CAPE MAY — A distress call the U.S. Coast Guard received from a boat 12 miles off this resort on Sunday has been classified as an “uncorrelated Mayday” and not a hoax distress call.
The Coast Guard is using the incident to warn mariners not to misuse the Mayday emergency system.
Petty Officer 1st Class Nick Ameen of Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City said a hoax call comes with a clear intent to deceive the Coast Guard into responding. This is a federal felony that can lead to a prison term and reimbursement costs for the Coast Guard response.
On June 11 a hoax call off Sandy Hook, Monmouth County, led to a response that cost taxpayers an estimated $88,000. Ameen said the issue is not just about the money.
“If we hear Mayday, we’re going out. If we go out we put our people at risk and reduce our response to other situations,” Ameen said.
An uncorrelated Mayday, Ameen explained, is often a mariner who has a problem, calls in a Mayday and then solves the problem. If an engine isn’t starting or an anchor is stuck, this is not a reason to broadcast a Mayday.
“We get them frequently. It’s not uncommon, unfortunately,” Ameen said, adding: “You wouldn’t call an ambulance when you need a tow truck.”
The Coast Guard is urging mariners not to use the word Mayday unless it is a serious emergency. That doesn’t mean the Coast Guard can’t be called for less serious matters, but it should not be a Mayday call.
“Mayday is an emergency term. If it really seems like a life-threatening situation, then Mayday is what you want to use. That gets us out there the fastest,” Ameen said.
Sunday’s call came in at about 10:15 a.m. on the marine radio channel, VHF Channel 16. It simply said: “Mayday! Mayday! Is anyone out there?” Air Station Atlantic City dispatched one helicopter for the search but found nothing.
“Maybe they solved the problem themselves. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any follow-up call,” said Ameen.
The search was suspended Sunday afternoon. No other mariners reported seeing any problems. There were no boaters reported overdue or missing.
“We rely heavily on the boating public, good Samaritans, who help us out,” Ameen said.
This search wasn’t anywhere near as costly as the one off Sandy Hook that involved several boats and three helicopters. Only one helicopter responded.
Contact Richard Degener: