Distress Calls for Sharks and Kissing? Coast Guard Cracking Down on Hoaxes

The Coast Guard said it wants to find the source or sources of the calls to ensure safety on the water

After a series of bogus emergency calls, the U.S. Coast Guard is asking for help identifying the caller.

Following distress broadcasts over a marine emergency channel last week and this week that turned up nothing, the U.S. Coast Guard is asking the public for help identifying the caller.

The Coast Guard said it wants to find the source or sources of the calls to ensure safety on Lake Champlain and other waters, as well as ensuring that the emergency system is not being abused.

On May 17, the Coast Guard’s station on Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont received a radio broadcast claiming the caller’s boat was taking on water. In that same distress call, the supposed boater claimed to be seeing a great white shark in Lake Champlain’s fresh waters.

“It’s not a joke, it’s a crime,” said U.S. Coast Guard Machinery Technician Third Class Michael Knight.

The Coast Guard said other calls over the designated marine emergency frequency, channel 16, came in on May 24 and May 25, and at least some of them were placed from the water off Orwell, Vermont. Using that marine broadcast channel is like dialing 911 on the water, Knight explained.

Those calls said “Mayday, mayday, mayday!” and “Mayday, mayday! Iceberg straight ahead… two crazy people on the bow, kissing.”

The Coast Guard shared audio of the calls with necn in hopes of drumming up information about the unknown caller. Anyone who knows more about the calls is asked to call the Coast Guard’s northern New England sector at 207-767-0303.

The Coast Guard said there is serious punishment to match the crime of misusing emergency channels. A conviction comes with the potential of prison time and hefty cash fines, plus the cost of the unneeded search in some cases.

Knight pointed out the Coast Guard must handle even sketchy calls as if they are real.

“If we’re responding to a false claim of distress at the southern end of the lake and there’s an actual distress on the northern end, we’d have to divert and call in another crew,” Knight said. “And it could cost someone’s life because we’re searching for someone who’s not there or in actual distress.”

Knight also strongly suggested parents watch their kids playing with radios on boats, reminding them, emergency frequencies are not toys.

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