OB Approved The Importance of Search and Rescue Insurance, Donations, and SAR Cards (US)

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ovrlndr

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This article applies to the United States, but the information may be useful to those outside of the U.S. as well. Being that search and rescue is typically a responsibility that falls to local law enforcement and varies state-to-state, it is difficult enough to scope this article for just the U.S. - it would be a daunting task to try to scope it internationally or globally.

As overlanders, we often find ourselves in remote backcountry areas, whether it be with / in our vehicles while on an expedition or at camp, or away from / outside of our vehicles participating in outdoor recreation of some type. When venturing into the backcountry, it's important to understand the risks associated, and have an understanding of what may happen if you require search and rescue assistance.

Typically, search and rescue operations fall to local law enforcement / county sheriffs departments, however there are some non-profit volunteer organizations in some areas (e.g. Teton County Search and Rescue, a Wyoming-based SAR organization which provides search and rescue services, free of charge, to Teton County and the surrounding areas) that also provide SAR services. Far and away, though, it is typically the county sheriff and local law enforcement that carry out SAR missions.

Search and rescue missions can be costly (e.g. Grand County in Utah says the average SAR operation costs about $2,000), and especially taxing on the budgets and funds of local law enforcement. But, whether the person(s) being rescued receives a bill for SAR services rendered, varies state-to-state, and even within a state, it could vary county-to-county. Some states have broad laws about whether the costs of SAR services can be billed back to the person that needed them, while some states have more narrow laws and only allow bill back if the person was being reckless. Receiving a bill for SAR services could be costly; for example, a 59-year-old hiking solo in New Hampshire was billed $9,300 for SAR services and a 64-year-old man who spent four days hiking out of Blue John Canyon in Utah when the rescuers found him was billed $4,000 by Wayne County's Search and Rescue team.

This brings me to the topic of this article: SAR cards and SAR insurance.

What's the difference?

Well, it depends on the state, but most SAR cards (like those available in Colorado and Utah) are NOT a form of insurance against back billing, but rather go to replenish the funds of SAR teams to provide them the resources necessary to carry out SAR missions. So, while these cards might not protect you against back billing, they certainly can reduce the need for local law enforcement or the state to back bill the person being rescued. If every person venturing into the backcountry for recreational purposes supported SAR teams through things like SAR cards and donations to SAR organizations, these teams and organizations would be better funded and thus have less need to recoup the cost of the mission through back billing. My CORSAR card here in Colorado was $12 for 5 years. Also, a CO fishing license includes SAR.

However, ever the cynic, there's always still the chance that even the most well-funded SAR teams might bill you for services rendered, even if everyone venturing into the backcountry was buying SAR cards. To protect against this, there are insurance plans, like those offered by GEOS.

I will talk about GEOS, because they are probably the largest and most widely used SAR insurance, and they also happen to be the organization that personal satellite communicators (did you see my article on those in Bootcamp?) like the Garmin inReach devices and SPOT devices communicate to when the SOS button is pressed.

GEOS has several types of plans, the high-level plans being:
  • Search and Rescue Membership
  • Medical Evacuation Membership
  • Medical Evacuation High Risk
I'm going to provide an overview on the Search and Rescue Membership option, but be sure to check the GEOS website for the most up to date information on Search and Rescue Membership and details on their other plans.

Within the Search and Rescue Membership, they offer the following tiers:
  • SAR 50 - The GEOS SAR 50 membership covers expenses up to $50,000 USD per incident, with an annual maximum of $100,000 USD per year. This plan also covers multiple incidents under $50,000 USD as long as no single incident exceeds $50,000 USD, or the $100,000 USD per year maximum.
  • SAR 100 - The GEOS SAR 100 membership covers expenses up to $100,000 USD per incident, with an annual maximum of $100,000 USD per year. This plan also covers multiple incidents under $100,000 USD as long as no single incident exceeds $100,000 USD, or the $100,000 USD per year maximum.
  • SAR HR - The GEOS SAR High Risk or SAR HR membership is the same in coverage as the SAR 100. This plan also covers multiple incidents up to $100,000 USD as long as no single incident exceeds $100,000 USD, or the $100,000 USD per year maximum. SAR HR removes many of the restrictions found in the basic SAR 50 and SAR 100 memberships.
  • Group SAR - Group SAR by GEOS comes in various options, such as; 6 Pack, 12 Pack and 24 Pack. Each Group SAR package offers up to $100,000 USD per year per incident for the number of individuals included in the purchased Group SAR pack.
I personally invested in the SAR 100 level of coverage when I activated my Garmin inReach, and I believe the price was discounted through Garmin to $17.95/year. Noramlly the SAR 100 level is $29.95/year. All I know is $30 is a whole heck of a lot cheaper than $100,000, should I ever need the coverage.

