The nameless drifter, a staple in Westerns, is either a nuisance or real danger, and who knows which? Still, the stakes are high.
So too are they high when the nameless drifter is a kayak, canoe, stand-up paddleboard, dinghy or other small craft found bobbing empty on waters inland or ocean. Few states require human-powered vessels to be registered. A registered boat’s owner can be looked-up. An unregistered boat, not.
Did someone fall out of their craft, and are they out there in desperate need? Or is this simply a boat blown offshore from a dock, needing only to be reconnected with its owner? These are the questions one must ask when a drifting canoe, kayak, SUP, rowboat, or other oar- or paddle-powered craft is discovered.
No guess or coin toss will do; rescue boats or aircraft and their crews are dispatched at great expense, and often danger. Meanwhile, they’re not available should another emergency arise.
Unless, that is, a quick scan of the boat reveals a sticker, decal or other indication of the owner’s name, cellphone number and, in case that phone has been water-damaged or lost, second phone number from which information can be obtained. Then officials can quickly determine if this is lost property or someone in dire straits, and if the latter, where to focus a search.
That was the premise a decade ago when the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary developed an “If Found” sticker program in the face of rapidly increasing paddling emergencies and false alarms.
Paddlers and others were asked to use a waterproof marker to record their information and then place the sticker on an easily visible interior hull location, covering it with clear, wide packing tape.
Today, bright orange “If Found” stickers are available through local Coast Guard Auxiliary flotillas, United States Power Squadrons offices, kayak and canoe shops and websites, harbor masters, and commercial sources such as Amazon. Paddling.com offers them at paddling.com/store/uscg-if-found-sticker.
In some states, the need for such information has led officials to propose registering human-powered boats, which often don’t require it (and thus, some say, don’t chip in on boating costs.)
A sticker is the most distinctive, reliable way to provide contact information. But even adding name and phone info inked on a hull with a waterproof pen is a big improvement over an anonymous, empty boat. Some kayak builders are now molding in a panel perfect for such personalization.
While you’re at it, consider doing the same with paddles, oars, life jackets and other gear that could get separated from you or the boat and trigger searches.
Add ownership and phone information to your paddlecraft or small unregistered boat. And then make it less necessary by securing your boat when you’re not using it.
Don’t enable that nameless drifter.