Era of "OK, come rescue me"

-- Last Updated: Nov-19-04 8:25 AM EST --

This post is a follow up to sing remarking on people taking electronic toys out there without skills.

The trend in most all outdoor activities is "just do it" and then come rescue me when I don't plan for messing up. OK, I guess I have gotten cranky about this thing. This tends to mean that in search of our supposedly god given right for adventure it is fine to take huge risks, and have no responsibility to get ourselves out of the mess. This often incudes requiring people who love us to worry, and even worse, suffer from the consequences of our poor judgment.

Last year in the Adirondacks in two separate incidents people were rescued in below zero weather off of peaks with no proper equipment, no maps, disregarding rangers advice and in one case suing the rescuers for improper hospitalization despite saving the person's life and staving off serious frostbite for them. One of these groups only had a cell phone, their only piece of emergency equipment. They expected instant help and were outraged for having to stay overnight when high winds and low ceiling prevented immediate rescue. (They narrowly escaped death by exposure that night).

Not holier than anyone, I have had to look at this in my own history of irresponsible behavior while bicycle racing and high altitude mountaineering. The time I got out of whack here was following discovery of a brain tumor and months of not knowing if was benign or not. Even after successful surgery, I found myself unknowingly compesating for my fear of dying by taking bigger and bigger risks as if to prove I could not die. My poor wife during that time put up with my "exploits".

Is this why some of us take huge risks, there are probably many reasons, like sing says love of techware and no skills, lazy ways, etc. But maybe it is part of a larger trend. Most of the world has to worry about having enough protein to eat and having a room over their head and just having enough energy to feed, clothe and take care of their families. Are we becoming spoiled as a nation that has money and time for outdoor pursuits?

In the last week I have been out with proper gear and skills and due caution but have met not one but two guys in their sixties, in cotton, no sprayskirts, no PFD, on the Hudson river with water temps in the low 40's. Neither of them looked open to hearing anything. I wonder how their family would feel if they died doing this. God given right to self determination or just plain irresponsible? I feel fortunate to get a handle on myself, I could easily see myself being this way. Now I love to challenge myself but the balance is better. Whew!

Natural Selection
This problem would be self-correcting, if only the rescue workers were not so dedicated.

People with no clue don’t endanger only their own lives.


– Last Updated: Nov-19-04 9:05 AM EST –

is a very real thing for me. I am not blith about it. I had friends who died before the ripe age of 25. I know folks who are disabled for life. I have come skirted with death more than several times and certainly have had my share of injuries.

I take it very seriously and think a serious practice is to contemplate this deeply and integrate into the pysche so you enjoy life fully.

I also know many who live their life in fear. What they do is almost always prescribed by fear. Fear of death is the ultimate inhibitor. Some of their fear can be seen, felt and transmitted to those close to them. If you can ultimately accept your death as an eventuality as opposed to a remote possibility, I believe you can live more courageously and fully. After all what is failing a BCU stars test, compared to dying? :)

Coming to terms with death doesn't mean to live life recklessly. That's a form of nihilism. For me it means, living fully, respecting life, preparing and doing what you should to protect your life and others without cowering.

For me, these are lessons of nature. The training and practice ultimately is about this as well. That so long as you breath, you try to do your best and take responsibility.

In my college year, I had a casual friend who was much older, served in the arm forces, got out, got married and came back to study well into his late 20's. He also did martial arts so both he and I often bumped into each other in the gym going through our workouts and then talking afterwards. One of his passion was bushwhack trekking/camping in the winter. I asked him (being ingnorant of the whole thing) whether that it wasn't dangerous. His reply is that it could be but that he studied it, trained himself in what he may encounter, techniques to survive, etc. I said, "Yeah, if you screw up, some one can also go rescue you." With a mildly annoyed look, he said, "If I screw up, I take full responsibility and accept my death. If they come looking for me, I hope they just find my body and I would be happy with that." Funny thing was that when we sparred, I can kick his butt, though he never give an inch. But, he still made quite an impression on me, enough that I still remember him after all these years. He exemplified striving to live fully and responsibly.


Many times I have posted that we

– Last Updated: Nov-19-04 12:12 PM EST –

adventurers need to be reasonable and prudent, and especially in the changeable weather of autumn in the adirondacks, so my stance is known.

