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14 U.S. Code § 521 - Saving life and property

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(a) In order to render aid to distressed individuals, vessels, and aircraft on and under the high seas and on and under the waters over which the United States has jurisdiction and in order to render aid to individuals and property imperiled by flood, the Coast Guard may:
perform any and all acts necessary to rescue and aid individuals and protect and save property;
take charge of and protect all property saved from marine or aircraft disasters, or floods, at which the Coast Guard is present, until such property is claimed by individuals legally authorized to receive it or until otherwise disposed of in accordance with law or applicable regulations, and care for bodies of those who may have perished in such catastrophes;
furnish clothing, food, lodging, medicines, and other necessary supplies and services to individuals succored by the Coast Guard; and
destroy or tow into port sunken or floating dangers to navigation.
Subject to paragraph (2), the Coast Guard may render aid to individuals and protect and save property at any time and at any place at which Coast Guard facilities and personnel are available and can be effectively utilized.
The Commandant shall make full use of all available and qualified resources, including the Coast Guard Auxiliary and individuals licensed by the Secretary pursuant to section 8904(b) of title 46, United States Code, in rendering aid under this subsection in nonemergency cases.
(c) An individual who knowingly and willfully communicates a false distress message to the Coast Guard or causes the Coast Guard to attempt to save lives and property when no help is needed is—
guilty of a class D felony;
subject to a civil penalty of not more than $10,000; and
liable for all costs the Coast Guard incurs as a result of the individual’s action.
The Secretary shall establish a helicopter rescue swimming program for the purpose of training selected Coast Guard personnel in rescue swimming skills, which may include rescue diver training.
(e) An individual who knowingly and willfully operates a device with the intention of interfering with the broadcast or reception of a radio, microwave, or other signal (including a signal from a global positioning system) transmitted, retransmitted, or augmented by the Coast Guard for the purpose of maritime safety is—
guilty of a class E felony; and
subject to a civil penalty of not more than $1,000 per day for each violation.
Historical and Revision Notes

Derived from title 14, U.S.C., 1946 ed., §§ 29, 53, 55, 60, 61, 62, 63, 104, and title 34, U.S.C., 1946 ed., § 471 (R.S. 1536, R.S. 2759; June 18, 1878, ch. 265, § 4, 20 Stat. 163; Apr. 19, 1906, ch. 1640, §§ 1–3, 34 Stat. 123; May 12, 1906, ch. 2454, 34 Stat. 190; June 24, 1914, ch. 124, 38 Stat. 387; Aug. 29, 1916, ch. 417, 39 Stat. 601; Aug. 6, 1947, ch. 502, 61 Stat. 786).

This section broadens existing law in that it authorizes the Coast Guard to engage in saving life and property in the broadest possible terms, without limitation as to place. This section reflects existing sentiment as to Coast Guard functions in relation to saving life and property. There is no intention to supersede or conflict with the present authority of the Civil Aeronautics Board to investigate certain aircraft wrecks. 81st Congress, House Report No. 557.

Editorial Notes

2021—Subsecs. (a), (b)(1). Pub. L. 116–283 substituted “individuals” for “persons” wherever appearing.

2018—Pub. L. 115–282 renumbered section 88 of this title as this section.

2014—Subsec. (c)(2). Pub. L. 113–281 substituted “$10,000” for “$5,000”.

2012—Subsec. (e). Pub. L. 112–213 added subsec. (e).

1996—Subsec. (d). Pub. L. 104–324 added subsec. (d).

1990—Subsec. (c). Pub. L. 101–595 added subsec. (c).

1988—Subsec. (b). Pub. L. 100–448 designated existing provisions as par. (1), substituted “Subject to paragraph (2), the Coast Guard” for “The Coast Guard”, and added par. (2).

1970—Subsec. (a). Pub. L. 91–278 substituted “on and under the high seas and on and under the waters” for “on the high seas and on waters” in introductory text.

Statutory Notes and Related Subsidiaries
Transfer of Functions

For transfer of authorities, functions, personnel, and assets of the Coast Guard, including the authorities and functions of the Secretary of Transportation relating thereto, to the Department of Homeland Security, and for treatment of related references, see sections 468(b), 551(d), 552(d), and 557 of Title 6, Domestic Security, and the Department of Homeland Security Reorganization Plan of November 25, 2002, as modified, set out as a note under section 542 of Title 6.

Aqua Alert Notification System Pilot Program

Pub. L. 117–263, div. K, title CXII, § 11207, Dec. 23, 2022, 136 Stat. 4010, provided that:

“(a) In General.—
Not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of this Act [Dec. 23, 2022], the Commandant [of the Coast Guard] shall, subject to the availability of appropriations, establish a pilot program to improve the issuance of alerts to facilitate cooperation with the public to render aid to distressed individuals under section 521 of title 14, United States Code.
“(b) Pilot Program Contents.—In carrying out the pilot program established under subsection (a), the Commandant shall, to the maximum extent possible—
include a voluntary opt-in program under which members of the public, as appropriate, and the entities described in subsection (c), may receive notifications on cellular devices regarding Coast Guard activities to render aid to distressed individuals under section 521 of title 14, United States Code;
cover areas located within the area of responsibility of 3 different Coast Guard sectors in diverse geographic regions; and
provide that the dissemination of an alert shall be limited to the geographic areas most likely to facilitate the rendering of aid to distressed individuals.
“(c) Consultation.—In developing the pilot program under subsection (a), the Commandant shall consult—
the head of any relevant Federal agency;
the government of any relevant State;
any Tribal Government;
the government of any relevant territory or possession of the United States; and
any relevant political subdivision of an entity described in paragraph (2), (3), or (4).
“(d) Report to Congress.—
“(1) In general.—
Not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of this Act, and annually thereafter through 2026, the Commandant shall submit to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the House of Representatives a report on the implementation of this section.
“(2) Public availability.—
The Commandant shall make the report submitted under paragraph (1) available to the public.”

[Nothing in amendment made by Pub. L. 117–263 to be construed to satisfy any requirement for government-to-government consultation with Tribal governments or to affect or modify any treaty or other right of any Tribal government, see section 11003 of Pub. L. 117–263, set out as a note under section 245 of Title 6, Domestic Security.]

Survival and Locating Equipment

Pub. L. 115–265, title II, § 209, Oct. 11, 2018, 132 Stat. 3747, provided that:

“Not later than 2 years after the date of the enactment of this Act [Oct. 11, 2018], the Commandant [of the Coast Guard] shall, subject to the availability of appropriations, identify and procure equipment that will provide search-and-rescue units the ability to attach a radio or Automated Identification System strobe or beacon to an object that is not immediately retrievable.”
Coast Guard Policies and Procedures for Towing and Salvage of Disabled Vessels for Minimization of Coast Guard Competition or Interference with Commercial Enterprise

Pub. L. 97–322, title I, § 113, Oct. 15, 1982, 96 Stat. 1585, as amended by Pub. L. 100–448, § 30(b), Sept. 28, 1988, 102 Stat. 1850, provided that:

“The Commandant of the Coast Guard shall review Coast Guard policies and procedures for towing and salvage of disabled vessels in order to further minimize the possibility of Coast Guard competition or interference (other than by the Coast Guard Auxiliary) with private towing activities or other commercial enterprise.”