Who pays for Search & Rescue?

The responsible agency who called the Search & Rescue teams out (also called the AHJ or Agency Having Jurisdiction) typically pays for any incident related costs.

And they often receive their funding from the local tax base.


Little Timmy disappears while camping near Anytown County.  

The Sheriff's Department of Anytown County is responsible for all Search & Rescue in the county so they call-out, or dispatch, their Search & Rescue Team, made up of volunteers.  

Anytown County may pay for incident insurance, fuel for the vehicles, overtime for county employees and the replacement costs of damaged equipment.    

They may also pay to fill up the volunteer's vehicles with fuel from the County gas pump, but the volunteers will otherwise be unpaid, except in immense gratitude!

In some cases, fees are collected as part of a hunting license or access permit to an area where Search & Rescue missions are common. These fees are collected by users of those areas and then dispersed to recover some costs associated with any Search & Rescue missions in that area.

  • The National Park Service, for instance, spends almost $4 million dollars per year on people, supplies, and equipment to support SAR missions.

As for the responders themselves … as I mentioned, most Search & Rescue Missions are conducted by volunteers or unpaid professionals.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office SAR

Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office SAR

The volunteers absorb the costs of fuel, equipment damage, lost time at work, etc. It is truly advanced volunteering!

  • ** When I joined my first SAR team, I drove nearly 1500 miles each month to seek out training and educational opportunities. The first year I also spent around $800 out-of-pocket on gear.

Those numbers may be on the high end for many but the non-reimbursable costs can add up quickly.


Carefully evaluate not just your available time but your available financial resources.

  • SAR costs plenty of both, even though the payoff in helping others bring closure to missing a loved one is absolutely priceless.
  • If you have a family at home, you'll need their support.
  • Employers play a critical role in supporting this advanced volunteering too. Some employers may provide time off and other sponsorship benefits!
  • There are economic realities to participating in SAR and my aim is to help prepare you in a realistic way.

Nobody wants to start something noble like SAR training and then not be able to finish!

** Browse the below Case Study about the costs associated with Search & Rescue training ... particularly those incurred in the first year (opens in new tab).

Very eye-opening!

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