Backcountry emergency insurance/medivac

Hey y’all! I’m heading out (finally!) for my solo kayak circumnavigation of Lake Superior and want to purchase emergency insurance that will cover medivac if needed.

Garmin offers a policy as long as you initiate your SOS from an approved Garmin device, which I have. Anyone have experience with the policy?

Anyone had to use an evac service and if so how did it go? What policies have people used in the past?

SAR is usually free in the US, as long as you haven’t done something completely irresponsible, but how about Ontario? Do they cover costs for non-Canadians?


You’ll need to do a bit of research. Years ago when I spent several weeks riding a motorcycle around NWT, YT and AK I bought Med-Jet insurance which would fly you from the local hospital to your home hospital.

These days though it sounds like you stand the chance of additionally getting billed for SAR and separately for any helicopter ride. I’ve heard of bills ranging from free up to $60,000 - $100,000. Check with your health or home insurance to see what they pay for (quite possibly nothing) and look closely at the InReach/GEOS to see exactly what they cover and don’t cover. Getting a bill or not seems to vary by local or county jurisdictions.

Much of what’s in this article, among many on the internet, probably doesn’t apply to your situation but give you an idea of what the issues are.

I read through some of the Garmin faqs and certificate of insurance and it provides a max of $100,000 reimbursement and looks like it includes all SAR resources and assets including helicopters. However, it also looks like it covers injury from an accident and I think getting lost. So if you just get sick or your arthritic hands keep you from paddling and you need a ride out, they won’t reimburse you. Also, as a secondary insurer you first have to submit a claim to any other insurance you may have.

Someone on another forum discussion distilled it down:

You need 3 types of insurance to satisfy your requirements:
1 - Extraction - Inreach/Spot…
2 - Medical - ambulance/helicopter/hospital/surgery etc
3 - Med Transportation - airlift to any hospital of your choice

Apparently some medical insurance policies do cover helicopter rides from the scene to hospital. Notice too that the Garmin insurance doesn’t pay any actual medical expenses beyond SAR. If you are in Canada at the time of your incident, you need to know if your medical insurance covers you there. You may need a rider added for travel there. I have Medicare and a supplemental and should read what it says.

Extraction in Canada is free… Note that your equipment will not be extracted.

The rest is up to you.

I haven’t found a government official word but reading a number of first hand accounts, it depends. It seems to matter which agency does the rescue, what assets are needed, if the victim is a Canadian resident or foreigner, if the Canadian resident needs the help outside their home province, if the Canadian resident doesn’t have a health card.

It gets complicated. If you end up at a medical facility and they say you need to go to a bigger hospital toute suite, that’s a different trip and even Canadians have been hit with $50,000-60,000 bills for the ride.

It was my preliminary research that sent me here looking for just this sort of noodling. @RC51Mike that list is great, really breaks down the components. I’ve found a couple of policies that run in $500 range. I’ll revisit them with that list in hand. Thanks.

I emailed Garmin yesterday and asked them to define “search and rescue” as it applies to their coverage. Here’s their response:

“Thank you for contacting our SAR Support Team. The Search and Rescue coverage would apply to an evacuation to the nearest able bodied medical facility. The term search and rescue costs means those reasonable costs incurred for fuel, operating costs, repair and rental of: • motor vehicles; • aircraft or helicopters; • hovercraft; • Unmanned Aerial Systems when operated according to FAA guidelines and regulations; • snowmobiles; • horses; • dogs; • generators; and any other equipment necessary or deemed appropriate by the authorities for activities to find, recover, or rescue the Covered Person.”

For $40 USD it’s probably good value as I’ve as I read an accounts of hikers billed $55,000 for helo extractions.

I started on Medicare this year so I’m covered for emergency and in-hospital medical (I have emailed an enquiry about Canada coverage). Medicare won’t be covering any lengthy hospital transfers to get me home, I’m sure, but I asked anyway. And that’s my #2 concern. If I wind up in hospital from a bear mauling and have to be transferred to home, it could get costly.

@kayamedic - I don’t think the Coasties will take your gear either, although I think they have some discretion. That so adds to the trauma. I can get over losing my other gear but my Necky is vintage and not replaceable. I’ll have some cheese with that w(h)ine, thank you.

Assuming I’m lucid enough, my plan is to drop a waypoint on the Inreach and hope to recover it later.


What Garmin told you is what I mostly found in the Certificate of Insurance link on one of their pages.

Starr Insurance

And when they come rescue my sorry self I’m demanding they bring dogs, lots of dogs.

1 Like

I’m with you on the dogs!

I just finished reading the article you sent and it was really educational. I had already looked at Global Rescue and Ripcord, but the author’s research was super in helping to define the differences.

Even though the article is older (2008), GEOS (which is now Garmin SAR) pretty much got trashed. From the article: “ During my research, I uncovered the fine print attached to the GEOS plans and it was rife with limitations. I don’t want to say it is unnerving, but it is enough to give me pause. Simply put, they have worded their disclosures to all but eliminate any situation whereby they might be on the hook for your rescue bill. In short, they’ll pay if they want to.”

