Rescued! - Now Pay For It!

In recent years, NH Wildlife and Rescue crews have been charging those who were deemed unprepared for the cost of their rescue. In the past, the rescues were free. However, there was an uptick of rescues of those who seem to think the only preparation needed is a cell phone. So, the policy of not charging was changed to charging for those who were deemed negligent by the very fact of their unprepareness with gear, food, clothing, etc.

I have been on the unpopular side (of past PNet discussions) of saying that rescues should be paid for by the rescuees. People often of talk of the primacy of their personal freedom. Well, IMO, along with that should come personal cost and accountability.

NH is now moving closer to its slogan - “Live free or die.” The warning signs should be posted at all the trailheads as well boat ramps and beach launches.



Constant discussion each fall in the Adirondacks. Especially Columbus Day weekend that brings in a bumper crop of unprepared hikers, though the border closure last fall reduced the Canadians.

I would like to see better preparation. Not opposed to measures like this in,principle, though l would not mind someone else being the guinea pig for a season or two. Let them work out the glitches.

We have had discussions about people paying for rescue (usually recovery) when tourists walk onto the wet, black sections of rock at Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse. Warning signs do not seem to work for some people.

So, I actually think recovery should be “free.” Rushing out to rescue often puts the rescuers at danger as well. Recovery can be done when conditions moderate or when daylight returns.

Of course, in some cases, rescue turns into recovery.



Yes I think people who are unprepared and make very bad decisions should pay for the rescue services. When I lived in Colorado local agencies started charging people who got lost or stranded in the mountains without being properly prepared, most of this started because of very egregious cases of stupidity and and sense of entitlement by wealthy people who knew they were not competent to be doing what they were doing. I have had several friends in Utah and Colorado on search and rescue teams, and they had pretty hair raising stories about having to go down very bad cliffs and overhangs to rescue mountain bikers, paragliders etc. Whitewater kayakers also are famous for getting themselves in situations where they risk the lives of the rescuers.

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Please consider I am at home and decide to clean my gutters one Saturday afternoon. I had a couple of beers with lunch and did not recall my old, wooden ladder weighing as much because I have been very sedentary since covid. I manage to get the ladder up against the house, but not too stable. Its only 10 feet to the gutter. Next thing I know I am on the ground with my tibia poking though my jeans and my shoulder has never let my arm be this direction before. Should I have to pay my local fire and ambulance squads because I was stupid and reckless?

I do understand that wilderness rescues are way different than city 911 calls. A Navy buddy of mine told me once there is no such thing as an accident. It is premeditated carelessness. Having seen much tragedy and been the victim of my own carelessness, how do we decide who pays what, when and how much?

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I do think of your situation as a more “routine” 911 situation, covered by training and retention of fire, EMS and other first responders and equipment. These are paid for in your property and other taxes. Also, it’s rare that these types of “rescues” or responses entail extraordinarily higher risk for responders.

Wilderness and ocean rescues often come in situations that put rescuers at higher risks. I think a year ago, wilderness rescue teams of dozens of first responders and volunteers had to go out in a blizzard to try to rescue someone who knew a blizzard was coming and went out anyway. He had of course a cell phone as his last backup. It was avoidable.

Of course, if you were to keep guzzling beer and climbing ladders while buzzed, after a first incident, I think you will end up dying or getting physically maimed from the “freedom” of that choice.



It was $750.00 for the Fire Dept ambulance when I fell and broke wrist at the boat ramp. (2013)


Cost always complicates things. Especially since what anyone ends up paying for services like an ambulance run is all over the map depending on insurance. Before she went into the nursing home my stepmother made me a pro at anticipating her copay.

One thing was mentioned above that makes sense as a separator of sorts. Unplanned, even if pretty dumb in hindsight, accidents in civilized areas usually do not involve huge risk to the rescuers except for fires. Rescues in the wilderness, even somewhat civilized park paths with cliffs and major water conditions create much higher risk for the rescuers.

If a rescue has happened because someone took foolish, avoidable risks and placed rescuers at risk to extract them, it seems hard to argue against some cost sharing.

Ok. My memory was not quite right. Not a blizzard but close.


One worry is if people know they will be billed, will they will delay calling for help? This could put them into more troubles (and make the rescue even harder).

They do say that the coast guard crews have to fly/be boating X amount of hours to stay certified, so an individual rescue doesn’t necessarily add to costs for the coast guard. If they weren’t performing a rescue, they would probably be out training, burning fuel and putting hours on equipment.

There often is a cost to the person being rescued - in gear. Rescue services rescue people, not gear. If a helicopter picks you up, they aren’t bringing your boat back with them. Of course, there are exceptions. If a cutter picks you up, very common for them to pick up a kayak or SUP and paddle if they can.

Example is Cyril, the French guy who was trying to paddle to Hawaii from San Francisco. He pulled the plug some 65 miles offshore. Much further out, and he might have been out of helicopter range. The Coast Guard Helicopter ride for his rescue was free, but he had to pay some $5-10k the next day to have a boat service (towboat or the like) go out and tow his kayak back.

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Above my hometown of Bountiful in Utah last fall somebody organized some kind of Mountain Marathon race. The morning of the race the forecast called for heavy snow and blizzard conditions above about 6000ft. The mountain trail on top is close to 9500 ft. So of course they started the race anyway wearing running clothes. I grew up hiking and back country skiing on those trails, and heavy snows in the Wasatch are not something you want to take lightly. Rescue squads were out all day into the dark in very dangerous weather searching for people who had already been found. I heard they were going to charge the organizers but I never heard what happened.

