Simple boat label could prevent pointless Coast Guard search missions

 Joseph Smith and Laurie Huselton with the Coast Guard Auxiliary paddle on the Delaware River near Penn’s Landing. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Joseph Smith and Laurie Huselton with the Coast Guard Auxiliary paddle on the Delaware River near Penn’s Landing. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

To avoid long and expensive search-and-rescue missions, the U.S. Coast Guard is asking boaters along the Delaware River, and in the region, to mark their vessels with their name and contact information before they paddle off.

Chief Warrant Officer Craig Coburn said when the Coast Guard finds an empty, unlabeled kayak or canoe, they have to assume there is a person missing in the water.

“And because of that, we have to treat it like a search-and-rescue case,” he said. “So we can launch helicopters and small boats to go and search for somebody that may just be sitting on a couch at home.”

In the past two years, the District 5 Coast Guard unit has conducted 11 search-and-rescue missions. Coburn said it’s costly and exhausting.

“It doesn’t seem like many but one is too many especially when we’re out for hours or days searching,” he said. “And if we launch a helicopter, it’s about $4800 an hour.”

But there’s a simple solution: grab a sharpie or a waterproof sticker and label your boat. If you email the Coast Guard auxiliary, they’ll send you bright orange stickers for free.

Coburn says the stickers are great because they have slots for two phone numbers.

“It can be your number and it can be an alternate point of contact,” he said. “Because if you happen to actually be in distress and went overboard with your cellphone and now it’s not working, that number wouldn’t work.”

Petty Officer Seth Johnson recommends that when going out on the water, paddle-boaters should submit a float plan: telling others where they’re going, how long they’ll be gone, where they’re launching from, and their point of return.

Johnson said the Coast Guard smartphone app has a float plan built into it.

“If something goes wrong, we can start looking for you and that helps us zero in that much faster,” he said.

With Labor Day Weekend around the corner, the Coast Guard is expecting many kayaks and canoes along the Delaware River. And they’re hoping paddle-boaters take advantage of the free stickers. If a gust of wind untethers a vessel, they want to avoid another wild goose chase.

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