PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WVEC) -- The Coast Guard says it is receiving a spike in suspected hoax distress calls in Hampton Roads and the Outer Banks.

The increase isn't necessarily unusual, but it is costly in resources. Watchstanders said they typically notice an increase in the amount of traffic on VHF-FM channel 16 during the late fall, which also sees an increase in fake distress calls on the channel.

"False distress calls incur significant cost to the public, divert limited resources to respond, and place both responders and potentially other mariners at risk," said Capt. Bion Stewart, commander, Sector North Carolina in a news release. “We continue to encourage mariners to use VHF radios to communicate with the Coast Guard and other mariners, but it is imperative that this critical, potentially life-saving tool be used appropriately and responsibly for the safety of all mariners.”

Hoax distress calls to the Coast Guard are considered a Class D felony and can lead to more than $250,000 in fines and 10 years in prison, plus the cost of the search.

The Coast Guard reminds parents that if their children are found to be playing on the radio, it's the parents who are ultimately held accountable.

Watchstanders also urge people to respond to Coast Guard callouts if they accidentally made contact with them. Unintended communications to the Coast Guard aren't prosecuted, but do require clarification.

Anyone with information regarding a hoax call made to the Coast Guard is encouraged to contact the Coast Guard Investigative Service through the 5th District Command Center at 757-398-6390.