That doesn’t inspire confidence. And they insure through a 3rd party that reimburses you…that’s always a minefield.

I’m not counting on Canada being fee free for non-residents. The camping permits alone in Ontario are going to be one of the bigger expenses since I’m a non-resident and also a complicated procedure.

SAR will usually recover a boat and any gear to where it can be recovered later, unless it involves considerable risk of life. They don’t want a lot of junk cluttering up the environment or leaving it somewhere where it might generate another rescue call by someone fearing a missing person.

Whether this might involve an additional charge will depend on who does the recovery.

I’ve camped in Ontario many times. The developed Provincial Park sites were $40c/night and IMO you get what you pay for - best paddle campsites I’ve ever been to, they put Isle Royale to shame. Worst part is you have to reserve them which forces you to be there regardless of weather. Their maps are top notch but order all at once to save on shipping.

I’m OK with the $10/night fee for bush camping elsewhere but nobody ever checked. Hopefully that is what you are facing in the Lake Superior parks as reservations are not required and not realistic anyway.

What maps do the Provincial parks publish and where would I order those? I’ve been working off typical charts.

I’ve heard about people being recovered with their gear in the US, including Traci Martin. But she was reportedly told after the second rescue that if she called the sheriff again they were going to cut her boat loose or else confiscate it because they felt she shouldn’t be out when there was still pack ice on the Great Lakes. Special circumstances in her case, I guess. She’s a hell of an adventurer who pushes the limits for sure.

I’d happily pay the recover fee to get my intrepid Sulis Minerva back though. She’s been with me from my first day of paddling and never let me down. When Joey at Turning Point Boatworks refurbed her a few years ago he didn’t find a single stress crack in her layup.

1 Like

Chunk of French River map on Lake Huron.

Chrismar makes a number of maps for paddling Ontario Provinicial Parks. They are waterproof coated

Camping fees: Crown Land Permits now can be gotten online… For years I had to chase down Ontario ServiceCenters or an outfitter to get those annoying pieces of paper(one for each night.not waterproof)

I don’t believe you have to reserve at French River nor Philip Edward Island but you do at Lake Superior Provincial Park and Pukaskwa National Park… All stunningly beautiful.( have done these many times)

Ok, I know about these. Most of the maps are for inland parks and streams that I won’t be exploring this time around.


That word “reasonable” in the Garmin response also causes some concern. I needed emergency hospitalization when I was out of state (not back country, no SAR). My health insurance considered only half of my bills “reasonable”.

It’s still confusing for me. It seems I can only get some permits 60 days out. I’ll be in the US for the first 30 days of my 90 day trip so some of my permits will have to be gotten while on the road which could be interesting given lack of cell coverage. I may be able to iron out some things in Rossport as there’s a station there. Really feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants here.

Figuring out the exact day I need to book a campsite is tough with so many variables. It’s not like this is one week trip. When I first started looking at campsites in December, many were already booked. I’m happy to pay and support the Parks both in the US and Canada but it’s tough to find a spot. It’s a huge failure on my part as I had no idea the area was that heavily traveled.

I’m using Zack Kruzins’ excellent book “A Paddlers Guide to the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area” as a guide for Superior PP. That of course ends around the Jackfish area.

How easy is it to stealth camp through the Pukaskwa? Looking at satellite maps, there seems to be a fair number of places a single kayaker could tuck into for the night. I’m anal-retentive about LNT rules and, as a biologist, am hyper aware about the unique alpine biodiversity on the lake shore and pebble beaches. Also, not a campfire fanatic so I won’t be scarring the land with those.

Good luck managing that. It brings to mind a couple things. The tired but true cliche in boating- the worst thing to have on a boat is a schedule. I.e. prioritizing and keeping to a schedule makes you do stupid things.

Which brings to mind, we cruise full time along the East Coast and couldn’t count how many days and weeks we’ve been holed up waiting for a break in the weather. I’m sure you’ve factored in delays but don’t know how you’ll juggle that with reservations so far out.

I would call Pukaskwa .

One of their requirements before camping along the coast is a safety orientation…(stop laughing! I know it seems ludicrous!) At the worst you can check in at Hattie Cove and inform them or do so in Marathon…how can they say no. Its about four to five days down to the Pukaskwa River then you are back on Crown Land…Stop in at Naturally Superior Adventures and I bet Dave Wells can help you with reservations for LSPP. (assuming you are going clockwise around the lake)… NSA is for and by serious kayakers.
As a matter of fact call David anyway… He has a fantastic knowledge of the Ontario area.

Its not very heavily traveled but Puk and LSPP both have campsites used by both hikers and paddlers and I believe the reservations are to avoid conflict.

The Lake Superior Conservation area is most decidedly some 300 km from Lake Superior Provincial Park… First comes the conservation area then Puk then LSPP travelling from Thunder Bay to the Soo. Zacks book does not cover the latter two…( I have that book too. It is a bit dated and when we went in 2015 the Rossport outfitter did not exist)
That said there are campsites that are inaccessible to hikers…

Going to the Slates?

Time for you to gather maps it seems!

1 Like