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Amid a surge in prank calls, U.S. Coast Guard says please, please stop

A picture of two kayaks, one red, one green, on a trail in the woods
A reporter found two missing kayaks after an all-night search by the U.S. Coast Guard and local authorties. The two kayakers feared missing are now presumed safe.

The U.S. Coast Guard has a message for us: knock it off with the prank calls. 

The Coast Guard is seeing a big jump in phony distress calls: more than 160 made across the Great Lakes so far this year.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Third Class Brian McCrum is stationed at the Coast Guard station in Cleveland, Ohio that oversees the Great Lakes.

“We’re not talking about those instances where someone in good faith makes a call or sees something on the water they think could be a person and they call,” McCrum said.

“Someone is intentionally trying to play a prank on the coast guard and waste the taxpayers’ money,” he said.

Every time there’s a distress call, the Coast Guard responds no matter what. Response boats that coast $4,500 per hour to operate typically go out first, and helicopters which can cost $16,000 per hour are also often used.

Anyone caught prank-calling the Coast Guard can face up to six years in prison, plus a $250,000 fine and possible reimbursement to the Coast Guard, according to McCrum.

In a curious case that ended up being a false alarm, not a prank call, two kayakers in Lorain, Ohio were reported missing Tuesday evening. The owner of a boat launch and kayak rental agency reported the missing kayakers, triggering a search by the U.S. Coast Guard, Canadian Royal Air Force and local authorities. Eventually, a reporter found the kayaks on the coastline close to a boat launch early Wednesday morning after an all-night search. The two people reported missing are now presumed safe, and the Coast Guard has closed the case

Despite false alarms and an increase in prank calls, McCrum says the Coast Guard doesn’t want anyone to hesitate to send a distress call if they believe someone could be in legitimate danger. Or, if boaters accidentally send a false distress, McCrum says call the Coast Guard back and let them know it was a mistake.

“We don’t want people to be scared if your kid is messing around on the radio or something,” McCrum said. “If you know of someone who accidentally put out a false distress, give your local Coast Guard station a call, and we’ll cancel it immediately. That’s us working together.”

Listen to the entire conversation with Coast Guard Petty Officer Third Class Brian McCrum, above.

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