would like to remind the public of the dangers and penalties associated with hoax distress calls.
For 230 years the Coast Guard has responded to distress calls at sea but lately false distress has been on the rise, which places rescue crews in danger, diminishes our capacity to respond to real emergencies, and wastes taxpayer dollars.
On Aug. 5, 2020, watchstanders at Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi received a call of a vessel on fire over VHF channel 16, the international distress frequency, near Port Isabel, Texas. Two response patrol boats from Coast Guard Station South Padre Island arrived on scene within minutes and searched the area, finding no vessel on fire.
A hoax, or willful and knowing declaration or indication of a false distress situation, diverts Coast Guard assets and personnel from other potential search and rescue cases, diminishing readiness and wasting valuable search assets.
“Hoax calls put the public at risk,” said Cmdr. Dawn Prebula, Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi response chief. “Mariners on the water rely on the Coast Guard to respond when they are in distress. These false alerts have the potential to directly put lives at risk in the maritime domain.”
If you are boating with young children or teenagers, a good habit is to establish rules when they are aboard a boat before you leave the dock. Teaching children how to make a call if you are in distress can make them more responsible about using radios onboard vessels. Parents should stress to children that the radio is not for play, similar to 911 calls, and should only be used for emergencies.
Penalties for initiating a hoax may include a $250,000 criminal fine, reimbursement to the Coast Guard of the cost of all search efforts expended, and up to six years in prison. Parents will be held responsible for minor’s actions.
The Coast Guard’s response boats cost between $3,434 and $5,236 an hour to operate, the MH-65 helicopter costs $7,814 an hour to operate, and the HC-144 aircraft costs $9,104 an hour to operate, according to Commandant Instruction 7310.1U, three common assets used during search and rescue missions.
The Coast Guard also relies on Coast Guard Investigative Services and local agencies to assist in the event of a hoax call. Typically, if the command center has a good position for where the call came from, they will contact the local police department and request assistance to contact or locate the caller.
“The Coast Guard values the lives of its members and keeping them safe is our top priority, along with our responsibility and dedication to the public. Hoax calls not only put Coast Guard lives in jeopardy, but yours, your friends, or families,” said Prebula.
Subject matter experts are available for interviews upon request at (361) 438-0176
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