BEVERLY — The U.S. Coast Guard and local harbormasters are handing out free orange stickers this boating season in an effort to increase safety and save taxpayers money.
The identifying stickers are meant to be affixed to kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and any other unregistered watercraft so that officials can determine whether to launch a search-and-rescue mission if a vessel is found adrift.
Officials say the Coast Guard and local harbormasters spend “hundreds of thousands of dollars” per year searching for people who, it turns out, were not missing in the first place — not to mention expending the time and manpower that could be used for a true emergency.
“There’s a tremendous amount of resources deployed when there’s someone presumed lost,” Salem Harbormaster Bill McHugh said. “That’s our job, but if it’s unnecessary and the person is sitting at home, that frees up those resources in the event there’s a situation out there that requires a search.”
The stickers are the latest effort to address a growing problem caused by the explosion in the popularity of paddle craft, said Phil Karwowski of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary’s North Shore division.
Karwowski, who lives in Beverly, called the use of paddle craft “the fastest-growing sport in America.” It’s not unusual to see dozens of kayaks and stand-up paddleboards in the waters off the North Shore on any given day, he said.
Last year, 179 unmanned vessels were found adrift in the Coast Guard district between New Jersey and Maine, he said. On one day last August, three vessels were found between Beverly and Boston.
The paddleboard or kayak might have simply broken loose from a boat or the shore. But in the absence of information, emergency responders are obligated to assume that somebody might be missing and begin a search mission.