There are some terms and limitations to the coverage, so I would recommend - whatever type of insurance you choose - you read the plan documentation on the insurer's website carefully.

Feel free to discuss SAR cards and SAR insurance in this thread!

Because SAR typically falls to local law enforcement, the more research I have done on the subject, the more it has become evident that oftentimes it is the county, not the state, that absorbs the costs of SAR missions. Sometimes these SAR missions are outsourced by county sheriff's offices to non-profit SAR organizations or teams. It's also becoming more evident that states, like Colorado, that offer SAR cards to help fund SAR missions, are in the minority.

As you can imagine, counties - especially those more rural counties where a lot of our backcountry in the U.S. is - are oftentimes not as well-funded as the states in which they reside. Because of this, I have started compiling a list of SAR resources by state, in case anyone wants to get involved with SAR as a volunteer, or in the case that anyone wants to provide donations directly to teams if SAR cards aren't available in your locality (whether they be monetary in nature, or in the form of gear that may help SAR teams in their local area). As I have been compiling this list, I've noticed that many SAR teams and organizations that once had websites now no longer have them. It doesn't cost a whole lot of money annually to keep a basic website up and running, so you can probably imagine the funding challenges these SAR teams and organizations face.

This compilation will be on-going, as it has proved to be a tedious and time consuming undertaking, but I think it is important to highlight the local resources that are operating out there every day to have OUR back when we venture off the beaten path. I give to the Colorado Search and Rescue Fund by purchasing the CORSAR card, but if there is not a similar fund in your state, please consider donating to the team or teams in your locality, as one day you may need their assistance or be out of your locality and require assistance from another team.

Many of their websites (especially those organizations that are non-profit, but run under the direction of the county sheriff's office) also have information on how to get involved as a volunteer, if that interests you or you have the skillset for the work.

Direct Links to U.S. SAR Resources by State (and link to SAR card, if available):
 
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Chadlyb

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This article applies to the United States, but the information may be useful to those outside of the U.S. as well. Being that search and rescue is typically a responsibility that falls to local law enforcement and varies state-to-state, it is difficult enough to scope this article for just the U.S. - it would be a daunting task to try to scope it internationally or globally.

As overlanders, we often find ourselves in remote backcountry areas, whether it be with / in our vehicles while on an expedition or at camp, or away from / outside of our vehicles participating in outdoor recreation of some type. When venturing into the backcountry, it's important to understand the risks associated, and have an understanding of what may happen if you require search and rescue assistance.

Typically, search and rescue operations fall to local law enforcement / county sheriffs departments, however there are some non-profit volunteer organizations in some areas (e.g. Teton County Search and Rescue, a Wyoming-based SAR organization which provides search and rescue services, free of charge, to Teton County and the surround areas) that also provide SAR services. Far and away, though, it is typically the county sheriff and local law enforcement that carry out SAR missions.

Search and rescue missions can be costly (e.g. Grand County in Utah says the average SAR operation costs about $2,000), and especially taxing on the budgets and funds of local law enforcement. But, whether the person(s) being rescued receives a bill for SAR services rendered, varies state-to-state, and even within a state, it could vary county-to-county. Some states have broad laws about whether the costs of SAR services can be billed back to the person that needed them, while some states have more narrow laws and only allow bill back if the person was being reckless. Receiving a bill for SAR services could be costly; for example, a 59-year-old hiking solo in New Hampshire was billed $9,300 for SAR services and a 64-year-old man who spent four days hiking out of Blue John Canyon in Utah when the rescuers found him was billed $4,000 by Wayne County's Search and Rescue team.

This brings me to the topic of this article: SAR cards and SAR insurance.

What's the difference?

Well, it depends on the state, but most SAR cards (like those available in Colorado and Utah) are NOT a form of insurance against back billing, but rather go to replenish the funds of SAR teams to provide them the resources necessary to carry out SAR missions. So, while these cards might not protect you against back billing, they certainly can reduce the need for local law enforcement or the state to back bill the person being rescued. If ever person venturing into the backcountry for recreational purposes supported SAR teams through things like SAR cards and donations to SAR organizations, these teams and organizations would be more well-funded and thus has less need to recoup the cost of the mission through back billing.

