Kayakers thought missing prompt Coast Guard search

LORAIN, Ohio - The U.S. Coast Guard is warning about a spike in fake calls after an overnight search for kayakers thought to be missing in Lorain turned out to be yet another false alarm.

A pair of kayakers did not return their rentals to Grump’s Bait Bucket on the Black River and couldn't be found.

After searching for the kayakers unsuccessfully, owner Bob Fowler called the U.S. Coast Guard, which searched for more than six hours until the kayaks were found in woods near the rental shop.

Police said officers later tracked down the kayakers, who told officer that one got sick and that a friend was supposed to return the rentals. They told police they would pay for the rentals, which is normally done upon return at Grumpy’s Bait Bucket.

Though Fowler legitimately thought the kayakers were missing and possibly in danger, the Coast Guard has reported a spike in false distress claims, ranging from accidental radio calls by children to intentional calls meant to deceive.

The Coast Guard reported more than 160 false distress calls on the Great Lakes so far this year compared with 55 last year.

The Coast Guard treats each call like a true emergency and deploys costly resources. It said a response boat can cost $4,500 per hour, a helicopter can cost up to $16,000 per hour and a fixed-wing aircraft can cost as much as $38,000 per hour.

“It's no laughing matter,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Yaw. “People that are doing this are taking away our resources from saving someone else's life.”

Those who intentionally make a false call can face prison time and be fined and made to pay restitution to cover the cost of the response.

That’s unlikely in the Lorain case, Yaw said.

Fowler said he planned to change his kayak rental policies to prevent future confusion.

“We'll be starting to take some identification and tighten up a little on it,” he said.