I would have no problem asking for a rescue, but beleive that no SAR participant in my rescue who was also a practitioner of watever sport i got in trouble with would find me underprepared by skills gear or attitude.

It would have just been something rare that incapacitated me.

that is the balance missing in many
Peter, yes that is more like what looks like a balance, and in that regard as a SAR person, I wholeheartedly agree, coming to rescue you or ask for it myself, feels right, like a healthy obligation we all have to each other. That is what makes these other situations feel so lousy. It seems like every week I am coming across strangers or even fellow club members who take huge risks and then feel entitled to force others to help them.

So far, it seems that saying anything no matter how non judgmental only makes it worse, so the best I can manage is to say nothing.

It’s a common problem
Personally, I think it’s a result of the current culture of “victimization” in combination with a fixation on “X-Games” elitism.

People nowadays find it cool to declare themselves to be a victim of some thing or other, and they think that if anyone or anything tries to stop them from doing anything they want, then they’ll just cry “victim”, and carry on. If anything bad happens, they expect to be bailed out of their situation free of charge, and then sue whoever they can get some $$$$ out of for their inconvenience. Add to that the peer pressure of not being cool unless you go extreme, and you have a mixture more deadly than cyanide.

An example happened off the coast of Connecticut about 3 years ago. I was co-leading a group out to Falkner Island, which is about 4 miles offshore in Long Island Sound. There’s a lighthouse there that has an open house once a year, and we were going to take the tour (I love lighthouses). The seas were on our beam, about 4 ½ feet high, close together & steep. 2 people in our group capsized, and they turned back with 2 others about a mile out. The rest of us made it out to the island without any problem.

We got there, and the Coast Guard was late arriving. They showed up & said they were delayed because of heavy seas. The Fish & wildlife service asked if we were missing a kayaker. I said “no”, because everyone in our group was accounted for. Turns out they found a paddler in the water about halfway across, separated from his boat. I asked for more detail, and they told me the guy was out in a swifty with no sprayskirt, wasn’t wearing his PFD, and didn’t have a bilge pump. He was holding onto his PFD when they rescued him. They said they asked him why he was out there at all in those conditions (Never mind alone & in the wrong type of kayak), and they just got a clueless stare in response.

I assured them that someone like that would never be allowed to paddle with us, and gave them a rundown of all the safety precautions & gear we had among the group of us. I also kidded the coasties about having problems with the seas, considering we paddled out & thought it was fun. They said they appreciated our level of preparation, and wished everyone who went out on rough days would do the same.

Bottom line is that you CAN do all kinds of seemingly crazy things safely if you train & are prepared for the challenge, and for any normal contingencies. Problem is most folks think it’s a RIGHT to just go out & do whatever they want.

Sometimes sh*&t happens even to the most prepared, and I think in those cases that SAR folks don’t mind helping. However, I’m all for SAR charging the rescuee a fee if the rescuee was negligent in either not being properly equipped, prepared, or skilled (Which is usually VERY apparent when things go wrong). Maybe a little financial penalty would stop some folks from trying to kill themselves………or not.


Yep they are in some states now
Thanks Wayne, I will share that story with my mates, it will clarify some stuff I have had a hard time being able to express. I agree SAR would not likely mind if as you say folks take a modicum of preparation, hec even if not, since we all get in over our heads sometimes, even when we think we are careful.

New Hampshire has passed just such a law, and it only applies to those really extreme but unfortunately less and less rare cases in which people are willfully disregarding most everything and as you say then call in with the cell and say pick me up. Evidently, a $5000 helicopter rescue is quite educative.

NH rule

The SAR folks know – many from experience – that accidents can happen to anybody. One slip on a steep descent could leave the best-prepared hiker looking at a broken ankle. If the rescue folks arrive to find a warm, well-fed victim sitting in a tent being cared for by his companions, it’s going to be clear that it was a genuine accident. But if the rescue folks arrive to find a group that’s hypothermic because all they’ve got are t-shirts and a granola bar, they’re not going to be pleased.

There are some people
who are so unaware of the realities of the woods that they should never leave the parking lot and their warm or air conditioned cars. I have heard stories from rangers about people in Yellowstone asking what time they let the elk out. These are the people who go to the parks and ask for a refund on camping fees if it rains. They really ask things like, “What altitude do the deer turn into elk?” It seems that every year we have people in the Colorado high country in shorts and tee shirts when the inevitable afternoon storms rain, hail, and snow on them - all from the same cloud. Every hunter and angler supports SAR by paying a mandatory surcharge on their licenses. These people are rescued free. They also tend to have a better sense of what they are getting into. The other non-sportsman are rescued from the same program and can be charged for it. They should be charged for every cost if they were obviously unprepaired and trying for the Darwin Award.


