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Fruitless search for mariners in distress

After several unresolved flare sightings reported over Labor Day weekend and one false call in the San Francisco area, the Coast Guard is reminding boaters nationwide of the dangers and consequences of fake distress calls.

At 10 p.m. Aug. 29, the Coast Guard received a report from a vessel near South Hampton Shoal, Calif., that it had seen a white flare rise, according to a recent press release and proceeded to search the area. While analyzing the information, the Coast Guard then received a single mayday transmission on VHF radio channel 16, but no location was reported.

An HH-65 Dolphin helicopter was launched from Air Station San Francisco and a response boat from Station San Francisco to survey the area, and nothing turned up when they returned in the evening. A search at sunrise the next day was delayed until 2 p.m. because of heavy fog and when no signs of distress were observed, the efforts were suspended, according to the report.

VHF channel 16 is reserved for distress communication only, and it is the sea’s equivalent to 911. An individual who knowingly communicates a false distress message to the Coast Guard or causes them to save lives and property when no help is needed can be found guilty of a Class D felony, subject to up to six years in prison, a civil penalty of not more than $5,000, and liable for all costs the Coast Guard incurs because of the search, according to the report.

In addition, test flares should be used only in emergencies and checked regularly. Expired flares should be taken to a local fire department to be disposed of properly, and if a flare goes off when not in a situation of distress, the individual should make every effort to contact the Coast Guard and alert them of the situation immediately.

“Searches for unnecessary flares or false distress calls are costly for taxpayers, as well as exhausting to Coast Guard search-and-rescue crews,” says Commander Russ Davidson, chief of Coast Guard Sector San Francisco Response Department.

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