However, ever the cynic, there's always still the chance that even the most well-funded SAR teams might bill you for services rendered, even if everyone venturing into the backcountry was buying SAR cards. To protect against this, there are insurance plans, like those offered by GEOS.

I will talk about GEOS, because they are probably the largest and most widely used SAR insurance, and they also happen to be the organization that personal satellite communicators (did you see my article on those in Bootcamp?) like the Garmin inReach devices and SPOT devices communicate to when the SOS button is pressed.

GEOS has several types of plans, the high-level plans being:
  • Search and Rescue Membership
  • Medical Evacuation Membership
  • Medical Evacuation High Risk
I'm going to provide an overview on the Search and Rescue Membership option, but be sure to check the GEOS website for the most up to date information on Search and Rescue Membership and details on their other plans.

Within the Search and Rescue Membership, they offer the following tiers:
  • SAR 50 - The GEOS SAR 50 membership covers expenses up to $50,000 USD per incident, with an annual maximum of $100,000 USD per year. This plan also covers multiple incidents under $50,000 USD as long as no single incident exceeds $50,000 USD, or the $100,000 USD per year maximum.
  • SAR 100 - The GEOS SAR 100 membership covers expenses up to $100,000 USD per incident, with an annual maximum of $100,000 USD per year. This plan also covers multiple incidents under $100,000 USD as long as no single incident exceeds $100,000 USD, or the $100,000 USD per year maximum.
  • SAR HR - The GEOS SAR High Risk or SAR HR membership is the same in coverage as the SAR 100. This plan also covers multiple incidents up to $100,000 USD as long as no single incident exceeds $100,000 USD, or the $100,000 USD per year maximum. SAR HR removes many of the restrictions found in the basic SAR 50 and SAR 100 memberships.
  • Group SAR - Group SAR by GEOS comes in various options, such as; 6 Pack, 12 Pack and 24 Pack. Each Group SAR package offers up to $100,000 USD per year per incident for the number of individuals included in the purchased Group SAR pack.
I personally invested in the SAR 100 level of coverage when I activated my Garmin inReach, and I believe the price was discounted through Garmin to $17.95/year. Noramlly the SAR 100 level is $29.95/year. All I know is $30 is a whole heck of a lot cheaper than $100,000, should I ever need the coverage.

There are some terms and limitations to the coverage, so I would recommend - whatever type of insurance you choose - you read the plan documentation on the insurer's website carefully.

Feel free to discuss SAR cards and SAR insurance in this thread!
Wow....outstanding information. Thank you. You're right....17.50 is a small price to pay for such great coverage if you ever need it.
 
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Kent R

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Thank you for the education! We are currently working on some survival education modules for OLB and this info is a great addition.
 
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ovrlndr

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I thought I would also provide some detail on cost of a SAR card, as an example, since I spoke about cost of GEOS plans. I have updated the main post with my experience here in CO as well as a link to purchase a SAR card, but those from other states, feel free to reply with links / costs of SAR cards in your state.
 

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I thought I would also provide some detail on cost of a SAR card, as an example, since I spoke about cost of GEOS plans. I have updated the main post with my experience here in CO as well as a link to purchase a SAR card, but those from other states, feel free to reply with links / costs of SAR cards in your state.
I didn't forget about you but things are crazy right now and once Rally West is over I will be working on the training stuff.
 
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When you get the insurance, does it cover people in your party? For example, a person in your vehicle. What about a friend on a mountain bike in your group, but maybe traveled to the trail head separately? Been wanting an inReach device for sometime now, and this might be the icing on the cake to maintain a subscription. I ride mountain bikes, dirt bikes, motorcycles, Jeep, hike, etc., all usually with a group.

ben
 

ovrlndr

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GEOS in particular offers a multitude of membership options. The one I have specifically covers one individual, but they have plans for couples, families, organizations, and you can also create custom plans.

I would recommend visiting the GEOS website and browsing through the membership plan options to figure out which one might be right for you.

I would also encourage your friends that you’re riding / hiking with to purchase this insurance as well. At the cost levels, it’s really a no-brainer for anyone out in the backcountry.
 
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ovrlndr

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A couple of things this weekend got me thinking about this issue, and I wanted to share those with the f0rum. I spent the weekend camping in the White River National Forest - I had no cell reception for about 48 hours (which was a much needed forced disconnect). On Saturday, I went up to Crystal Mill in Crystal, CO. To get to the town of Crystal and the famed Crystal Mill, you've got to either come from Crested Butte up Gothic Road and over Schofield Pass, or come from Marble via one of two rock 4x4-recommended roads. Coming up the main road (Co Rd 3) from Marble is the easiest approach. Lost Trail Road splinters off of Co Rd 3, and while not nearly the drive that Schofield Pass is, it's more technical than Co Rd 3, as it has quite a few switchbacks. Schofield, especially the area around the Devil's Punchbowl is not for the faint of heart. This pass claims lives.

