FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. - It's your money and thousands are being wasted every time the U.S. Coast Guard responds to a false emergency call. Officials say in recent weeks, boaters have been lighting up the sky over the gulf with distress flares for no reason.
"We really don't find out until we've exhausted our resources," said USCG Petty Officer Second Class Anthony Tipton. "Lately it's been on the rise. This month we've had six cases. In the last two weeks, we've been averaging two a week/ We've used taxpayers' money for launching resources and hours have been wasted."
Launching a C-130 Coast Guard aircraft costs $15,000 an hour. Helicopters with crew run between $7-8,000 an hour. A three-hour search for nothing could cost nearly $70,000.
"If you shoot one off just for the fun of it, you may be paying for one of these boats or airplanes to come look for you. Believe me, they will find you," Bill Petritz of the USCG Auxilary said.
It's a trend they're trying to extinguish, while at the same time, reminding boaters how to properly use flares in an emergency. "When you shoot them off, shoot one," Petritz said. "Then immediately, shoot a second, in groups of two, when a rescuer is nearby."
Whether it's hand-held, pistol-fired or smoke, Officers say you should have at least three onboard. Not having enough could also bring you a fine.
"If you are in harm's way on a boat, these are the devices that can save your life - not for fun - they are for saving your life," Petritz said.
The Coast Guard also wants to remind boaters to check the dates on their flares. Petritz said most are made for only 42 months of use. Some of the older flares launched during the demonstration did not make it very far.