In the recent Atlantic Coastal Kayaker, they shared a couple of important advisories from the U.S. Coast Guard regarding free labels and what happens if they find a small boat unlabeled and unmanned. Here’s what the USCG says:
The Coast Guard urges paddlecraft owners to properly secure and label their vessels. Coast Guard crews treat every unmanned-adrift vessel as a search and rescue case and immediately launch a search for potential mariners in distress.
“Every unmanned-adrift vessel is treated as a potential distress situation, which takes up valuable time, resources and manpower,” said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Brook Serbu of the 13th District Command Center, Seattle, Washington. “When the craft is properly labeled, the situation can often be quickly resolved with a phone call to the vessel owner, which minimizes personnel fatigue and negative impacts on crew readiness.”
Helicopter and boat crews individually search an average of two hours per response and a similar amount of time is spent by other government agency personnel. Additionally, Coast Guard command center and 911 center personnel spend an additional four hours investigating the incident.
Coast Guard officials encourage all paddlecraft owners to label their vessels using a permanent or waterproof marker covered with clear, waterproof tape for increased durability. You can also check with a local outdoor recreation retailer or Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla to obtain a Paddle Smart Identification Sticker. At the very least, the label should include the name of the vessel’s owner, a number to reach them. and a secondary point of contact. In the event that the vessel is adrift, crews can use that information to contact the owner and avoid launching an unnecessary search. If the owner of a vessel is unable to be located after a reasonable amount of time, Coast Guard crews are forced to destroy the vessel or turn it over to the state for disposal.
Mariners who encounter unmanned-adrift vessels or other hazards to navigation are encouraged to contact their local Coast Guard District Command Center or via VHF-FM Channel 16.
And later in that report: “The Coast Guard offers free ‘If Found’ decals to mark gear or you write directly on it,” said a Coast Guard spokesperson, Sector Honolulu. “The information on the sticker can allow responders to determine if someone is in distress more quickly and help us get your gear back to you.”
The stickers can be obtained for free at local harbormasters, through the Coast Guard Auxiliary, and at select marine retail and supply stores. Similarly, if you lose kayaks, surfboard or safety equipment such as lifejackets, please report it to the Coast Guard to help our search and rescue specialists deconflict possible distress reports. The self-adhesive labels are retroreflective and highly visible at night in the light of a flashlight. If someone finds your strayed gear, you might get it back and, by calling the phone numbers you list, the Coast Guard will know not to go looking for you and your boat.