Coast Guard to boaters: Don't misuse distress flares

The US Coast Guard is putting the word out to boaters: Don't make the Guard waste its time and resources chasing after fake distress calls.

The Guard says the misuse of a distress flare is like a 911 hang-up call, only more expensive.

When the Coast Guard station in Georgetown gets a call about a boater in distress, it sends out a 45 foot response boat, with a five-person crew on board.

The Guard says on average, that single search will cost more than $8,800.

Coast Guard officers say too often that kind of run ends up being a response to people who treat distress flares like fireworks.

"Sometimes there are boaters out there that are just shooting them off because it's close to the Fourth of July, or they just randomly do it," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Kyle Monson.

Monson says boaters may also fire off old flares just to get rid of them, but that's not the right way to dispose of expired flares.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary can show boaters the proper procedure.

The firing of any flare could prompt a Coast Guard search that puts lives at risk.

"Our crews go out there in bad weather, heavy seas, winds and doing these operations on these small boats could become potentially dangerous for us as well," said Monson.

The Coast Guard is telling boaters they should keep flares on their boats, but use them only if they have to.

"If they have shot off a flare and their situation changes, we want them to contact us and let us know so that we're not wasting our assets and our time," Monson said.

Since June 1, Coast Guard District 7 covering Florida, Georgia and South Carolina has responded to more than 60 flare sightings, costing nearly $5 million, according to a Coast Guard press release.

The Guard says a search from a flare sighting could cost up to $89,000, if helicopters and larger boats are involved.