PORTSMOUTH, Va. - The Coast Guard has asked all cell phone providers nationwide, including those in the states of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina and Pennsylvania to remove the specialized keying sequence *CG as a method of requesting maritime emergency assistance.
As an interim measure, the Coast Guard has requested that cell phone service providers reroute all *CG calls to the nearest 911 operator.
Boaters should use VHF-FM radio as their primary means of making distress calls on the water. Cell phone calls to 911 should be used only as a secondary option.
VHF-FM radio provides superior alerting capabilities in an emergency. When a distress call is sent out via VHF-FM radio any nearby boaters can hear the distress call and offer immediate assistance. VHF-FM radios will further enhance boaters' safety as the Coast Guard expands its Rescue 21 system, which uses technology that tracks the precise location of distress calls. This allows the Coast Guard and other rescuers to narrow the focus of search and rescue efforts.
The Coast Guard is alerting mariners to stop using *CG immediately and begin using 911 on their cell phones to notify authorities of a maritime emergency if a cell phone is their only means of communication.
The *CG feature was introduced by some cell phone service providers in the early 1990s but never developed into a nationwide service. As providers moved to digital systems, some did not migrate *CG, creating a confusing patchwork of service that can add significant delays in the Coast Guard response.
The sole exception to the change is in Alaska, where the *CG feature will remain active. Cell phone service providers operating there all have the *CG feature available and routed to a single Coast Guard emergency line. Calls are not missed and cannot be misdirected.
For more information on the Coast Guard's search and rescue program, visit http://www.uscg.mil/hq/g-o/g-opr/sar.htm.