Operation Paddle Smart

 

 

American Canoe Association certified instructor Linda Fisher-Hilmer gives pointers on how to safely enter and exit a kayak at the Cape Cod Paddle Smart Safety Clinic at Jackknife Beach, Chatham, Mass., June 28, 2008.  The instructors demonstrated safe paddlecraft skills and techniques to educate paddlers to be responsible when recreating on the water. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Matthew Belson

American Canoe Association certified instructor Linda Fisher-Hilmer gives pointers on how to safely enter and exit a kayak at the Cape Cod Paddle Smart Safety Clinic at Jackknife Beach, Chatham, Mass., June 28, 2008.
The instructors demonstrated safe paddlecraft skills and techniques to educate paddlers to be responsible when recreating on the water.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Matthew Belson

 

A tale of two paddlecrafts

Imagine: two men living in the same neighborhood on Lake Michigan went to the outdoor store and each bought a paddlecraft. While there, they were both handed paddlecraft safety kits with a Paddle Smart sticker.

The free weather-proof sticker, self-applied to the small craft, which the owner is able to write his contact information on, is intended to return property and reduce the number of Coast Guard resources spent on unnecessary search and rescue cases.

One man filled out the sticker and put it on his paddlecraft before tying it to the pier. The other tied his craft to the pier without the sticker.

Unlike larger recreational vessels, most paddlecraft do not have hull registration numbers that allow search-and-rescue responders to contact the owner when the vessel is found unmanned.

Up river without a Paddle Smart sticker

During the next two nights, the area experienced significant rain, wind and rough seas. On the first night, the new craft without the sticker broke free and drifted out into the lake. A concerned boater reported the unmanned, adrift kayak to the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard and other agencies responded to the call and searched for many hours looking for someone in danger, but there was no one to be found.

Until evidence proves otherwise, Coast Guard rescuers will respond to potential search and rescue cases with full force – a response that may include boats, cutters and aircraft.

Frequently, local search-and-rescue teams join the effort. The Coast Guard and partner agencies spend hundreds of hours and millions of dollars each year responding to false alerts involving paddlecraft.

In this hypothesized case, the Coast Guard searched for several hours, attempted to correlate the craft to any missing person’s report, and suspended the active search. The craft was retrieved by the Coast Guard and placed in a pile with other crafts found without stickers, whose owners could not be found.

paddlesmart decal 2Sticker Paratus

On the second rainy, windy night, the other paddlecraft came loose and drifted out into the lake. Another concerned boater called the Coast Guard about the unmanned, adrift paddlecraft. When the Coast Guard responded to this call, the crew found the sticker with the owner’s name and phone number. A quick phone call determined that there was no danger. The crew returned the craft to the pier, where the owner was waiting happily to get his new paddlecraft back.

Coast Guard, Coast Guard Auxiliary and partner agencies have launched Operation Paddle Smart. The campaign is aimed at small craft owners enjoying the waterways.

The free, weather-proof sticker, self-applied to the small craft, is intended to return property and reduce the number of Coast Guard resources spent on unnecessary search-and-rescue cases.

The sticker allows the Coast Guard to make best use of rescue personnel and resources.

“The benefit comes from being able to identify a real emergency,” said Capt. Andrew Sugimoto, 9th Coast Guard District Incident Management Branch chief.

“If the Coast Guard isn’t using resources searching for someone who isn’t missing, we save a lot of time and money.”

Real-life success

In 2012, the Great Lakes Coast Guard responded to 58 cases involving unmanned, adrift paddlecraft. Most of the cases were not emergencies, but rather incidents where the paddlecrafts were released into the water by weather or accidents.

In June 2012, rescue crews from Coast Guard Station Ashtabula, Ohio, responded to a report of an overturned paddlecraft in Lake Erie. The rescue crews arrived on scene and found the craft with a Paddle Smart sticker on it and were able to call the owner to determine that there was not an emergency. The owner of the craft was out of town and stated that the kids at his condominium were notorious for severing the lines on paddlecrafts and setting them adrift. The station stored the craft for the owner until he came to retrieve it.

 

Phil Karwowski, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, holds a Paddle Smart sticker at West Beach, Mass., which is to be placed on the paddlecraft, April, 26, 2013. The Coast Guard along with the Coast Guard Auxiliary has launched Operation Paddle Smart, which is aimed at owners of unregistered paddlecraft. Photo courtesy of Ken Yuszkus.

Phil Karwowski, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, holds a Paddle Smart sticker at West Beach, Mass., which is to be placed on the paddlecraft, April, 26, 2013.
The Coast Guard along with the Coast Guard Auxiliary has launched Operation Paddle Smart, which is aimed at owners of unregistered paddlecraft.
Photo courtesy of Ken Yuszkus.

“Using the identifying information attached to the craft, we were able to track down the owner quickly and determine that no one was in danger,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class William Campbell, officer-of-the-day at Coast Guard Station Ashtabula.

Putting two correct phone numbers on the reflective sticker with a permanent waterproof marker is another important thing to remember when filling out the owner information, Campbell says.

“If someone is out of the water and their craft flips over, his cell phone is now at the bottom of the lake,” said Campbell.

“We want the alternate number to call and verify whether there has been an emergency, or to return the property to its owner.”

A name and phone number allow the Coast Guard or other responders to quickly determine whether you’re treading water with the fishes or at home watching television. A simple sticker and 30 seconds with a waterproof marker can save the Coast Guard a great deal of time and effort, and ensures the Coast Guard lifesavers are ready to respond to real emergencies. Plus, it dramatically improves your chances of getting your paddlecraft back.

Take Action

For more information on Operation Paddle Smart in your area or to obtain a Paddle Smart sticker, please contact your local Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla or Coast Guard station.

Click here and enter your zip code to find the Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla closest to you.

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