SAN DIEGO, Ca., December 22, 2009 - This morning the BoatU.S. California 24-hour Service Center in Costa Mesa, CA received a 'panicked' VHF radio mayday call at approximately 6:15 a.m. hrs via the BoatU.S. San Diego VHF radio antenna site, apparently from a kayaker using a low-power handheld VHF radio. The San Diego weather this morning included gale warnings with frequent gusts to 40 mph and water temperatures in the mid 50s.
The on-the-water towing service has a series of tall VHF radio antennas along the California coastline tied to the central Service Center that allow the company to dispatch Vessel Assist towboats for boaters who have engine trouble or run out of gas, much like an auto club. BoatU.S. Dispatcher Paul Huffman responded back to the mayday on VHF channel 16 after it received no response. Communications were broken - three people in the water approximately 600 yards off the beach at La Jolla Shores with a 'holed and sinking kayak'. Huffman was able to confirm the kayakers were in the cold water wearing life jackets communicating on a handheld VHF radio, which typically do not have the same transmitting range of a fixed mount VHF radio, but are more practical to carry aboard small craft.
On a landline, Coast Guard Sector San Diego advised that they and the San Diego Lifeguards could hear Huffman's side of the communication but not the kayakers. The Coast Guard then advised they would keep boaters off VHF radio channel 16 to allow clear communications between Huffman and the kayakers. Huffman then placed the Coast Guard on speakerphone so they could hear kayakers' communication. Huffman was able to direct lifeguards to the kayakers who assisted them to shore at La Jolla Shores at approximately 7:15 a.m.
After the rescue Huffman received a telephone call from the Lifeguards advising that the three kayakers had been transported to a hospital in La Jolla, CA and said they could not hear the kayakers VHF communications even when they were on scene. They also thanked Huffman for his assistance.