Search and rescue services

I’ve been reading up lately on canoe and kayak accidents. I’ve come across several letters-to-the-editor on newspaper sites and blog and forum posts saying that many paddlers, especially sea kayakers it seems, are too reckless and cost the government too much money for SAR services.

Does anybody know which services charge people money when they are rescued? I heard of that happening sometimes, especially in National Parks, but I’d like more info on how widespread it is (and how many people actually pay their bills).

Also, I wonder what proportion of SAR activites are related to paddlecraft versus other types of boats, such as fishing boats and family recreation motorboats and sailboats, etc? I would guess, in most parts of the country, that canoes and kayaks are only a small percentage, but it could still add up to a significant amount of money in some locations (Pac NW, Florida?).

Even if we are a minority, I think I would be in favor of some kind of usage fee for SAR services - otherwise, I fear we may face a backlash in public opinion, even to the point that the authorities try to regulate what we can do (i.e., prohibiting sea kayaks from going out on waters with temps under 45 deg F). It seems a bit harsh to charge the rescued, mainly because the bills could easily be in the tens of thousands, but maybe some kind of group coverage like making all canoes and kayaks subject to state boat registration laws and adding a dollar or two each year to the fee with proceeds going to a SAR fund. Any opinions?

no to state registration fees!!!
no way! the gov already collects too many fees and squanders our money! those of us with multiple boats (especially those with fleets) would probably not like paying a yearly fee of $20 (or even $10) per boat per year… Not with the irresponsible spending of our taxes anyways!!! They would collect it and waste it on pork!!!

that aside, i can kind of see your point. I would also be interested in the percentages. I would imagine hikers (especially not real hikers) would probably require a few SAR missions, especially in the high peaks area… If the percentage is unduly high, then maybe i would agree. However, what about everyone else making use of sar services - hikers, powerboaters, snowmobilers, skiiers, climbers, etc…?

I would think hikers make up the majority of search and rescue situations. So if restricting and/or taxing is the solution, would hikers be subject the same as boaters? I do think the user shoulders the burden of cost, but we as tax payers are already paying too much in licenses/taxes and fees. Not sure what the answer is, but more taxing and licenses isn’t the answer I would like to look toward. Restrictions on what I can paddle, where I can paddle and under what conditions scare the hell out of me. Do you want someone to tell you what you can paddle, especially based on their own safety idea as a non-boater? Not me.

Many years ago I was involved in the FERC licensing of Tallulah Gorge in Georgia. It is a dam controlled steep creek/river. We, as paddlers were asked to paddle it under 3 different flows and evaluate for recreational use. I really appreciated that process since it asked boaters for their opinion before the powers that be made their decision. Regular releases are now a part of the license mandated.

I second that "NO"
and it is idiotic to even suggest it here.

Some ding bat elected official is liable to be lurking and get the notion that here is another group we can tap into.


Government will give billions to theiving financiers and makers of crappy cars but don’t want to come keep me from drowning?

Morning Rex
Are you paddling, peddling or none of the above today ?

Isn’t it a freaking joke how our fearless leaders keep digging us in deeper and deeper.

I am sure glad that I am at this ripe old age and won’t be around to see the end when some old hippy from the foreign soverenty of Smurfdom comes in with a handful of smurfdom troops and declares himself a dictator and is going to straighten this place out.

Although the more I think of it the more I realize that the old hippies from smurfdom are probably too smart to come near here.

Chees, and Merry Christmas,


Morning Jack
biking this morning… a little later than usual. Gonna get the early traffic out of the way and get a little warmer air. Hope y’all have a great Christmas.

forget state registration fees
Oh, crap, I should have known that was a hot button issue - forget state registration fees. That’s not the point of my post at all.

The point is, how can we head off any attempts to regulate our activities, using our safety and SAR costs as an excuse? Remember, that’s how they went after smokers - they said everybody has an interest because society at large has to pay the medical bills. I’d rather find a way to pay SAR costs directly than let them have it as a reason to limit my freedom to paddle where I want when I want.

In New Hampshire you can be billed
up to $10,000 for SAR if you are “reckless”. Not sure if the losing your drivers license bill got passed.

Back to Memphis’s Question…
Guys,I too am against fees and registration of boats, but let’s get back to Memphis’s question. When are search and rescue services charged to the victim?

I paddle the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior more every year because it’s close to home, and I’ve often wondered if the Park Service or the Coast Guard had to rescue my butt who pays for boat or helicopter time, and man hours?

hold on…
i don’t know which if any services are charged back from SAR operations but please let me point out that when kennedy crashed his damn plane into the ocean along with his fool self, wife (and i think sister in law?) the coast guard, state and local police and the freakin’ US navy was mobilized for SAR. seriously…big gray ships, guns, missile…that’s the navy, right?

don’t get me wrong if my ass is lost, by all means scramble what you can BUT do you think that will happen and do you really think that ole ted got a bill?

so come off with the nonsense about registration and charging back SAR already.

i’ve seen footage, we have the reel…if any citizen is lost at sea apparently even the navy comes out and looks.

