We have a decades-long issue in the U.S. regarding search and rescues in outdoor areas. Who pays if you need to be rescued? You or the public?

Take the recent guy who slipped and fell while hiking in the wilderness last week. He thought he couldn’t continue but he walked out without need for any medical attention. Nowhere in the report from the Sheriff’s Department did it say he was lost.

Look who responded: Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit, National Forest Service rangers, Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team, Riverside County Sheriff’s Aviation Unit and the California Highway Patrol Aviation Unit. That’s two helicopters with crews and three teams of rescuers.

A guy who walked out and didn’t need need any medical attention.

That’s going to cost the public a fortune, particularly Los Banos or Merced County where the guy is from.

According to California Government Code Section 26614.5:

“The county or city and county of residence of a person searched for or rescued by the sheriff under the authority of Section 26614 shall pay to the county or city and county conducting such search or rescue, in any case where the expenses thereof exceed one hundred dollars ($100), all of the reasonable expenses in excess of one hundred dollars ($100) of such search or rescue within 30 days after the submission of a claim therefor by the county or city and county conducting the search or rescue and the county or city and county conducting the search or rescue shall bear the remaining expense.”

In California, the public pays the bill when someone puts themselves in danger and requires search and rescue (SAR). The county, however may try to recover costs through a civil lawsuit if they can prove “gross negligence” by the rescued individual.

California tried to pass a law in 2014 that would allow a county to bill an individual for their rescue but the governor vetoed it because the language was too vague. He felt the counties might abuse their authority.

In some places in Europe, people must buy SAR insurance before going into the outdoors, because you are responsible if you are negligent.

Some states, like New Hampshire, have passed laws saying if you put yourself in danger requiring a search and rescue, you pay the bill to save your life.

This may seem fair, but raises some concerns. Some people needing rescue, knowing they’re going to get a big bill, have not called for help or have hid from their rescuers. Maybe the European idea is the best. Just require people to buy SAR insurance. What do you think?


  1. Have you considered NOT rescuing on Day-0, or Day-1, or Day-2 ?
    According to Les Stroud, a credible survival expert, it takes 3 days without water and 30 days without food before death.

    Being lost in the forest is no reason to initiate paid SAR and helicopters.

    If someone sends a text or phone call they have a broken bone, then 9-1-1 can obtain verbal consent on a recorded line for financial responsibility. if they decline to pay, but insist of demanding rescue, is like if I ordered an expensive meal at the Gastrognome or Cafe Aroma, but insisted that The Town Crier pay my food bill, after all, I need food to survive, without it I would surely die.

  2. For all the people that advocate that TAX payers subsidize negligent outdoors activities, please note that you are ALWAYS free to donate as much money of YOUR OWN money, or start a crowd funding web page for such activities, or hustle a church to donate. All good and fine.
    but to tax citizens to pick up the bill for someone else’s reckless behavior, well that kind of robbery is called California.

  3. here is an exaggerated example for the sake of comedy:
    If I charter a $100,000 trip to space on Richard Branson’s Virgin Airline Space Shuttle, but something goes bad, and I need NASA to rescue me from space. NASA is a big organziation and has a overhead footprint cost of $20 billion. Obviously I can’t pay $20 Billion, but hey I need a $20B rescue from $100K luxury ride. Come on tax payers, pay pay pay.
    and if you refuse to pay the tax, then the government is authorized to seize your assets, confiscate property, garnish your wages… and it you refuse, if may be at gun point or after your death from your estate. but YOU will pay for someone else’s goof up.