They highlight safety, save time, money
By Jessica Tuggle
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- Promoting boat safety and boater education is what the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 56 is all about, even when the watercraft is as small as a stand-up paddleboard or a kayak.
Harvey Niblack, spokesman for Flotilla 56, said the Coast Guard station in Fort Pierce receives calls about seemingly abandoned watercraft from time to time, including small paddlecraft vessels. Each time a case has been logged, a search and rescue team must be deployed.
On occasion, however, it could be that a paddlecraft was improperly secured on land and merely drifted out on the tide. Rescuers would have no way of knowing that was the case, Mr. Niblack said.
Flotilla 56 is offering free, bright-orange identification stickers to help emergency personnel in their search efforts.
"The first thing they can do is call the number on the sticker and see if someone was using the boat," Mr. Niblack said.
Writing in waterproof ink on the sticker will allow the name and two emergency contact numbers to be easily accessible to those trying to determine if a rescue is needed, he said.
Mr. Niblack hopes some time, money and effort can be saved by distributing the free identification stickers to owners of kayaks, rowboats, canoes, paddle boards and other non-powered water vessels.
From Oct. 1, 2012 to Jan. 3, the Coast Guard station in Fort Pierce logged 28 search and rescue cases, said Petty Officer Michael Cote.
"Some days it's busy, busy, busy," Petty Officer Cote said.
In the entire 2011-12 year, there were 150 search and rescue missions carried out by the Coast Guard in the region.
The Coast Guard's job is to help people in distress on the water and find people, but when a small paddlecraft is reported adrift, it is very difficult to determine if it is a distress situation, he said.
"Our job is to find people. If Elvis is out there on the water, we'll find him," Petty Officer Cote said.
Reports of such watercraft are few and far between, but when it does happen, it could mean a long search using valuable resources that might not even be necessary, Petty Officer Cote said.
Other boats, larger recreational and commercial vessels, have registration numbers or names where vessel owners can be identified, but non-powered watercraft do not.
"Most definitely, a name, a phone number that we could run through dispatch would help," Petty Officer Cote said.
Making the stickers available to the public is just another way the Coast Guard Auxiliary encourages the public to be responsible on the water and promotes safety, even safety of the teams conducting search and rescue missions, Mr. Niblack said.
The auxiliary also provides free vessel safety checks for all powered and non-powered watercraft. A vessel examiner can come out to wherever the craft is kept, whether a residential home or the marina, he said.
To request an identification sticker, call Mr. Niblack at (772) 778-7318. For more information about Flotilla 56, visit http://a0700506.uscgaux.info.
For more information about the Fort Pierce Coast Guard Station, call (772) 464-6100 or visit www.uscg.mil/d7/staFortPierce/default.asp.