Will you go missing in action this season?

An unmanned, adrift vessel floats in Puget Sound near the Tacoma Narrows, July 30, 2015.  Coast Guard crews urge all mariners in the Pacific Northwest to properly secure their vessels and paddlecraft to prevent them from drifting into open water during high winds and storms.  Photo courtesy of John McKenzie.

An unmanned, adrift vessel floats in Puget Sound near the Tacoma Narrows, July 30, 2015.
Coast Guard crews urge all mariners in the Pacific Northwest to properly secure their vessels and paddlecraft to prevent them from drifting into open water during high winds and storms.
Photo courtesy of John McKenzie.

Written by Petty Officer 3rd Class Katelyn Shearer

A seasoned detective takes in

the sight of an overturned vehicle on the side of the road.

A lone high-heeled shoe lies in the grass near the crumpled passenger door. The inside of the car is empty.

He turns to his partner, “Search the car. Run the license plate and track down the owner. We may have a search on our hands.”

The detectives run the car’s license plate number and have the driver on the phone within minutes to confirm she is fine and not in danger.

A few miles away, a fisherman spots an unmanned, overturned skiff floating down the middle of the waterway. He calls the Coast Guard over the radio.

“Is there any information on the vessel?” asks the search-and-rescue controller. “Maybe a name or phone number?”

“Just a lifejacket,” says the fisherman.

An unmanned, adrift vessel floats in Puget Sound north of Port Angeles, Wash., March 16, 2015.  Until the Coast Guard can confirm the safe location of the owner of an adrift vessel, crews treat it as a sign of distress and launch a search to find the missing operator.  Courtesy photo

An unmanned, adrift vessel floats in Puget Sound north of Port Angeles, Wash., March 16, 2015.
Until the Coast Guard can confirm the safe location of the owner of an adrift vessel, crews treat it as a sign of distress and launch a search to find the missing operator.
Courtesy photo

Unlike a car that can be easily traced back to its owner, it is nearly impossible to track down the last operator of a vessel with no identifying information for authorities to go on. Because of this, the Coast Guard is forced to assume that the operator fell into the water and may be in immediate danger.

“When an unmanned and adrift vessel is reported, we assume the missing operator is in distress and we are duty-bound to respond,” said Capt. Joe Raymond, commander of Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound in Seattle and captain of the port. “These types of false alerts divert resources from actual emergencies and can possibly cause our responders to become complacent. So far, we have spent more than $800,000 this year searching for adrift vessels in the greater Puget Sound area.”

Last year, Coast Guard crews received 91 reports of unmanned, adrift vessels in Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Crews spent hundreds of hours searching for people that were most likely nowhere near the water. Some of these cases are still considered open because officials were never able to track down the owners of the vessels.

So what can you do to ensure no one is needlessly searching for you this season?

As a part of Operation Paddle Smart, the Coast Guard provides small, bright orange, waterproof stickers that are reflective and have space for the owner’s name and two phone numbers.  When attached to a vessel, these stickers can help rescuers determine the best search area to begin looking for a mariner in distress or return a lost vessel that has simply drifted away. U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone.

As a part of Operation Paddle Smart, the Coast Guard provides small, bright orange, waterproof stickers that are reflective and have space for the owner’s name and two phone numbers.
When attached to a vessel, these stickers can help rescuers determine the best search area to begin looking for a mariner in distress or return a lost vessel that has simply drifted away.
U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone.

1. Secure your stuff – Small vessels and watercraft such as kayaks, canoes, skiffs, paddleboards and surfboards can quickly drift out into open water due to high winds and tidal differences, especially during fall and winter storms. Make sure all of your recreational craft are tied securely to your dock or brought further inland where they can’t easily blow or drift into the water.

2. Add your autograph – Even well-secured items can break loose and be carried away. If a piece of your property is found, the easiest way to identify the owner is with a Paddle Smart or similar sticker that includes your name and phone number. Learn more about the Paddle Smart program and find out where to obtain your own sticker here. Don’t forget to use a waterproof marker!

3. Manage the misplaced – If you notice your vessel or paddlecraft has drifted away, please call the Coast Guard 13th District Command Center at 206-220-7001 or your nearest Coast Guard station to report it as soon as possible. You might not know it, but crews could be searching for you at that very moment! Another benefit to reporting it missing is that if we do find it, we can return it to you. Last year, Coast Guard crews were forced to dispose of dozens of vessels and paddlecraft because they were unable to establish an owner.

Don’t let your vessel take itself for a spin. Take control of your craft before you find yourself missing in action.

 

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