skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon

No Plans To Charge San Diego Family For Sea Rescue Of Baby

Above: In this photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, sailors from Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Vandegrift (FFG 49) assist in the rescue of a family with a sick infant via the ship's small boat as part of a joint U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and California Air National Guard rescue effort, Sunday, April 6, 2014.

It took three federal agencies, a fixed-wing aircraft, a Navy warship and scores of personnel to rescue an ill baby girl and her family from their broken down sailboat 900 miles off the Mexican coast. But the San Diego couple will not have to repay the federal government for the dramatic evacuation at sea, the agencies said Tuesday.

The Navy, Coast Guard and California Air National Guard don't charge for search-and-rescue missions.

"We don't want people in trouble at sea to hesitate to call for help for fear they'll be charged for assistance," said Lt. Anna Dixon of the 11th Coast Guard District, which oversaw the operation but did not send vessels or aircraft to the sailboat stranded southwest of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

She said that helping at sea is a time-honored tradition and a requirement of international maritime convention. The cost of the total operation is not known yet.

Charlotte and Eric Kaufman, who have drawn criticism for taking their 1-year-old and 3-year-old daughters on a voyage around the world, sent a call for help Thursday when their vessel, the Rebel Heart, lost its steering and communication abilities. Their youngest, Lyra, had also fallen ill, and her diagnosis still is not known.

Four California Air National Guard members parachuted into the water and swam to their sailboat Thursday night, stabilizing the girl and staying by her side as a Navy warship steamed toward the disabled vessel.

The ship picked up the family and crew Sunday and is scheduled to reach San Diego on Wednesday. After boarding the USS Vandegrift, Eric Kaufman, who's a Coast Guard-licensed capitan, and his wife issued a statement defending their decision to sail with their young children.

The question of reimbursement for a rescue operation often arises for those seen as putting themselves at risk, said Steve Ellis, a former Coast Guard officer and vice president of the Washington-based nonprofit Taxpayers for Common Sense.

"You do recognize there is a potential risk of loss of life if you do require repayment, but then you look at some of these cases and think, 'Gee, what an idiot. They should be paying,'" Ellis said. "I mean in my mind, who takes a 1-year-old sailing? You can't even explain to the kid how to avoid being seasick."

In recent years, the debate over who should foot the bill of sea rescue operations has extended to cruise liners carrying thousands of people out to sea that needed help after becoming stranded, he added.

As the Kaufmans headed across the Pacific, Lyra started showing salmonella-like symptoms, said her aunt Sariah English, who was in regular email contact with her sister, Charlotte Kaufman. The baby suffered from vomiting, diarrhea and fever and was not responding to antibiotics.

English, who spoke to her sister from the ship, said the baby girl's fever is gone and she has become a healthy, happy baby again with new medication.

The family lived on their sailboat for seven years before the rescue crews sank it Sunday at sea. The Kaufmans said they were well-prepared for the journey but faced unfortunate circumstances.

"When we departed on this journey more than a year ago, we were then and remain today confident that we prepared as well as any sailing crew could," the couple said in a statement from the Vandegrift.

California Air National Guard spokesman 2nd Lt. Roderick Bersamina said crews improve their skills every time they carry out a rescue operation. He said that above all, "you can't put a price on a life, and there's no discrimination of who you save."

The family has said they do not want to speak to the media upon their arrival Wednesday and would like a few days to take care of their daughter and rest.

They will disembark when the ship makes a previously scheduled stop to load ordnance. The ship will continue on to Naval Base San Diego, where Navy officers plan to meet with the media to answer questions, said spokeswoman Lt. Lenaya Rotklein.


Avatar for user 'FellowSailor'

FellowSailor | April 9, 2014 at 4:42 a.m. ― 1 year ago

"We don't want people in trouble at sea to hesitate to call for help for fear they'll be charged for assistance," said Lt. Anna Dixon of the 11th Coast Guard District

I agree with this but when someone is reckless, such as sailing off with a 1 yo in questionable health on a very old boat with issues, then perhaps the fact they may face a large bill would make them think twice before leaving.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Eddie89'

Eddie89 | April 9, 2014 at 8:29 a.m. ― 1 year ago

There should be a price for "stupid".

