U.S. Coast Guard sounds alarm over rising rate of false distress calls

The U.S. Coast Guard said 160 hoax calls have been made this year, compared to 55 in 2016.

More than 160 hoax calls have been made this year compared to 55 in 2016

The U.S. Coast Guard is sounding the alarm as the number of false distress calls on the Great Lakes has almost tripled compared to last year. 

To date, more than 160 hoax calls have been made — in 2016 that number was 55.

"False distress and hoax calls expose not only Coast Guard rescuers, but our partner agencies and other mariners to unnecessary risks, and potentially take away personnel and resources from real emergencies," said Capt. Joseph McGilley, chief of incident management for the Cleveland-based Ninth Coast Guard District, which covers the entire Great Lakes region.

The coast guard said distress calls are expensive too. It costs an average of $4,500 per hour to send a response boat, while a coast guard helicopter search can run as high as $16,000 an hour.

Anyone who knowingly makes a hoax distress call and intentionally deceives rescuers can face up to six years in prison, a $250,000 fine, $5,000 civil penalty and may have to repay the coast guard for the cost of the search.

If a distress call is made accidentally, the coast guard asks people to contact their local unit or the Ninth District Command Center by calling 216-902-6117.