Rise in false alarms getting in the way of U.S. Coast Guard's job

NOW: Rise in false alarms getting in the way of U.S. Coast Guard’s job


ST. JOSEPH, Mich. - A rise in false alarms is getting in the way of the U.S. Coast Guard doing its job.

Lake Michigan has been named the deadliest great lake. The U.S. Coast Guard station in St. Joe says they have to take every call seriously, fake or real.

Guardsmen can spend hours on a search and rescue from a hoax call. It can put many people’s lives at risk.

A hoax call is when someone calls the U.S. Coast Guard claiming to be in distress.

“They say hey we need help, and they’re not really in distress. They could be on land or on a boat,” said Nathan Milewski, 3rd class petty officer with the St. Joe Coast Guard. “There are real people that need help that aren’t going to get the help they need because we’re out on a hoax call”

And those real people can’t even call the Coast Guard, because there is only one frequency. This means there can be only one conversation at a time.

“So if you’re calling in a hoax on channel 16 and we’re trying to deal with that call, meanwhile there’s a person who is taking on water, or maybe their uncle is having a heart attack. Meanwhile you’re on 16 laughing in the background,” said Milewski.

He says timing is vital, and these calls are wasting their time.

“It’s frustrating. We’re here to provide a service to the public and when someone doesn’t take it seriously and does something like that, they could be putting people’s lives in danger.”

The impact of these calls goes much further than just the guardsmen. You could face a fine of $265,000.00 and 12-14 years in prison for initiating a hoax call. That punishment may vary, though, depending on what equipment was used during the search and rescue.

That money is coming out of your wallet.

“Taxpayers do feel the pain eventually,” said Milewski.

And the call is far from anonymous. When a call comes in, it’s recorded, and the location triangulated. So the U.S. Coast Guard knows exactly where the call is coming from.

The July 4th weekend is expected to be one of the busiest weekends of the year for the Coast Guard.


“We’re expecting to get a few search and rescues and it would be unfortunate for us to have to deal with a hoax call vs going out doing our job and saving lives.

The Coast Guard says if you do have an emergency, to call 911. This will provide you with the help you need faster.

They also encourage downloading their app, called United States Coast Guard. It has information on boat regulations, weather conditions and also has an emergency alert button that will give provide your exact location and a button to call for help.

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