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.
Some readers responded ‘Yes’ to the question posed in the New York Times, “You Got Lost and Had to Be Rescued. Should You Pay?” with one reader adding, “This has been standard practice in Europe for decades. To hike in the Alps you buy insurance to cover you in case you need to be rescued. So strange that Americans think health care should not be provided by the state but rescues from recreation should.”
We don’t see a clear answer that can be applied across all situations, but we do know we were all inexperienced sailors at one time, and even the most experienced sailors can get into trouble. Two guiding principles to be brought on board and learned while sailing are personal responsibility and self-sufficiency. We think we should all do all we can to welcome new sailors and help them and ourselves avoid any situation requiring the aid of the Coast Guard or other emergency services. And for new sailors, there are endless great sailing schools, mentors and others willing to help you avoid the worst.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.