From The Boathouse: Search and rescue is not a toy

November 06, 2012|By Mike Whitehead


Did it really cost the Coast Guard $50,000 to search for a boater claiming that his boat was sinking inside Newport Harbor?

Apparently, this same person issued six fake mayday calls over the VHF marine band radio's distress Channel 16 last month as the Daily Pilot reported Oct. 31.


Search and rescue is an important mission of the Coast Guard and the local harbor patrols, but the price tag of $50,000 seems inflated as the actual costs. First, the article states a 12 ½-hour search for the sinking boat in the harbor. Let's note that someone could ride their bicycle around harbor's shoreline in less time.

Additionally is the question, why would a Coast Guard cutter respond inside the harbor when the Sheriff's Department Harbor Patrol is ready to go and the deputies know the harbor well? The cutter's smaller rescue boat (RIB) would be a better vessel to search the harbor and navigating the narrow channels and low bridges. I can see using a helicopter for a quick bird's eye view and the use of the helicopter's radio direction finder capabilities.

In the price tag of the search, the actual costs that should be reported are the fuel, wear and tear on any equipment and direct out-of-pocket expenses. The personnel costs are fixed whether the crew is on a mission or standing by at their station.

Granted, emergency resources are being diverted while the crews are seeking for someone who is making a fake distress call. However, using inflated numbers is a disservice to the taxpayers and leads people to wonder why it costs so much to search for a sinking boat inside the harbor.

Thinking about making a fake mayday call over your marine VHF radio? Well, think again. Not only is it a federal crime, but California has CPC section 148.3, which makes it a felony if the fake call is likely to cause great bodily injury or death to anyone resulting from the call.

This legislation allows local prosecution of people who send hoax maydays. First, the local district attorney can prosecute the case; secondly, all the rescue agencies that risk their lives on this type of call will benefit should a rescuer be injured or lose their life trying to affect a false rescue. There is a federal statute, but it is nearly impossible to get the federal attorney general to prosecute.

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