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Record number of fake distress calls concern for Coast Guard, boaters

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- The US Coast Guard says it has received more fake distress calls this year than ever before.

Now some boaters are concerned about what this means for their real distress calls.

Robert Hudak has been boating for about 25 years. He says he's never been worried about reaching the coast guard for help on the water.

"Because I understand they're going to be there if I need them," Hudak said, as he and his family headed out from the Wrightsville Beach boat ramp this afternoon.

Earlier this week, a fake call made last fall to the Coast Guard landed an Atlantic Beach man 18 months in federal prison. He will also have to pay back nearly $300,000 for the cost of the search his hoax launched.

Coast guard Lt. Lane Munroe says this is a problem because they treat every call like it is a legitimate case.

"For distress which is not in fact true, we put first responders' lives at risk," Lt. Munroe said. "We divert assets that may otherwise be available for another legitimate search and rescue case."

That's why the Coast Guard says people need to know the consequences.

"Most often they may not know it's a felony, and they could be facing jail time and (restitution) costs, and putting people's lives at risk," Lt. Munroe said.

For boaters like Hudak, it's a serious matter as well, especially with such precious cargo on board.

"If my family is in trouble one day, and we end up getting hurt because someone was making a fake call, it would just be tragic," Hudak said.

The Coast Guard says the fake calls it has received this year are under investigation. Whoever made them could face up to six years in prison, $250,000 in fines and have to pay back the cost of the search effort.

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