Simple tip to assist the rescuers: Mark your boat and gear

If it floats put your name on it!
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You may be safely at home tucked up in bed, but the often-volunteer rescuers are out at night searching for you because they have found your dinghy, or maybe your life jacket, or even your boat. So the message is: Mark your name and contact number on anything that floats.

A recent surge in incidents involving 'found' small craft -- some of which sparked search-and-rescue operations -- underscores the need for boat owners to carry out this very simple task.

The advice from Lt. Nick Barrow of the U.S. Coast Guard, which would no doubt be seconded by most rescue organisations around the world, comes after the discovery of a life jacket and a small, unmarked craft near Wood Island off Biddeford in Maine, USA. A few weeks earlier, a sailing dinghy was found on a shore in a nearby area with the sail partially raised.

'Reports of a craft adrift with no one on board average 100 per year, about one-seventh of the search-and-rescue cases we run annually,' said Barrow.

An average two-hour investigation could involve considerable activity at the Coast Guard's command center in South Portland, along with the launching of both aircraft and watercraft, even when no other signs of distress, such as a mayday call, are present.

While the scope and cost of search efforts can vary, the one off Wood Island involved a Coast Guard Falcon jet, a helicopter, a boat and command center personnel, along with a Maine Marine patrol boat and local law enforcement. Preliminary estimates put the cost as high as $25,000.

'A lot of these cases entail a great deal of uncertainly, and we do the best we can to make a good faith effort,' Barrow said. 'Some simple steps can save unneeded searches, and we can make sure that no one is in distress.'

Contact information on a boat and its equipment can help in a couple ways.

'It gives us a lead to go on,' Barrow said. 'If we can get hold of owner or family member and know whether they're safe on shore or are out and have not been heard from, it can make a big difference.'

A second, more obvious benefit of labeling a boat and gear is that the rightful owner has a better chance of getting it back if it is found.

Along with name, address and phone number, Barrow suggests adding the name and registration information for the mother ship in the case of dinghies, life jackets, life rings and other equipment that have a connection to a larger boat.

Finding a small craft adrift is a big concern considering that eight out of every 10 people who died while boating in 2010 were operating craft less than 21 feet in length.