Wait a minute . . .
I do pay, and if I am not settled up by April 15th, they charge me interest or can throw me in jail. My taxes pay for the Dept. of Homeland Security which is CG which is SAR. (Or Stare equivalent)

It is their mission and we pay them to do it.

And BTW, they do it very, very well…


– Last Updated: Dec-24-08 10:28 AM EST –

If someone stupid gets themselves into a situation that requires SAR, should they have to pay for the services?

I'll answer a question with questions........

Is stupid against the law?

Should someone who is speeding, driving recklessly, driving while intoxicated, driving without a license, driving without insurance, or "any" similiar (law breaking) scenario, have to pay for any/all of the emergency/fire department/police/ambulance/highway department vehicles & personnel who must/might have to respond to the aftermath of their stupid decisions? These people are not just stupid; they're also breaking the law. Do they pay?

Should the alcoholic, the drug addict pay for any/all the care they receive? These people are not just stupid; they're also breaking the law.
Do they pay?

In the "I wish" world those who make stupid decisions should pay. In the "real" world; they typically don't! Or if they do pay anything, it is a miniscule amount when compared to the real cost.

I am totally opposed to the registration of canoes &/or kayaks to fund any type of SAR, or for "any" other type of fund. Money that we have "already" paid with local/state/federal/real estate/personal property/sales taxes, etc. should be sufficient to cover virtually any SAR scenario. If it is not available; the probability is that it was "wasted" by some bureaucrat/politician, or the funds were transferred to some other pork barrel fund.

Throwing more, more, more money at a problem is not the solution to the problem in my opinion.


Paying for SAR
History is the best teacher - look up what happened with firemen “pay per use” system :wink:

On more serious note - not all SAR are justified. Sometimes the good samaritans call rescue services because they wrongly evaluate situation. Who would be charged for SAR efforts then?

Additionally - who would pay for SAR efforts if it is a failed rescue? Who decides when to stop or what resources should be allocated?

Regarding the “reckless” comment from the above threads, who and based on what criteria decides that behavior was reckless?

I am somewhat reluctantly supportive to the liability insurance - SPOT messenger approach - if you activate the distress signal there is 100k to cover SAR.

In Sf Bay
In the SF Bay Area, I have heard that wind surfers and kite surfers are the biggest user of coast guard services.

I’d rather do that
and buy SAR insurance than give the same $$$ to the state. At least I’d know that the money was being used for what I paid for.

But the CG already gets paid to do SAR, as has already been said, so if I need them, I’m on the VHF calling.

not paying for SAR = recklessness?
I don’t entirely disagree with the various comments to the effect that we already pay for SAR with our tax dollars, but I would ask you one thing. Doesn’t the existence of a highly efficient, free SAR service encourage recklessness? What about these stories we hear of families that wander off into the woods in a National Park with zero preparation and get lost, and then around sunset they call the Park Ranger on their cell phone and say, Help, come get me?

not sure I agree
Not sure I agree with the causality you are suggesting. I don’t think the availability of search and rescue makes more people do stupid things. Rather, I think the availability of search and rescue reduces the numbers of deaths from when people do the stupid stuff they would have done even if search and rescue wasn’t around.

Search and rescue isn’t guaranteed in any area. Who knows if you will get a cell phone signal to call that ranger. Or if the coast guard will be anywhere near you when you wet exit and let go of your kayak (and get to watch it blown away faster than you can swim). Without this guarantee, the average person would likely act as if they won’t have rescue service available. Some people just takes risks that others would call stupid.

Can’t confirm
but I recall hearing of an incident in DC where someone was airlifted by the Virginia State Police and had to pay for it, but someone in the same incident was airlifted to a MD hospital by a Maryland SP helo and was NOT charged because the state of MD doesn’t charge the citizenry for that sort of thing. I’m totally blanking on what that incident was or where I heard it, but I heard it nonetheelss.

good argument, for the few who listen
Well, I have to admit that’s a persuasive argument, to me anyway. However, it’s not people like me we have to convince, it’s the average voter types with their hot button, automatic reflex issues.

Just like my mention of state regis fees for canoes brought out the knee-jerk responses above, it appears that SAR services for ill-prepared adventurers is something that a certain segment of the populace considers to be a hot-button example of the government wasting money. Surf around various SAR stories and read the comments, and a certain portion always seem to come from indignant taxpayers who are outraged that they have to pay for other people’s stupidity.

I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t like per-boat fees either, and I don’t like the idea of charging an individual rescuee $10,000 and taking away his drivers license if he can’t pay. That’s partly due to personal experience - I was “rescued” once by the Coast Guard when I got stuck in a sailboat on a sandbar and was waiting for the tide to lift me off. I told them I was perfectly all right and tried to decline the rescue, but they not only insisted on towing me off the bar and back to a marina, they also put people on board to search the boat thoroughly for illegal drugs (I guess that’s what they were looking for). If they had tried to charge me a rescue fee on top of all that, it would have been even more outrageous.

I guess I’m just trying to alert everybody to a possible danger, down the road, and encourage everybody to speak up when you see this kind of discussion on a blog or a forum post.