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | April 9, 2014 at 9:59 a.m. ― 1 year ago

When I first heard this story, I thought the family seemed very ignorant and I was not pleased about an expensive rescue being conducted at the public's expense.

But when I read more, I realized these people were not being irresponsible.

They really did take all the precautions one could reasonably expect one to take.

Beyond that, I think this idea that kids shouldn't be on a boat travelling around the world just feeds into this overprotection Americans have that is actually unhealthy.

Yes, things happen, something happened, but the chances of this happening were unlikely and the benefit to the kids would be that they have a unique experience unlike virtually any other child that will build character, responsibility, and maturity.

I can't blame these parents for wanting to expose their kids to different cultures and an adventure at sea.

I heard some of the gossipy relatives talking, in hindsight, about how they thought this was a "bad idea" because of the kids.

It's those people who are being unhealthy - kids need to have real life experiences before they become adults, otherwise they never become fully functioning adults.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'sdreefer21'

sdreefer21 | April 9, 2014 at 1:45 p.m. ― 1 year ago

There are children who face much tougher odds, far less caring parents, filth, hunger, and disease every second of the day. This was an unfortunate incident. These people were prepared to be successful in their mission until an unfortunate incident happened. Are we as a nation going to stop helping those truly in need.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | April 10, 2014 at 7:26 a.m. ― 1 year ago

SDR21 "Are we as a nation going to stop helping those truly in need."

At some point I think we have to. |Need| >> |Resources| In fact, there are doubtlessly people in the world truly in need right now to whom we are providing no help. You point out above some of those conditions.
This incident may not fall over the line but, as attested to by the public backlash; we are becoming less tolerant of self-inflicted problems draining the group's resources.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | April 10, 2014 at 7:38 a.m. ― 1 year ago

Benzzz, CA Off, John Markkk etc. would say "not on my dime" and let them drown!!!

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | April 10, 2014 at 7:47 a.m. ― 1 year ago

Parental decisions aside, the sea must be respected. Sailing is difficult enough without having to worry about the health of your crew.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | April 10, 2014 at 9:41 a.m. ― 1 year ago

MA, I can (and do) speak for myself. Kindly refrain for misrepresenting my statements.

You can also stop trolling with the extra z's any time you want to engage in a mature discussion.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | April 10, 2014 at 9:49 a.m. ― 1 year ago

Eddie I agree there should be a price for stupid. This is why Obamacare makes no sense - the premiums are the same for people who make healthy lifestyle choices and people who make unhealthy lifestyle choices.

Likewise, people are rewarded, not penalized, when they choose to quit working, have children they cannot afford, etc.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | April 11, 2014 at 11:25 a.m. ― 1 year ago

Tell me I'm wrong.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'sdreefer21'

sdreefer21 | April 12, 2014 at 1:32 p.m. ― 1 year ago

I think this is no different than someone suffering a stroke, heart attack, or broken leg on a cruise ship. Should the not be rescued? There isn't really a price you can put on someones life.The big uproar is because their parenting decision goes against most peoples idea of a safe activity. But lets play this out and go after them for the tune of 200,000. Then they declare bankruptcy and go into some form of public assistance. Or worse they become part of the broken cycle of downtown homeless filtering through svp, volunteers, neil good, rescue mission.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'CynthiaP'

CynthiaP | April 13, 2014 at 12:28 p.m. ― 1 year ago

If the family lived on the boat for years and dreamed of a voyage around the world, why didn’t they sail away before starting a family? Once they had children, why not wait a few years until their kids wait could enjoy and appreciate the wonderful experience. Stupid perhaps, selfish... absolutely.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | April 13, 2014 at 5:06 p.m. ― 1 year ago

SDR "There isn't really a price you can put on someones life."

I don't think that's entirely true. One can place a value on one’s own life in the form of insurance. One may value one's own life cheaply and behave recklessly. We can even place an upper bound on the value of an individual life by summing net assets and maximum future earnings.
There may be no emotional measurement, but that does not imply that a monetary value cannot be established.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | April 14, 2014 at 1:07 p.m. ― 1 year ago

benz, I like the way you think. Always logical, not swayed by emotions.

( | suggest removal )