JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The U.S. Coast Guard is having to waste money, time, and resources chasing after false flares shot into the air by boaters who are not facing an emergency.
Since June, the Coast Guard has investigated 66 false flares set off from Florida to South Carolina, costing upwards of five million dollars. Setting off flares is supposed to be a boater's 911 call.
"Anytime we hear of a report of a flare going up we immediately assume that somebody is in danger, and in need of help," said Petty Officer Second Class Anthony Soto at the Mayport Coast Guard station. "Then we go out, we send assets and personnel to assist."
But some boaters are using the flares like fireworks or toys, and not in distress situations. And when the Coast Guard responds, it's a waste of time.
"You're putting Coast Guard personnel and crews in danger, our assets costs a lot of money to the taxpayer to be using them needlessly, and also it is taking our personnel away from responding to actual emergencies," said Soto. "Operating one of our 25-foot small boats is over a $1,000 per hour. The bigger the asset, the more money it costs to operate per hour. That includes our helicopters and airplanes."
Boater John Faiella thinks it is a shame that boaters are being so irresponsible.
"Keep those flares locked up until you need them, especially with cell phones and radios and a lot of other ways to talk and communicate if you need to," he said. "Keep them locked up and have fun some other time."
A Tampa man recently had to repay $12,000 to the Coast Guard for shooting off flares in a non-emergency situation. The Coast Guard warns boater that using flares when they are not necessary, can cost you thousands of dollars in fines and could even result in jail time.
Fines can be upward of $250,000, and prison time could be up to ten years. Plus, boaters can be forced to repay the costs to the Coast Guard of responding.
"Boaters doing this need to cease and desist," said Soto.