Listen to the Marine VHF radio most any weekend in the Puget Sound area and you will hear report of found Kayaks and Canoes drifting in the water with nobody in them. When an empty drifting boat is found all the options for the Watchstanders are tough, is this a boat that just drifted off the beach or a dock, was it being towed behind a boat and the tow line parted, or any one of many possible reasons the boat is loose in the water. Did someone fall out of it? do they launch a Search And Rescue effort? If they launch a Search And Rescue mission where do they look? No matter how you look at it the decisions are difficult and someone’s life can hang in the balance of the decisions by the Watchstanders.
On Saturday October 23, 2010 the Washington State Ferry Tillicum reported sighting an orange kayak with a lifejacket and paddle aboard near Blake Island at 6:50 in the morning.
A few minutes after the sighting was reported to Sector Puget Sound a 41 foot patrol boat was launched from Pier 36 in Seattle to start searching the area and Port Angeles launched an HH-65 Dolphin helicopter to also search the area. Between the two assets they searched about 61 square miles. Other vessels in the area were also ask to watch for anything that might help in the search. This turned out to be just a case of a Kayak that had went missing and nobody was injured or died. The cost for the false alarm however was about $50,000 for the search. There were also the risks to the crews involved.
Larger vessels have registration numbers and names that can aid in identifying the owner and operator of a vessel. Kayak’s, canoes and other small paddle craft don’t usually have identifying marks on them and the lack of identification prevents the owners being contacted to determine if someone is at risk.
To help reduce the false search and rescues the Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary have launched Operation Paddle Smart. This program has several facets, educating the boating public on boating safety and providing waterproof identification stickers owners can place in their Paddle Craft that will help the owners of found paddle craft to be contacted, this will help the Coast Guard and other Agencies determine if someone is at risk or if the paddle craft has just drifted off. The sticker have room for a name and two phone numbers to be called if the paddle craft is found. In addition to preventing false search and rescue efforts and the cost and risks involved the stickers will also help return found kayaks to their owners, and if someone is at risk the stickers can help determine where to look if the paddle craft owner has left a float plan with a person at one of the contact numbers.
The stickers are being distributed by the Coast Guard Auxiliary to paddle craft owners, stores and other places that paddle craft owners can pick them up. The hope is that everyone will identify their paddle craft and this will help reduce the hundreds of thousands of dollars that are spent on search and rescue efforts in the Puget Sound area every year that are later found not to have been necessary.
If you can’t get a sticker you are still urged to identify your boat. This can be done in several ways, you can get laminating sheets at almost any office supply store and laminate a small card of contrasting color (so the card will be noticed) and the laminated card can be taped into your paddle craft, most office supply stores will also laminate cards and luggage tags can be laminated by many luggage stores. Don’t want to be that fancy? Make a small card or sheet with your name on it and tape the card into your paddle craft with some clear packing tape. Put the identification sticker in an area that can be seen easily by someone looking inside the paddle craft but not where it will be rubbed in normal use and the printing rubbed off.
Properly identifying your paddle craft will help to identify real emergencies, reduce searching for people that are not missing and aid in getting lost paddle craft returned to their proper owners.
A note on the name, using only a first name or something like “Kayak #1” will provide more privacy than using a full first and last name.
Thanks for helping with boating safety!
Thanks also to Northwest Outdoor Center in Seattle for getting one of their kayaks out on a rainy day so I could take a picture of it for this story.