Should stranded adventurers pay for own rescue?

Some states are considering billing victims for back-country rescues. But one group warns that the policy may discourage people from getting help.

By Bruce Kennedy Dec 26, 2012 11:49AM

The blogosphere is afire with praise for an in-depth and amazing multimedia report by the New York Times about the world-class skiers who were caught up in a deadly avalanche last winter in Washington state.

The report focuses on the perils facing skiers who go into the unmonitored back country. It also coincides with news that several states -- including those where skiing, hiking and other outdoor recreation are big business -- are considering legislation to bill victims of back-country mishaps for some rescue operations.

Lawmakers in Wyoming are considering a bill that would let local law enforcement charge for search-and-rescue (SAR) missions in cases where they believe the victims put themselves into harm’s way.

The legislation came after an incident last winter: a $14,000 operation to rescue three snowmobilers trapped in a mountain pass. When state officials asked the snowmobilers to help pay for some of the costs of their rescue, the three hired an attorney -- who questioned if the state had the authority to ask for such a payment.

In response, the proposed measure would let rescue payments "be left up to the discretion of the sheriff (involved)," Wyoming representative Keith Gingery, the bill’s sponsor, told the Jackson Hole News and Guide. "They'll say which ones are victims or whether someone may have contributed to the situation."

If the measure is passed, Wyoming would join a growing list of states and counties that allow some sort of fee for search-and-rescue operations. 

"If you’re getting rescued, there should be an expectation you’re going to participate in the cost of that rescue," New Hampshire senate Republican leader Jeb Bradley said in an interview with the Associated Press.

Lawmakers are hoping these fees will not only help fund local SAR operations, but encourage adventurers to be more cautious in back country areas.

Colorado has a "Corsair" card that residents and visitors can purchase for $3 a year or $12 for five years. says that by purchasing the card, "you are contributing to the (state’s) Search and Rescue Fund, which will reimburse these teams for costs incurred in your search and rescue.” But it also warns the card is not insurance, nor does it pay for medical transport.

Grand County, Utah, meanwhile, lists a sliding scale of fees on its website for SAR operations -- with collectable costs anywhere from $250 for a small incident, classified as taking less than three hours with six or fewer responders, to $750 dollars for a "large incident" requiring more than three hours with seven or more responders. Those fees do not include extras like helicopter rental, fuel costs and any damage to equipment.

But the idea of billing the victims of outdoor adventures also has its opponents.

In an online position statement, the National Association for Search and Rescue worries that some victims in life-threatening situations may put money concerns over safety and decline to contact potential rescuers.

"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," the statement notes. 

"Delays can place SAR personnel in extreme danger and unnecessarily compound and extend the length of the SAR mission," the statement adds. "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."

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Dec 26, 2012 12:46PM

People should absolutely be bearing the cost of their rescues from the back country.  Taxpayers should not be on the hook to pay for other people to risk their lives having a good time.  Once you decide to explore off marked trails, you should expect to own the risk associated with your adventures.  I like the idea of some sort of insurance program to cover the SAR costs - then you can share the risk with your fellow adventurers.  Note that I say this as an avid hiker myself.

Dec 26, 2012 1:31PM

Hellooooooooo, Maybe people will be a little more careful with their extreme sports and dangerous activities....Especially, if a plane or chopper flies over with a banner reading:



If  I drive my truck into the ditch....I have to pay the price or all the bills.

Dec 26, 2012 3:36PM
Simple solution, don't have government agenices resuce them, leave this up to for-profit private companies, and these companies can offer insurance for those who want to get stupid with their ives.
Dec 26, 2012 4:19PM
Insurance was invented to address risk - life, health, property, etc.,  If an individual decides they wish to engage in activities that have inherent risks then they need to protect themselves, their family and their assets should a risk associated with the activity be realized.  Hence, require individuals to have insurance and if they don't they will get billed for services just like if they did not have health insurance and they required medical attention.  YES - they should be prepared to pay for such services.
Dec 26, 2012 7:16PM
The Swiss have been doing it for years!  You can buy insurance that pays the cost otherwise you're obligated to cover the costs and it ain't cheap!  Why should the taxpayer have to cough up the cost of this?
Dec 26, 2012 1:36PM
Absolutely they should pay. Currently you have areas where home owners must pay an annual fee if they want fire protection. No pay, no water. These adventurers should pay a fee going in "just in case" and then if not needed be refunded all but a usage fee.
Having spent my share of years hiking in back country and free climbing (alone I might add) in the Rocky Mountains I fully expected to be billed if I injured myself. Mind you, I also carried a 35 pound pack each and every time with emergency supplies, a cell phone, medical supplies and what I might need to survive for a week should I fall or be injured. As an adult I fully understood the risks I took and tried to provide for any eventuality and did not expect the taxpayer to pick up my "tab" if I needed an emergency rescue. I completely agree with Lawrence Beck that insurance should be available at a reasonable cost to cover extrication basics...back country anything is not cheap and those of us who do adventure have the means to afford minimum at worst coverage...
Dec 26, 2012 2:22PM

It maybe a bill for some or all of the cost fo rescue operations or a permit fee for going into these high risk places, YES, they should pay.  Many, no let's say most , people have no idea of how much these rescue operations cost, even if, as most are, manned  by trained volunteers.  These volunteers who paid for their own training and give freely of their time still use expensive equipment that must be maintained.  The horses they ride, the trailers to haul them, the snowmobiles and their trailers, the climbing ropes, harnesses and other climbing gear, not to mention the planes and helicopters that cost hundreds of dollars and hour to keep in the air.  I agree with Beck, an insurance  policy would be a great idea.  I'm sure that some companies would be glad to work something out, with premiums based on levels of experience, training, location of site, weather.   After all they have been doing that for years with cars, trucks, planes, boats.  And of course, no insurance, it's your bill.  

