Rescue Operation for a Stranded Kayaker Cost More Than $42k

A recent rescue operation conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard has renewed a longstanding debate over who should pick up the tab for such missions. The current conversation came about after the USCC retrieved stranded kayaker Cyril Derreumaux back on June 6. At the time, Derreumaux was attempting to paddle more than 2400 nautical miles (4444 km) from California to Hawaii aboard a custom built kayak. But just a few days into his journey, he was forced to call for aid, having covered approximately 70 miles.

These types of rescues are conducted all of the time. In fact, the Coast Guard says that it saves an average of 3560 lives on an annual basis. But what has brought so much scrutiny to this particular operation is the price tag that has come along with it and the fact that Derreumaux was attempting such a difficult and dangerous crossing without any kind of safety net.

Stranded Kayaker Rescued
Photo Credit: Tom Gomes

Kayaking the Pacific

We covered Derreumaux’s attempt to cross the Pacific, and his subsequent rescue, as it unfolded last month. His goal was to repeat the only solo and unsupported crossing from California to Hawaii in Kayak, which was successfully completed in 1987 by a man named Ed Gillett. Derreumaux began that journey in San Francisco on May 31, making good progress in the first few days.

However, not long after he set out, the veteran kayaker started to run into trouble. Strong winds and ocean currents slowed his progress to a crawl and by June 4 he was no longer moving forward at all. It was at this point that he deployed his sea anchor—a special tool used by ocean rowers to hold their boats in place—while he prepared to wait for conditions to improve.

The sea anchor held Derreumaux’s kayak in place for more than two days, but the rough ocean waters were having a determined effect on his health. So, on June 6 he called for a rescue, with the Coast Guard launching an operation to bring him home safely.

ocean rescue
Photo Credit: U.S. Coast Guard

A $42,000 Rescue

According to a new release from the Coast Guard, the call for assistance came in at 9:42 PM local time with a rescue helicopter being dispatched from San Francisco at 10:25 PM. The MH-65 Dolphin helicopter reached Derreumaux’s position at 12:39 AM on June 7. Shortly thereafter, the stranded kayaker was hoisted from his boat and brought aboard the aircraft, reportedly in good condition.

“Recognizing that the situation was beyond his capabilities and calling for assistance allowed our crews to reach him in time for a successful rescue,” Coast Guard spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Kroll said in the press release. “This shows that even experienced mariners with proper safety equipment can get into trouble on the ocean, which is why having the right equipment and knowing when and how to use it is so important.”

However, controversy soon followed when it was revealed that the cost for the rescue operation was $42,335.97. That’s the breakdown of the price for paying the rescue crew—including a pilot, co-pilot, and first responders—as well as flight time on the helicopter, aircraft fuel, and some miscellaneous supplies used on the mission.

Who Pays the Bill?

Unsurprisingly, the cost of the rescue operation has sparked some debate on social media, with a number of people asking who covers the bill for the rescue? In this case, the $42,000 cost comes from the Coast Guards annual budget, which is largely funded by taxpayer dollars. That budget is more than $1 billion annually and is meant specifically for conducting these kinds of operations.

Derreumaux has found his fair share of defenders and detractors. Those who support him say that this is what the government should be doing with taxpayer money, using it to help those in need. Others see it as a waste of money and wonder why the kayaker didn’t already have a back-up plan in place in case he ran into trouble. The fact that he was only on the water for roughly six days hasn’t helped his cause. If this rescue would have needed to be conducted further out to sea, it would have been more costly and dangerous in just about every way.

For there part, the Coast Guard has indicated that the men and women aboard the helicopter were only doing the job they have trained for. A spokesperson for the USCC says that there was never any danger to the aircraft or those aboard it and that these kinds of rescues are why the Coast Guard exists in the first place.

A Longstanding Debate

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard the debate over who picks up the tab for rescue operations, nor will it be the last. Whether it is airlifting mountaineers from a distant peak, searching for backcountry skiers in following an avalanche, or assisting backpackers on a remote trail, someone will always be watching the bottomline. There are many people who believe these adventurous pursuits are frivolous and dangerous, so spending money on a rescue is a waste of funds. Because they would never undertake these kinds of activities themselves, they don’t want to help those who do.

On the other hand, those of us who are a bit more adventurous and like to venture into the remote corners of our planet could probably take a bit more added responsibility too. Having rescue insurance in place for those “just in case” moments is a good idea, allowing us to not only call for proper assistance, but make sure search and rescue operations are paid for too. Keep in mind that not all SAR teams are made up of paid professionals like the Coast Guard, with many people serving in a volunteer capacity.

If nothing else, Derreumaux’s story helps to underscore that these rescue operations aren’t free and are in fact quite costly. Still, most of us are happy to know that these services exist and that someone has our back should an emergency situation arise. It also reaffirms that humans as a species generally want to help each other out, even in times of great danger. Most of us probably wouldn’t want to live in a place where that might not be true.

Kraig Becker