I don’t do a lot of things well. I’m not a great planner. Sometimes I take some risks. As I’ve gotten older I think a lot more about what it would take to get me out (on a stokes litter) of some of the places I visit. I still go, just a bit more cautiously now.

Knock on wood, I’ve always gotten out under my own power without having to be rescued. Should I need to get rescued I got no problem with being billed for the cost.

My one trip to the emergency room involved an impact shoulder dislocation. No ems were called but it did inconvenience my paddlin’ buddies a bit.

I did have to call once for someone else who got lost. It is not a phone call I wanted to make. We searched on our own first , but I was worried. That story had a happy ending.

Some stories don’t have happy endings. In those cases nobody is worried about the bill and lots of folks are devastated.

I have paddling friends who train local ems and firefighters to deal with ww emergencies. There are risks associated with ww paddling. I’ve never put on the river and heard anyone say " I think I’m going to die today." So when things go bad it is unexpected.

Most of us on this forum have been adventuring before cell phones. Self reliance was our tool. In the Revenant, Phil Glass (Leonardo D) made sure the bill was paid in full.

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Charging for rescues adds risk.

First, the injured or lost party or their loved ones waiting at home delay calling. Then, they go out to try to find them. Now, the SARs end up having to rescue the rescuers in addition to the original victim. On top of that, when SAR is finally deployed, conditions have almost always worsened–either it’s darker, stormier, the victim is in worse condition/in a more precarious position/harder to find or a combination of all the above. So, the original victims are worse off, there may be more victims and SAR are more at risk.

North Shore Search and Rescue, and several other all volunteer SAR teams in the area around Vancouver BC, is likely the busiest volunteer team in North America due to Vancouver’s proximity to extreme wilderness. They and all the other teams are adamantly against charging any fees for rescue, many of which rely on long lining (HETS) from helicopters.

In short, charging leads to delays. Delays cost lives of victims and SARs.


True that! I started backpacking while in college (cheap vacation) and before cell phones. I met an upper classman at a boxing gym. Got to know him and learned that he was packpacker and also avid solo winter hiker/camper. I asked what happens if he got into trouble. His response was that he goes out prepared/geared for the contingencies. But, if something should happen beyond his preparation, someone will eventually find his frozen body. That’s the way he was going at it.

I know I am somewhat influenced by the upperclassman. I tried a winter “half-a$$” bushcraft/camping overnighter half way up a snow covered ridge on lumbering land near my cabin in ME. Just wanted to see how it would be out there. I survived cold but fine in my sleeping bag under a make do lean-to. But, the long night and darkness was enough for me to say no to winter camping.

I did (and still do occaisonally) solo week-long backpacking into White Mountains in May (to reflect and celebrate my birthday). It is still early in the season where I rarely ever seen anyone else. I learned to carry along small snow shoes because I’ve run into snow covered trails and deep drifts even at that time in spring. I usually finished up my trip with at least a couple of days of rations left over. This is “insurance” in case I got caught out there for longer than intended stay.



Yes, @Peter-CA shared the same caution with you. This came up also in past discussions about “pay or not-pay” rescues. I took/take the position of “pay” although I have no control over the policy. Back then, NH did not charge for rescues but it does now for those who are “deemed” negligent in their preparedness. So, something happened to change the policy makers in adopting this newer stance. I think the “something” was the proliferation of folks going out unprepared and it “seems” to parallel the proliferation of mobile phones and cell towers in the mountains of the wilderness areas. Up to five years to ago, I couldn’t get a signal around my camp in western ME. It was fine by me as I went there for solitude and to fish and hunt. When I went/go out into the woods, I was/am essentially on my own with what gear and preparation I had/have. I personally like it that way. My “insurance” is that I am probably worth more dead than alive to my wife.

Anyway, bottom line is that, for NH, they are charging the unprepared for rescues. Its been going on for several years now. The accumulated data will eventually show the impact of this new policy. Anecdotally, in the past year, I recall only reading about one rescue that turned into a recovery. And that was for a man who suffered cardiac arrest. There was no getting to this person on time.


Re the disincentive of calling for help if payment may be involved… I suspect that this should be viewed not historically but going forward.

Yes, historically you will see the behaviors mentioned by jeffski above. Untrained people go out by themselves, they become additional rescue burdens and it all gets much worse. This is similar to discussions about water based scenarios, where one family member gets caught by a rip tide then two equally unknowing people go out to get them and the majority end up being recoveries. Most of which could have been avoided if people had been told how to handle that situation before they ever left the beach.

But as above, the introduction of cell phone service into previously dark wilderness areas has been a huge game changer. Unprepared people will go places they would have avoided before because the cell phone coverage makes them feel safe. And of course they are no longer relegating themselves to three days without Wordle or whatever.

Time will tell how it works out in NH. But I really think that the older assumptions and stats on the effect of payment for rescue need to be freshly tracked. People who get into trouble are now more frequently able to get a cell phone call out. So whoever first gets the call, there is enough info to contact trained rescuers rather than more untrained people becoming involved.

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There are deaths in the High Peaks area of the Adirondacks every year by people going hiking without a clue. The Park now often has rangers or certified volunteers at some of the trailheads on days that are popular that will turn back people that do not have the proper equipment.

They’ve also limited parking and require permits for some locations to reduce overuse, but that’s a different issue.

By happenstance I saw this tonight and noted: Here’s a guy, a fellow silent sports guy, who was rescued. A rescuer died trying to rescue him. But, boy howdy, did he pay it back.

Quite a story getting from there to here and quite a story considering where it might go. This will be up for free for a while - folks might want to check it out even though he’s not a paddler.


Nice. Saw the story about the robotics but didn’t get the background. Thanks for sharing that.

We are entering the age of the “bionic” man and woman.