Dec 27, 2012 1:22AM
they should be billed without  question
Dec 26, 2012 8:41PM
Don't bill them, charge them a hefty deposit which would be returnable upon their return.  I lived in Alaska for 28 years and people were always getting stranded on Mt. McKinley.  I always thought that they should be charged a substantial deposit before the climb.  Then maybe they would think twice about the climb or at least exercise extreme caution while on the climb if they knew that they were going to lose their deposit if they had to be rescued.
Dec 27, 2012 3:35AM

Since these activities are essentially "entertainment" they most certainly should be billed if their entertainment creates a big cost like a rescue. It most certainly should NOT fall on taxpayers to cover this. If they want to avoid these costs, they can buy insurance to cover it. Of course, if the rescue is not related to entertainment, that's another matter. If someone's child has gotten lost, of course there should be a concerted effort to find them, regardless of cost. But most of this stuff is extreme sportsters, and that is just their own entertainment.

Dec 26, 2012 7:14PM
The National Association for Search and Rescue has a valid concern about possible increased risks for rescuers if there are delays. But that can work the other way too. Make it clear: " We will NOT risk staff and equipment in a blizzard, etc., but will wait for safer conditions, please pack accordingly!!!
Dec 26, 2012 4:33PM

We pay taxes for various reasons, we pay insurances for other reasons, we pay extra on premiums;

For anything out of the ordinary or an "established set" of rules & regs in a given area or region.


Now some places we pay more taxes, for better services; Or even when more services are needed.

Insurance on the other hand can increase for more coverage, or even bad behavior.

Even sometimes through a fault of NOT our own making.

Certain Gov mandates in some States, are included in this...Like "no fault."


In the "old days" if an adult or child went missing...The Community turned out to hunt..Still do most places...But then the Calvary goes wild, with planes,helicopters,horseback, ATVs and boats....

Then just "some guy and a dog" finds the lost....We found one kid in a small river/creek that way.


I believe the Coast Guard has the "duty" to take care of boats and ships; But we also pay for many permits,taxes and insurances..

So I also believe other sports(some do) pay those same fees, taxes, insurances and extra premiums/fees if deemed somewhat dangerous....Pay to Play, but never completely restrict a person's lifestyle.....If someone chooses to leave the Reservation on their own? THEN they are on THEIR OWN.  

Dec 27, 2012 3:31PM
Its realy simple.  Make search and rescue operations a billable, for-fee service.  Someone will figure out how to make it profitable, and eventually the corporate greed will kick in, and relieve communities and taxpayers of the burden.  If the fools are afraid of calling for help for fear of being billed for putting themselves in harms way; then leave them, and eventually they will go away.  Just as good as a few drops of bleach into the gene pool.
Dec 27, 2012 11:05AM

Should you pay with a hangover if you decide to go out and get drunk?

Should I go on about people taking risks,

or should I just ask the government to pay for my speeding tickets?

Acting stupid is costly and it was a stupid question in the first place


Dec 26, 2012 5:37PM
When you go wandering into the Sahara near the Step Pyramid of Djoser in Egypt to explore things like the Mastaba of Ti (about a mile away) you have to pay to do it.  In the USA there should be designated starting points for hiking, climbing, etc. in various places where permits that include rescue insurance must be obtained.
Dec 28, 2012 4:56PM

Why I just love sitting here at my desk working and then paying for stranded skiers having fun on the slopes.

Dec 26, 2012 7:03PM

We keep comparing "CRIMES" against a fellow Citizen...To a dangerous BEHAVIOR towards ONESELF, associated with known RESULTS...


If a SKIER,SNOWBOARDER,SBiler,HUNTER or HIKER gets "mugged" in the Wild, that's a CRIME.

If they do something inherentally dangerous on purpose....That is STUPITY.


If you cannot understand the difference......You are the LATTER.

Dec 31, 2012 5:00PM
Guys I agree with you that people should be liable for putting them selves in danger but it just sounds like the government is just finding another way to raise our taxes. Its basically a adventurer tax. It just seems like there should be enough tax dollars to go around if the government would appropriated funds a little better. Its all a bunch of B.S. Pretty soon we will be paying for public schools. I'm not totally against the idea but you can be sure this is just the beginning. The government will eventually find a way to make us pay for everything that our tax dollars are supposed to already be paying for.  
Dec 30, 2012 7:49AM
Yes, stranded adventurers should pay for their own cost of rescue. This will help keep the poor and other social undesirables who cannot afford a $14,000 bill out of pristine wilderness areas and prestigious resorts. If they cannot afford rescue, let them die and decrease the surplus population. Hobbies such as skiing were always intended to be reserved for the wealthy. If other social classes are interested, they may of course watch such adventures on television from inside their tenements. People should be billed for ALL emergency services. For example, one should be billed at least $500 for bureaucratic fees if reporting to local police about being the victim of a theft or assault. This will also discourage the poor from settling in bad neighborhoods.
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