by Wayne Spivak, National Press
Corps United States Coast Guard Auxiliary
Results in a Year and 1-day and $194,587
U. S. Coast Guard
March 8, 2004
SEATTLE -- Western Washington District of
Washington sentenced JAMES GARRETT BALDWIN, age 31, of Aberdeen, Wash.,
in Federal District Court to twelve months and one day's imprisonment,
to be followed by three years of supervised release for one count of
communicating a False Distress Message to the United States Coast Guard.
The court also ordered Baldwin to pay $194,587 in restitution to the
U.S. Coast Guard."
Each year the Coast Guard and their Auxiliary
spend countless hours and dollars chasing ghosts. No, we're not
competing with the "Ghost Busters", we're risking your life and ours
chasing false distress messages.
Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco
estimates that 36% of all responses were attributable to false alarms.
False alarms aren't limited to San Francisco. In June of 2001, Coast
Guard Station Juneau (Alaska) was unable to immediately respond to
legitimate calls for assistance due to a series of false distress
messages received in a twenty-four hour period. In January of 2000, a
HH-60 helicopter was diverted from its normal patrol for three hours –
According to the
Ninth Coast Guard District, "In 1998
there were 81 hoax calls in the Great Lakes region which cost the
American taxpayer $1,275,500.
Millions of dollars
are spent, not only by the Coast Guard but also by local harbor and
marine patrols. It costs approximately $400 per hour to operate a
standard rescue boat, while a helicopter or cutter may cost from $1,500
to $3,000 per hour."
The Coast Guard
reported that in New
Years 2002 several Coast Guard aircraft, a Coast Guard cutter, and more
than 40 personnel teamed with Alaska State Troopers and two police
agencies spending over 13 hours searching for the source of a hoax call
in the Kachemak Bay area of the Kenai Peninsula. No one was ever located
and the source of the call was never determined
Engaging in the transmittal of a false
distress message is not a game. In fact, the Coast Guard is deadly
serious about finding those individuals, whether adult or child, who
seems to think that calling a "mayday" into a VHF microphone, is fun! As
Mr. Baldwin found out, there can be dire legal consequences to these
And just because you're a minor (under the
age of 18 years) doesn't get you or your parents off the hook! False
distress calls are felonies, punishable by a maximum penalty of six
years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and restitution to the Coast Guard.
This means that you, the parent can be brought into the criminal and
civil aspects of your children's escapades.
In November 2002,
two Holland, MI youths were convicted of making false distress calls.
These "pranks" cost the US Government (that's you and me) an estimated
$20,000. For their prank, the youths were sentenced to 20 hours of
Not all false
distress messages are intentional. In January 2003, a rash of false
maydays was heard around the Alameda area. "We've recently received
several separate mayday calls that were transmitted in a methodical
manner and without a sense of urgency, which indicated that some
mariners are assuming this is an acceptable way to test radio signals.
Nothing could be further from the truth," said Cmdr. David Swatland, the
Eleventh Coast Guard District's chief of search and rescue. "Not only is
it against the law to transmit a false mayday, but these false distress
calls can place the lives of other mariners in peril because they
detract from our ability to respond to actual emergencies."
For whatever reason, false distress calls
cost time, money and put many lives in peril. To learn more about how to
use your radio, and how to mitigate potential problems while boating,
why not take a boating course? Contact your local Coast Guard Unit
or Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla
The American Boating Association
PO Box 690
New Market, MD 21774