Even if you’re not a pilot or mariner, you probably know the international distress call, “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” What you may not know is that making a false distress call can cost you big bucks and land you in prison. What’s far more shocking than the penalties, is how common fake distress calls are because, apparently, there are a lot of really bored people out there that get a kick out of the hoax. It’s not all fun and games. Fake distress calls put people in very real danger of losing their lives.
Penalties for False Mayday Calls
According to the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), the penalties for a false distress call can include:
- $250,000 criminal fine
- $5,000 civil fine
- Reimbursement of the cost of the search
- 6 years in prison
Why is it such a Big Deal?
A false distress call can put search and rescue personnel, such as USCG members, in grave danger. It also ties up already limited resources, which can mean that people who are truly in need of rescuing do not get the help they need. In short – people can die.
Second to the risk to human life, it is very costly. Operating the boats, aircraft and other equipment used in a wild goose chase can costs thousands of dollars per hour. Taxpayers foot the bill.
Hoax calls are incredibly common. The USCG says that in the first year they kept a record, 1990, there were 205 hoaxes, and it’s gotten worse each year. To put it in another perspective, “the Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco estimates that 36% of all responses were attributable to false alarms,” according to a 2004 news report on the American Boating Association’s website.