Charge for Search and Rescue?

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The following is a guest post from Peter Crane, President of the New Hampshire Outdoor Council, a non-profit organization that provides funding support to agencies and organizations which are involved in backcountry safety education and in search and rescue activities in the Granite State.

Charge for search and rescue? Set up a state-run insurance plan for search and rescue? These are not ideas that the New Hampshire Outdoor Council (NHOC) is keen about.

Like the Mountain Rescue Association, the NHOC is concerned that charging for rescues may have unintended consequences. Will those without insurance fear a big bill, and delay a call for help until it can’t be avoided – putting subjects, and rescuers, at greater risk due to darkness and storm? Will those with insurance be too quick to call for assistance even when it really isn’t needed?

The search and rescue (SAR) bills in New Hampshire have for too long been shouldered by a few groups: OHRV and snowmobile riders and boaters, supplemented when needed by hunters and anglers. Hikers are a group that add to SAR costs in the state, and should be chipping to the State’s SAR fund. Those costs, though, would be significantly greater if not for the efforts of 200 or more outdoorspeople – most of them hikers – who serve as organized SAR volunteers.

 The general sense of these volunteers is not supportive of directly charging for search and rescue. They know that volunteer motivation can be varied, and is likely to be adversely affected if fee-for-rescue comes into play. They typically see their service as similar to police or fire service – as public goods which are provided by the community at large to the community at large. Giving the people they help a bill – or requiring insurance to avoid a bill – does not appeal to them.

 These volunteers know that a large and growing proportion of lengthy, expensive searches can be attributed to non-recreational subjects – young children, confused seniors, others with mental impairments, and even crime victims. A fee/insurance system designed with hikers in mind doesn’t really address this broader issue, and would leave Fish and Game still scrambling to balance its SAR budget.

What do we suggest instead? One, recognize the service which Fish and Game provides to the State as a whole and provide some general fund support for their critical role in search and rescue. Two, develop the expectation that if you may rely on SAR support someday, you have an obligation to bolster those resources through voluntary contributions. A voluntary system could raise significant funds without creating the extra burdens of making Conservation Officers insurance agents and bill-senders.

Beth Marchand


Beth's love of skiing and summer camp led her to a career in the outdoors. After spending 13 summers at Girl Scout camp on Lake Winnipesaukee, obtaining degrees in wildlife & environmental education, and working 4 years with NH Project Learning Tree, Beth joined Eastern Mountain Sports. As marketing manager, she handles media & advertising, events & sponsorships, new store openings, conservation projects, and more. On the weekends, Beth and her husband, daughter, and dog can be found roaming the mountains, waters, and woods of Northern New England.

3 Comments

  1. February 26, 2013, 12:14 am

    National Association for Search and Rescue Position Statement
    Billing for Search and Rescue (SAR) Operations
    April 2009

    The search for, or rescue of, someone in peril is among the most humanitarian of acts. It is
    recognized that, to the extent possible, individuals and communities have a moral
    obligation to aid those in danger, regardless of any legal obligation.

    NASAR recognizes the ultimate decision to bill a survivor for SAR operations, or a
    victim’s family for attempts to save their family member’s life, is that of the local authority
    responsible for SAR. However, lifesaving action must take precedence and political,
    economic, jurisdictional or other such factors must remain secondary when dealing with
    lifesaving matters. Authorities with responsibility for SAR and SAR organizations can not
    allow cost reimbursement to delay response to any person in danger or distress.
    A perceived or actual belief that the subject of a SAR mission will be billed for the
    lifesaving actions undertaken on their behalf must not delay or interfere with a timely call
    for help. Such delays can, at the minimum, cause further danger to the person in peril and,
    at the maximum, place their life in jeopardy. Delays can place SAR personnel in extreme
    danger and unnecessarily compound and extend the length of the SAR mission. Because of
    these factors, and to eliminate the fear of being unable to pay for having one’s life saved,
    SAR services should be rendered to persons in danger or distress without subsequent cost recovery
    from the person(s) assisted unless prior arrangements have been made.

    The mission of SAR organizations is to save lives, not just the lives of those who can
    afford to pay the bill. As such, methods and means should be developed and used that
    diffuse the cost of humanitarian SAR operations among the many, allowing anyone to
    reasonably expect emergency aid without regard to their circumstances.

    Founded in 1973, the National Association for Search and Rescue comprises more than 10,000 volunteer and paid search and rescue professionals who work at the local, state and national level in land, aviation and water SAR. NASAR conducts hundreds of training courses and thousands of certification exams each year. More than 11,000 people hold any of 11 NASAR certifications in SAR operations.

  2. February 20, 2013, 12:25 pm

    The Mountain Rescue Association (MRA) with 80 teams from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom — most of which are comprised of expert volunteer members — work through or for a local government search and rescue authority. In an effort to give back to the community, defray public agencies’ costs and keep taxes down, the MRA teams have been performing the bulk of all search and rescue operations for the past 45 years and those were done without charge to the victim.

    The MRA firmly believes that training and education are the keystones in the solution to this issue. We believe that the individual must accept responsibility for his or her actions and that training in proper outdoors skills and for self-rescue might be the quickest and most effective method of resolving most rescue situations.

    However, no one should ever be made to feel they must delay in notifying the proper authorities of a search or rescue incident out of fear of possible charges. We ask all outdoors groups and organizations to join us in sending this mountain safety education message.
    We recognize that the National Park Service and other governmental agencies have a need to address defraying their costs and we would welcome any opportunity to be involved in discussion of solutions or alternatives to the charge for rescue issue. The expert volunteer teams of MRA are proud to be able to Provide search and rescue at NO cost and have NO plans to charge in the future.

    The Mountain Rescue Association is “a volunteer organization dedicated to saving lives through rescue and mountain safety education.”

    For the official position statement of the MRA go to http://www.mra.org/images/stories/docs/MRAChargePosition.pdf

  3. Ed
    February 18, 2013, 9:05 am

    When I went scuba diving in Bonaire before I could get in the water I had to take a safe/environment impact class and pay a fee to protect the dive sites. In return I got a tag for my buoyancy control vest. This was both a pass and souvenir letting people know I went to Bonaire and I took the course.

    I would be more than willing to pay for a zipper pull tag that would let other hikers know I supported NH SAR. They could change shape and color each year to encourage collecting. Twenty dollars for a year tag and five for week or one time pass. The week pass would be a good way for increasing awareness of scout groups, and new hikers and the annual pass would be a status symbol for the veteran hiker.

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