Coast Guard stresses importance of ID tags to limit unnecessary, costly searches

Anytime the Coast Guard sends a crew out to look for someone in the ocean, it can cost up to $20,000 an hour.

It happened twice this weekend. Search crews went out after two watercraft were found floating adrift with no one on board.

Oftentimes, kayaks or even paddle boards don’t have anything on them that says who they belong to or what number to call if ever found.

So far this year, there have been seven incidents like this, including the ones from the weekend.

The Coast Guard told KHON2 it can’t stress enough: Putting an ID tag on your water equipment is a simple task that can save the agency time and money.

“Between surfers, kayakers, paddle boarders, even pontoon boats, we get all sorts of stuff that washes up on shore,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle.

Last year alone, the Coast Guard launched 50 of these searches because none of the watercraft had tags.

We asked how much it cost and a look at the numbers shows it’s not cheap. The cost to operate each by the hour breaks down to:

  • Patrol Boat: $4,213
  • Response Boat: $6,839
  • Helicopter: $10,853
  • Airplane: $19,588

“You can’t put a price on someone’s life, so while it is expensive to launch assets and crews to search for someone in distress, we take every case seriously,” Molle said.

How often are these missing items reunited with their owners, and what happens if nobody claims them?

“It’s a case-by-case basis,” Molle said. “If we have something that a Good Samaritan turned in and no one claims it, we actually let the Good Samaritan keep it depending on what it is. If the police department finds an item, sometimes they hold it, and then our station holds onto different gear. It really just depends on what it is.”

Many times owners are able to get their gear back, as was the case for one person this weekend.

“We were able to get one of the crafts back to the gentleman. He saw our press release on the news and he realized ‘Oh gosh, that’s my craft,'” Molle said.

The Coast Guard says it doesn’t matter if it’s a kayak or a life jacket. If you own a water sport item, put an ID tag on it. You can get them for free from the Coast Guard and water sport stores.

The information on the sticker allows response entities to quickly identify the vessel’s owner and aid search and rescue planners in determining the best course of action.

The agency encourages putting two contact numbers.

“In the event that we can’t get in touch with you because you are in distress, we have a secondary emergency contact that we can actually reach out to,” Molle said.

If you can’t find a tag, the Coast Guard said using a waterproof permanent marker will also work.

You can report any lost or recovered items to the Coast Guard Sector Honolulu Command Center at (808) 842-2600.

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