While I was up at the mill taking pictures, I heard of two incidents. One on the Schofield side of Crystal and the other on the Marble side of Crystal. The one on the Schofield side was a Gen5 4Runner that had dropped both its passenger tires off the side of the pass. Not good. While it wasn't in the Devil's Punchbowl section of the pass, it was still on a dangerous part of the pass and it could have easily resulted in a rollover and a bad medical situation. The one on the Marble side was an FJ Cruiser that was backing up to let traffic through at a narrow point in the trail, and was not being careful. The driver dropped a couple of tires off a ledge, and was lucky that it stopped there. A 4Runner in the area was able to winch the vehicle back onto the trail.

Now, I'm not sure about the Crested Butte side - my guess is it's just as bad - but, from the Marble side, you don't get cell reception until you are about 5 miles outside of Carbondale, which is quite a drive from Marble.

Imagine if either of those situations had been worse and one of the vehicles had gone over the edge of the trail and rolled... I know I'd want to have GEOS coverage and a personal satellite device at hand.
 
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overland_squirrel

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When you get the insurance, does it cover people in your party? For example, a person in your vehicle. What about a friend on a mountain bike in your group, but maybe traveled to the trail head separately? Been wanting an inReach device for sometime now, and this might be the icing on the cake to maintain a subscription. I ride mountain bikes, dirt bikes, motorcycles, Jeep, hike, etc., all usually with a group.

ben
I have the GEOS insurance both domestic and foreign and I’d have to double check my plan but...the insurance does cover my wife when we are traveling together. I believe it will cover the person I am traveling with but not a stranger in the party. You’d want to read the details of the various plans but if you’re worried about spouse/partner/kid then they are covered.
 
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Yet ANOTHER great article and something I needed to read, OB is awesome!!!

Thank you for posting this!

Jim
 
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I have the GEOS insurance both domestic and foreign and I’d have to double check my plan but...the insurance does cover my wife when we are traveling together. I believe it will cover the person I am traveling with but not a stranger in the party. You’d want to read the details of the various plans but if you’re worried about spouse/partner/kid then they are covered.
There are specific plans for couples and families (or single)..

Here is the link to GEOS and the different configurations and costs: Click This

Jim
 
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T.Shack

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This article applies to the United States, but the information may be useful to those outside of the U.S. as well. Being that search and rescue is typically a responsibility that falls to local law enforcement and varies state-to-state, it is difficult enough to scope this article for just the U.S. - it would be a daunting task to try to scope it internationally or globally.

As overlanders, we often find ourselves in remote backcountry areas, whether it be with / in our vehicles while on an expedition or at camp, or away from / outside of our vehicles participating in outdoor recreation of some type. When venturing into the backcountry, it's important to understand the risks associated, and have an understanding of what may happen if you require search and rescue assistance.

Typically, search and rescue operations fall to local law enforcement / county sheriffs departments, however there are some non-profit volunteer organizations in some areas (e.g. Teton County Search and Rescue, a Wyoming-based SAR organization which provides search and rescue services, free of charge, to Teton County and the surrounding areas) that also provide SAR services. Far and away, though, it is typically the county sheriff and local law enforcement that carry out SAR missions.

Search and rescue missions can be costly (e.g. Grand County in Utah says the average SAR operation costs about $2,000), and especially taxing on the budgets and funds of local law enforcement. But, whether the person(s) being rescued receives a bill for SAR services rendered, varies state-to-state, and even within a state, it could vary county-to-county. Some states have broad laws about whether the costs of SAR services can be billed back to the person that needed them, while some states have more narrow laws and only allow bill back if the person was being reckless. Receiving a bill for SAR services could be costly; for example, a 59-year-old hiking solo in New Hampshire was billed $9,300 for SAR services and a 64-year-old man who spent four days hiking out of Blue John Canyon in Utah when the rescuers found him was billed $4,000 by Wayne County's Search and Rescue team.

This brings me to the topic of this article: SAR cards and SAR insurance.

What's the difference?

