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U.S. Coast Guard: False distress calls at all-time high, costing taxpayers

U.S. Coast Guard says along the Great Lakes the number of false distress calls, are beginning to outnumber real calls for help, July 13, 2017. (WLUK)

STURGEON BAY (WLUK) -- At U.S. Coast Guard Stations along Lake Michigan, monitoring radio traffic isn't an easy task.

"You'll see how overwhelming the radio traffic is for our watch-standers," said Commander Leanne Lusk.

Lusk works out of the Coast Guard Station in Milwaukee. She says the number of false distress calls, are beginning to outnumber real calls for help.

"The boating season certainly did start earlier this year, but even compared to last year, which was also a mild winter, this is a drastic increase from what we saw," Lusk said.

According to The U.S. Coast Guard's most recent data:

  • Through June of 2016, 55 distress calls were received on Lake Michigan.
  • Through June of 2017, 160 distress calls were received.
  • Half of those officials say were believed to be false.

The Coast Guard says sometimes the false reports are made by children, but not in all the cases.

At the Coast Guard Station in Sturgeon Bay, Petty Officer 2nd Class Wahkene Kitchenmaster says there is another issue.

He says often times boaters tie up the emergency line by the improper use of marine radios.

"If somebody is tying up the VHF channel 16 for something that's non-distress, or anything ongoing like that, somebody else that is having an emergency won't be able to get in to us," he said.

Kitchenmaster says it's important for boaters to remember to keep their marine radio clear of channel 16, unless it's an emergency.

"Make sure it's not keyed up, make sure the kids aren't playing on it."

The Coast Guard says a search crew costs taxpayers around $4,000 an hour. And that cost increases drastically if a helicopter is sent out, that would be more like $16,000 an hour.

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