Be glad it’s a right to paddle…
I used to be an accountant for SeaLand before they got bought out by Maersk. My boss at the time, a merchant marine academy graduate who had a captain’s license, thought there shouldn’t be any kayakers out on the ocean at all. The ocean was a place for “real” boats.

Remember that being “skilled in your eyes” does not give you rights to the water. Many people contribute to the expense of maintaining SAR. If only “skilled” kayakers were allowed on the water, then it would be only skilled kayakers needing to be rescued. Your average John Q Citizen might then think it best for everyone that you get banned from the ocean altogether, because it would be very difficult to draw upon their sympathy after shutting them out from an activity that used to be for all.

As far as the issue of lawsuits… sounds more like an issue of needed tort reform.

Your former boss
probably didn’t like being reminded that there were kayakers in the ocean well before his “real boats” ever exsisted…

I cannot e-mail you
Like you I have hauled folks out of the woods.

Luck can happen to anybody, sheer stupidity happens to…

NH rarely invokes the pay for your rescue law. I have heard about a case wher they did and am in total agreement.

Peoople do not do SAR because they are mean, they do it because the want to help, and I bet this attitude extends to judging as to whether a person’s level of preperation was reasonable, (if not prudent).

Nope… never argued with him.
Let’s not forget that many of the original kayakers died in paddling related deaths.

SAR stupidity charges
Yeah, let’s do that.

I like it. You go out in the woods/water etc with only cotton t-shirts cotton jeans and a sandwich?

Yikes. My 6 year old knows why we don’t wear cotton when paddling.

I wouldn’t ban anybody from the water, personally. If they want to kill themselves, fine. If I cross a channel in front of a container ship, I deserve what I get. Telling someone they can’t paddle with me is another story altogether: they have every right to endanger themselves, IMO, but none to endanger me. And I would accept the same judgement from anyone else about myself.

Unfortunately, true tort reform will never happen in the US. Most of our politicians are also lawyers. They’re not going to cut off one of their most profitable lines of business, no matter how much they lie to the contrary.

If I did do something stupid, I wouldn’t argue an SAR bill, because I brought it on myself. However, I’m far less likely to need SAR than a lot of people I’ve seen – and that’s my point: if you take prudent steps to ensure your safety, you’ve done more than many others do, including many commercial operators. That should be recognized if something unfortunate happens.

I’m in far more danger driving to the launch than I am in my kayak.


Take responsibility for yourself. Also, if you object to someone paddling with you because they’re potential danger, tell them to go away. Take the responsibility of telling them that you don’t want them in the group and any assumed responsibility for them.


I agree…
I understand because New Jersey is one of the hardest states to get automobile insurance for.

You have the right to paddle with whomever you want, just as we chose our own friends to hang around. Freedom isn’t without a cost, whether it be fighting in a war or making an error in judgment while pursuing a recreational activity. Wasn’t there that idiot who liked to pet Grizzly bears?

We had an idiot rodeo cowboy from the National Western Stock Show head up in the hills to rodeo with elk one year. He had roped one with the intention of riding it and received a citation for wildlife harassment. Now, a bull has two points he can gore with and a staff of clowns to draw him away from the cowboy. A trophy elk has - what - 6 or more points per antler and can weigh close to the same as the bull (and one clown on top).

I agree to a point
I am not skilled enough to attempt many things that would put me in need of a rescue. I know that and avoid those situations. Call it a survival skill.

However, I don’t agree that a skilled party should be exempt from paying for a rescue just because they are more prepared. You are more aware of the risks and choose to forge ahead. You may be less likely to need rescue due to your skills but a rescue is a rescue and cost the same whether it is you or me.

Is charging the unskilled just a means to keep them away? Someone enlighten me as to the error of my thinking.

My Position
stated in another thread (bunch of interrelated threads) is that the rescuee should be charged for the rescue. This includes all - skilled or unskilled. If you don’t think you can afford it, then choose to die. The choice was made to go out and should have included all serious considerations, so accept the consequence. That’s my opinion.