Well, it depends on the state, but most SAR cards (like those available in Colorado and Utah) are NOT a form of insurance against back billing, but rather go to replenish the funds of SAR teams to provide them the resources necessary to carry out SAR missions. So, while these cards might not protect you against back billing, they certainly can reduce the need for local law enforcement or the state to back bill the person being rescued. If every person venturing into the backcountry for recreational purposes supported SAR teams through things like SAR cards and donations to SAR organizations, these teams and organizations would be better funded and thus have less need to recoup the cost of the mission through back billing. My CORSAR card here in Colorado was $12 for 5 years. Also, a CO fishing license includes SAR.

However, ever the cynic, there's always still the chance that even the most well-funded SAR teams might bill you for services rendered, even if everyone venturing into the backcountry was buying SAR cards. To protect against this, there are insurance plans, like those offered by GEOS.

I will talk about GEOS, because they are probably the largest and most widely used SAR insurance, and they also happen to be the organization that personal satellite communicators (did you see my article on those in Bootcamp?) like the Garmin inReach devices and SPOT devices communicate to when the SOS button is pressed.

GEOS has several types of plans, the high-level plans being:
  • Search and Rescue Membership
  • Medical Evacuation Membership
  • Medical Evacuation High Risk
I'm going to provide an overview on the Search and Rescue Membership option, but be sure to check the GEOS website for the most up to date information on Search and Rescue Membership and details on their other plans.

Within the Search and Rescue Membership, they offer the following tiers:
  • SAR 50 - The GEOS SAR 50 membership covers expenses up to $50,000 USD per incident, with an annual maximum of $100,000 USD per year. This plan also covers multiple incidents under $50,000 USD as long as no single incident exceeds $50,000 USD, or the $100,000 USD per year maximum.
  • SAR 100 - The GEOS SAR 100 membership covers expenses up to $100,000 USD per incident, with an annual maximum of $100,000 USD per year. This plan also covers multiple incidents under $100,000 USD as long as no single incident exceeds $100,000 USD, or the $100,000 USD per year maximum.
  • SAR HR - The GEOS SAR High Risk or SAR HR membership is the same in coverage as the SAR 100. This plan also covers multiple incidents up to $100,000 USD as long as no single incident exceeds $100,000 USD, or the $100,000 USD per year maximum. SAR HR removes many of the restrictions found in the basic SAR 50 and SAR 100 memberships.
  • Group SAR - Group SAR by GEOS comes in various options, such as; 6 Pack, 12 Pack and 24 Pack. Each Group SAR package offers up to $100,000 USD per year per incident for the number of individuals included in the purchased Group SAR pack.
I personally invested in the SAR 100 level of coverage when I activated my Garmin inReach, and I believe the price was discounted through Garmin to $17.95/year. Noramlly the SAR 100 level is $29.95/year. All I know is $30 is a whole heck of a lot cheaper than $100,000, should I ever need the coverage.

There are some terms and limitations to the coverage, so I would recommend - whatever type of insurance you choose - you read the plan documentation on the insurer's website carefully.

Feel free to discuss SAR cards and SAR insurance in this thread!
I agree this is great information to have I deffenetly will be looking into getting this insurance! At 30 buck a year it would be silly not to have.
 

ovrlndr

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Mods / Admins - Is there something I need to do / add to this post to get it "OB Approved"?
 
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Following. Great information definitely worth the price!
 

ovrlndr

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Made a few updates to the main post. As I do more research into how SAR missions are funded and carried out, it's becoming evident that most states don't seem to offer a way to contribute to a state SAR fund through the purchase of a SAR card in the way that Colorado does. I have started compiling a list of search and rescue organizations, associations, and teams - by state - so that those interested in getting involved or donating to their local SAR teams have an informational reference.
 

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Let me contribute to this great topic.

When we travel remotely in the US we get our evacuation and medical coverage through our Garmin InReach which is fairly inexpensive.

When we travel to more remote parts of the world we wanted to up our capability (not that InReach services aren't good) to include medical and other reasons for extraction and after comparing several companies we have been using World Nomads...

https://www.worldnomads.com/usa/travel-insurance/?gclid=Cj0KCQiA4aXiBRCRARIsAMBZGz-tgrryVLarOHjhPAGCaoQhgn12FN5AtnIMfB41sWvzl6mWmfvFMEYaAo1cEALw_wcB

With this group you provide specific information about yourselves and what countries you'll be in and the time frames.
Their coverage is very extensive and I believe you could need the coverage if, for example, you required a med jet evacuation from Africa for example where we are returning to in a couple of months.

What ever you do having good coverage for your Expedition is well worth the small cost.
 
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