I would really like to use some strong language to talk about how unsavory I find hoax callers but it is probably impolite so I will leave it at this: hoax callers leave a lot to be desired as people and should find themselves a hobby that doesn’t put the lives of others at risk.
Why are hoax callers substandard in their choice of activities? (Again trying to be polite in my choice of words)
Before I go any further into this post let me make it clear hoax calling is a felony. The Studds Act was passed in November 1990. This act states that a false distress call is a class D Felony, and a convicted hoax caller is subject to a fine of up to $250,000 and up to six years in prison. The caller might also have to reimburse the Coast Guard for the cost of the search. The caller is also subject to an FCC civil fine of up to $8,000. Even if a child makes the distress call, the parents are ultimately responsible.
Why is hoax calling such a big deal? Well, if the Coast Guard is using all these assets trying to search for a fake caller, what happens when there is someone in real danger and we have to split our attention between two cases…when one isn’t even a real case? Don’t you think it matters to focus our attention on the people actually in danger? So are hoax callers so bored they have to make things up and potentially keep someone else from being saved to entertain themselves? Pathetic.
Remember all calls for help are important to the Coast Guard, we will not assume something is a hoax and calls are going to be treated as a real distress call.
When a hoax call is made and assets are sent out the men and women of the Coast Guard put their own lives at risk, gladly might I add, to save the lives of whoever might be in danger. Every evolution, every launch, every search has an inherent risk. Why would anyone think it was funny to put those people who only want to help at risk because they decided a fake distress call was just something cool to do or because they were just testing a piece of equipment to see if they could get a helo launched?
One would think this would be plenty to make hoax pranksters think twice before they make that false radio call. Sadly putting the lives of others at risk must not be enough of a deterrent for people, we get hoax calls all the time (somewhere around 100-200 a year).
Since the idea of just being a decent human being and remembering that personal amusement is not worth the human lives you risk when you make a false distress call is not enough for some people, why don’t we go into the financial aspect of things now.
No, the Coast Guard does not charge to save a life, so if you are out there and in danger, call for help. We will launch and we will look for you. For those who are just going to call because they need attention, let me hit you in the pocket book.
If a hoax caller is not caught, American taxpayers pay for the search. Coast Guard C-130 aircraft cost about $4,244 an hour to operate, Coast Guard helicopters cost about $4,400 an hour, Coast Guard cutters cost about $1,550 an hour to operate and Coast Guard small boats also cost between $300 to $400 an hour to run.
There can be some pretty hefty fines for a hoax when you get caught, note I said when, not if. The reason I say it that way is with the implementation of Rescue 21 which will allow the Coast Guard to pinpoint the origin of all distress calls to within plus or minus two degrees. With this technology, the Coast Guard will be able to track down both legitimate and hoax distress callers quickly, which will allow the Coast Guard to focus on legitimate distress calls and continue to save lives.
With Rescue 21 the likelihood of getting caught as a hoax caller is only increasing as time goes by. Take a look at these articles about hoax callers getting caught and being fined within the last year:
- This man was given 60 months of probation and fined more than $45,000 for making a false report of distress to the Coast Guard.
- This man was sentenced to 30 days imprisonment followed by one year probation and ordered to pay $8,041.43 in restitution to the Coast Guard.
So the long and short of it is, hoax callers cost tax payers a lot of money but more importantly they risk lives and there is no price tag on the cost of a human life.
Report suspected hoaxes to the Coast Guards tip line: