Who should pay for Coast Guard rescues?

Published on January 30th, 2022

by John Arndt, Latitude 38
The last few years have seen a resurgence of participation in sailing. Two primary drivers have been social media putting more sailing on display through video bloggers, Instagram and others, while the pandemic has kept people close to home and reconnecting with more outdoor activities, including sailing.

We think more people sailing is a good thing. However, more inexperienced people on the water means more accidents. According to the Coast Guard there were 26% more accidents in 2020 than in 2019. Inevitably, when we write about sailors getting into trouble and requiring rescue, there’s tremendous support for the Coast Guard, but also the occasional outcry from some suggesting that whoever is rescued should pay for the government resources required.

A recent story in the New York Times describes this phenomenon in hiking as well. The pandemic has inspired more people to take to the wilderness, with many of those getting in over their heads. The Times reports that New Hampshire, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Vermont and Oregon currently have varying laws on the books to seek reimbursement from offenders.

This is obviously murky territory, as the skills, preparations and circumstances of each rescue vary widely. In a recent case in New Hampshire a family that misjudged the length of their hike is being billed $5,000 for the rescue. Though New Hampshire claims they don’t do it often, they will when circumstances warrant. There’s room for lots of gray zone there.

Conversely, the question is asked, “How do you behave if you know you’re going to be billed for a rescue?” Might you decline to call for help? Could that endanger innocent lives? There are endless situations where the fire department or other emergency services respond to accidents, some of which might be caused by negligence, though those rescued are not billed by emergency services. Like medical care, most perceived emergency situations don’t allow time for you to shop around for the best rescue price or to pull up a deal on Groupon. – Full report

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