Bicycles abandoned on Washington State Ferries — and the fear their riders may have been lost overboard — are a mounting problem for the Coast Guard, which last week expended $17,000 in helicopter and search efforts on one incident.

In that case — like a dozen others over the last 18 months — no one was ever in danger. But the alarms triggered when ferry crews find orphaned bikes tie up Coast Guard resources and could delay responses to emergencies, officials said Monday.

“When a passenger leaves their bicycle on a ferry, it's the duty of Coast Guard and ferry personnel to treat it as a potential distress situation until the bicyclist can be confirmed safe,” according to a statement from the Coast Guard 13th District in Seattle. “This wastes tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars and could impact the response to an actual distress situation.”

The problem has worsened with the advent of public ride-share bicycles, promoted as a convenient solution for commuters to avoid crowded highways and mass transit.

But there’s no telling who rode those standardized bicycles last, and they trigger alerts when users leave them behind and walk off at the terminal. That scenario has happened three times in recent months, and the Coast Guard and ferry operators are strongly encouraging patrons to leave ride-share bicycles and board as pedestrians.

"The Washington State Ferry system is a valuable local resource that provides a great benefit to the area by facilitating transportation and reducing commuter congestion,” said Capt. Linda Sturgis, commander of the Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound. “We join the Washington State Ferry system in requesting that bike-share users not bring rented bicycles on board the ferries, instead leaving the bicycle at the pier and boarding as a walk-on passenger. For all passengers, we request you leave with the bikes you bring onboard."

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.