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 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 26, 2012 6:07PM
So whats next charge me cause someone decides to break in my house and charge me for calling the police...... Unless you are going to cut me a portion of my taxes back cause people will be paying for there thrill mistakes then no...
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 26, 2012 4:41PM

Kayest.....CRIMES are crimes...


Stupidty and dangerous behavior, are not exactly the same situation.


But I can understand part of your comparisom.

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 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 4:12PM
This article leaves me with two conflicting opinions of the subject -

On one hand, I'd worry about who would be given the power to decide if you caused your own misery (and therefore deserve to pay up) and where they would draw the line. For example, is it possible that we could be charging victims for the cost of say a rape rescue or reporting if it was deemed that the rape was her fault for dressing "too slutty"? 

On the other hand, if I actually was doing something stupid, and the authorities decided to slap me with some kind of bill, as long as the bill was somewhat reasonable (the $14k rescue cost quoted in the article for the snowmobilers stranded in the mountains doesn't seem totally outrageous to me - it would obviously depend on the circumstances) I think I would probably be willing to find a way to pay it - both out of gratitude for being alive to be able to pay it, and out of a sense of honor that the general tax paying public shouldn't have to pay for my stupidity. 

I'm not really sure what my final opinion is!
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 2:38PM

This is a real grey area.

Do you charge when someone hires a helicopter to fly in for extreme skiing, and then gets in trouble?

What about when someone just takes a wrong turn on what is supposed to be a short walk to see waterfalls. and gets lost on the wrong trail?

Either of these could be very expensive to help the victims, but are very different.

I do not think a sheriff, who may have budget problems, a good decision maker of these kinds of questions. It could end up that in the first example no charge would be made, while a different sheriff may charge for the second example.

I wish I was smart enough to be able to make a good decision about this topic.

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 26, 2012 1:40PM
No way that's what we pay taxes for !!! The county or state collects taxes for just that ! No matter who or where they get hurt or stranded ! To all the idiots out there who think we should pay ? Who are you to say what people do ! It goes for national parks too! I'm sick of people in this country telling ME what to do with my life , religion, healthcare ,and body ... Screw all you idiots.. Leave it to republicans to raise more fees and taxes... I live in Michigan and we are a republican state from top to bottom ! Gov , house and senate and i pay the highest taxes in the USA thanks to Rick and the boys in the house and senate.. So do not EVEN say repukes don't raise taxes.... Where is the tea bagger idiot  Grover Norquist when you need him ???  
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.
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 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.

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