South Whidbey fire department launches paddlecraft sticker campaign

Citizens can stop by the South Whidbey Fire station and pick up a sticker to attach to their vessel.

In an effort to reduce time spent searching for the owner of human-powered watercraft loose in open waters, citizens can stop by South Whidbey Fire/EMS’s Bayview station and pick up a sticker to attach to their vessel with their name and contact information.

Deputy Chief Terry Ney explained that kayaks, canoes and paddleboards are all paddlecrafts that don’t require registration numbers, so tracking down the owner is often difficult.

“We get a lot of calls for unmanned kayaks in the water,” he said.

In 2022, the fire district responded to a total of 43 calls for watercraft rescue. Ney said that the majority of the time, overturned vessels are unmanned.

South Whidbey Fire/EMS is offering the “if found” stickers in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard. Whidbey Island is part of the 13th Coast Guard District, which encompasses Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

The Coast Guard reported that since 2016, the 13th District aircraft and vessels have launched on 746 individual cases of vessels capsized and adrift, all of which turned out to be unmanned and adrift, not resulting in actual distress.

“Each case represents a minimum cost of approximately $40,000 to the taxpayers to respond and conduct searches for possible persons in the water,” the statement read. “For the 13th District, this accounts for an operational cost of approximately $29,840,000.”

Paddlecraft stickers can be picked up at 5579 Bayview Road in Langley. Or, people can email to get one sent directly to them.

Ney said the stickers aren’t just for South Whidbey residents.

“A kayak can get loose from Camano Island or Port Townsend or Oak Harbor,” he said.

While the stickers probably won’t reduce the number of watercraft rescue calls that the fire department receives, Ney pointed out that it would allow first responders to deal with the matter more efficiently if they can find out right away who the loose vessel belongs to.