The U.S. Coast Guard has a warning: making a fake distress call is more than a harmless prank. It's a serious crime.
Last week, Owen Adair of Vinalhaven, Maine, pleaded guilty to making a fake distress call to the Coast Guard last September. He is now facing six years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.
"We want people to be aware that when they make a hoax call, it jeopardizes our ability to help someone in distress," said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Scott McCann.
Lt. McCann said in the case last September, the Guard spent about $30,000 for the search. It also takes away valuable manpower resources that can be spent on real calls or training sessions.
"There are only so many assets available in this area," said Coast Guard member Ryan Berger. "If people call in fake cases, that can take away from a dangerous situation someone else is in."
Out of 464 search and rescue cases last year, 76 of them were unresolved. The number is up from 49 unresolved cases out of 544 distress calls in 2012.
Lt. McCann said it's difficult to prove how many of those were hoax calls, but says they do happen regularly, all over the country.
"We've had hoax calls as short as, 'Help, help, I'm going under water,'" said McCann.
Each time, they have to assume that the call is real, and respond immediately.
"We don't question it during the actual case," said McCann. "We don't have time, especially in Maine with the harsh maritime environment."