On June 6, the United States Coast Guard had to rescue an ocean kayaker some 70 miles west of Santa Cruz, California. The kayaker is safe and sound, but the search and rescue came with a hefty price tag: $42,335.97.
The United States Coast Guard is there when a seafarer’s worst nightmare becomes a reality. Its search and rescue operations involve an orchestra of expensive equipment and highly trained individuals. It’s one of those government entities that you may not really think about until you’re in the middle of nowhere and need them to save the day. As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, a Coast Guard rescue isn’t cheap, and the burden is carried by taxpayers.
On May 31, Cyril Derreumaux set off on an ambitious voyage. Departing from Sausalito, California, Derreumaux would attempt to kayak 2,400 nautical miles to Hawaii. He spent three years preparing for the journey and he would do it from a 23-foot kayak with a tiny cabin for him to sleep in. As the Chronicle notes, he could have set a world record for the fastest human-powered crossing.
Derreumaux only made it six days. Rough seas, seasickness, and technical glitches brought his journey to an end. He called in the cavalry 54 miles off the coast of Santa Cruz. He was rescued in about two hours.
While Derreumaux was praised for knowing when to throw in the towel, others criticize him for wasting taxpayer dollars.
Many people on social media praised Derreumaux’s good judgment — better to be safe than sorry, they reasoned — but an undercurrent of criticism pierced the well-wishing.
“So who foots the bill for the rescue?” one person commented on Derreumaux’s Facebook page. “This whole thing seems kind of dumb and perhaps a waste of taxpayer money, not to mention risking the lives of members of the USCG.”
That’s a saucy comment, as this is probably the best way that a government can spend its money (directly saving the life of a person) as opposed to other ways governments find to spend rather large sums (war, etc.).
Chief warrant officer and search mission coordinator for Coast Guard San Francisco, Leo Zapawa, told the Chronicle that not only did this rescue not impact the Coast Guard any different than any other rescue, but that the crew members weren’t in that grave of danger.
“I wouldn’t say this particular rescue negatively impacted our budget any more than any other rescue,”
Zapawa characterized Derreumaux’s rescue as a “higher-risk mission” but dismissed the idea that it posed a danger to the lives of the four Coast Guard crew members.
“As a search-and-rescue person, you get a lot of satisfaction from that kind of job,” he said.
According to the Coast Guard, in a single year it saves 3,560 lives and $77 million in property. It also performs an astonishing 19,790 Search and Rescue missions. The Coast Guard covers an area of some 3.4 square million miles and runs hundreds of missions a day, all while being smaller than the NYPD.
The Chronicle notes that while Derreumaux’s journey was dangerous, he actually was more prepared than people who go on day-cruises. He submitted a float plan and itinerary with the Coast Guard before launch and the Coast Guard didn’t see his journey as a threat.