Hoax distress calls cost lives, resources

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Each day, the Coast Guard responds to nearly 109 boaters in distress, saving 10 lives and assisting 192 people, but not every distress call is real.

Under federal law, knowingly and willfully making a false distress call is a felony. The maximum penalty for making phony distress calls is five to 10 years in prison, a $5,000 civil fine, a $250,000 criminal fine and reimbursement to the Coast Guard for the costs incurred responding to the false call.

If a hoax caller is not caught, the taxpayers shoulder the burden of the search. Coast Guard and federal, state, and local search-and-rescue partners’ aircraft and vessels are costly to operate. Coast Guard aircraft cost more than $4,000 an hour to fly, Coast Guard cutters cost about $1,550 an hour to operate, and Coast Guard small boats cost between $300 and $400 an hour to run.

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