Search and Rescue in NH

Search and Rescue Responsibility

The Conservation Officers of New Hampshire Fish and Game (NHF&G) have primary responsibility for woodland search and rescue in the state of New Hampshire. This includes land inside White Mountain National Forest with the exception of the Cutler River drainage on the east side of Mt Washington, where the US Forest Service has primary responsibility only during the winter months.

NHF&G maintains a specialized search and rescue team of 16 specially trained Conservation Officers but searches and carryouts often require more people than NHF&G can provide on its own. For this reason NHF&G relies on unpaid volunteer organizations, including PVSART, and other local resources to support these missions. A single callout may include NHF&G Conservation Officers, local police, fire, and EMS resources, US Forest Service Rangers, Appalachian Mountain Club hut and campsite caretakers, Army National Guard helicopters, Dartmouth-Hitchcock air ambulances, and members of one or more volunteer search and rescue organizations (such as PVSART).

What Happens During a Volunteer Search And Rescue Operation?

9-1-1 call goes out

A hiker calls emergency services or activate a GPS beacon, or a friend or family member reports that they are overdue or missing. The information is then relayed to NHF&G.

NH Fish & Game takes action

Once NHF&G is aware of a missing or injured person, they quickly move to gather information and develop a plan of action to locate and assist the individual.

Volunteer SAR teams called in

If NHF&G determines that volunteer teams will be needed, either to search an area, or to carry out an injured hiker in a litter, an alert goes out to the volunteer organization with instructions for where to report. Volunteers are ready to respond at a moment’s notice, around the clock.

SAR teams are briefed and deployed

Once volunteers are able to make their way to staging area, they are briefed on the situation and given instructions, either to begin the search or to set out to carry a litter and first aid supplies to an injured hiker. The time to reach an injured hiker for carry out may be hours, and will vary depending on the distance.

Search and Rescue Funding

Since 1989 the costs of NHF&G’s Search and Rescue efforts are funded by a $1 fee on all boat, OHRV, and snow machine registrations in the state (non-profit volunteer teams like PVSART do not receive any of these funds and are instead funded by donations). Rising search and rescue costs resulted in annual deficits in the Search and Rescue Fund which required NHF&G to tap funds from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and sacrifice their other responsibilities to make up the balance. The state of New Hampshire passed a law in 2008 allowing NHF&G to request reimbursement from persons whose rescue was determined to be the result of negligence to help recoup their search and rescue costs (volunteer teams have no part in this decision and do not receive any of the recovered funds). More information on funding for search and rescue is available at NHF&G’s website.

In 2015 the state of New Hampshire, recognizing that on average about 60% of the rescues in the state are for hikers and climbers while only 14% of rescues are for the hunters, anglers, boaters, and OHRV riders who had been funding Search and Rescue up to this point, created the voluntary Hike Safe Card program. Hikers, climbers, paddlers, backcountry skiers, and other outdoor users who have this card are exempt from liability for their rescue costs, even if they are determined to have been negligent, and all of the funds raised through this program go into the Search and Rescue Fund. Hikers and other outdoor users contributing to this program have helped to eliminate the Search and Rescue Fund deficit.

Search and Rescue Resources

Pemigewasset Valley Search & Rescue is only one part of a much larger search and rescue system throughout New Hampshire. State and local law enforcement agencies, fire departments, and other volunteer SAR groups all support each other when necessary to complete our missions. We also receive helicopter support to help locate and extract patients when necessary. The following resources are all a major part of this family and deserve your support:

Search & Rescue Funding and Support:

Hike Safe Card

Voluntary Hike Safe Cards are available for $25 per person and $35 per family. Revenues from sales of the voluntary hike safe card go into the NH Fish & Game Search and Rescue Fund. People who obtain the cards are not liable to repay rescue costs if they need to be rescued. Otherwise, people who are deemed negligent may be charged by the State of New Hampshire for the cost of search and rescue efforts.

The New Hampshire Outdoor Council provides funding support to agencies and organizations (especially volunteer organizations) which are involved in backcountry safety education and in search and rescue activities in the Granite State.

Search & Rescue Teams:

The NH Fish & Game Specialized Search and Rescue team

A part of Fish & Game’s Law Enforcement Division which has responsibility for conducting search and rescue missions throughout New Hampshire, the team consists of 16 specially trained and skilled Conservation Officers who respond to calls for search and rescue throughout the state.
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Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue

A volunteer SAR team centered in the Gorham-Randolph area, covering the eastern White Mountains.
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Lakes Region Search and Rescue

A volunteer SAR team covering the Lakes Region of New Hampshire and the southern edge of the White Mountains.
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Upper Valley Wilderness Response Team

A volunteer SAR team covering the Upper Connecticut River Valley and the western edge of the White Mountains.
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Mountain Rescue Service

A volunteer SAR team based in North Conway, NH specializing in technical rescue services throughout the White Mountains.
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New England K9 SAR

New England K9 SAR provides, without cost, trained search and rescue personnel and K9s to the law enforcement agencies of Vermont and New Hampshire to assist in their efforts to locate lost and missing persons.
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White Mountain Swiftwater Rescue Team

This team offers the specialized technical skills, training, knowledge, and experience of the White Mountain whitewater paddling community to support search, rescue, and recovery operations.
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Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol

A team serving as part of the National Ski Patrol New Hampshire Region, patrolling Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines from March through the end of May for each spring skiing season.
Learn More >

Additional Search and Rescue Participants:

Appalachian Mountain Club

Appalachian Mountain Club staff and facilities are often called on to aid search and rescue efforts. In many cases the first indication that a search and rescue effort is necessary may come as the result of an initial report reaching an AMC staffed hut or campsite. It’s also likely that many search and rescue efforts are avoided each year thanks to the backcountry presence of AMC facilities and staff capable of sheltering and assisting hikers in need.

The Dartmouth-Hitchcock Advanced Response Team provides both ground and air medical transportation services to the medical communities of Northern New England. DHART also responds to public safety agency requests for evacuation of trauma patients from scenes of accident and injury, and will transport to the closest Trauma Center in the region’s five states. The DHART helicopter team is called to assist in searches, extract injured hikers, and quickly move patients to definitive care.

NH Army National Guard

The New Hampshire Army National Guard medievac unit provides helicopter search, insertion, and extraction capabilities for both rescuers and subjects in support of search and rescue missions.

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