WHAT: How To Volunteer for Search and Rescue

For bikers, hikers, climbers, sailors, and explorers whose day just went perilously south, search and rescue volunteers represent the buffer zone between life and death. If you’re fit, capable, and respond well in emergencies, becoming a volunteer for search and rescue may be easier than you think, particularly if you possess a certain skill set. Governments are only willing to fork out for a handful of specialists. Consequently, the search and rescue job field is comprised almost entirely of volunteers. Helicopter pilots, park rangers, and a handful of ultra-competent mountaineers notwithstanding, search and rescue volunteer teams have almost zero full-time paid positions and stay afloat on grants and donations.

Rescued parties also often donate money, particularly when they learn their saviors were an underfunded public volunteer force; office workers, welders, mechanics, and nurses who risked everything to save their ass.

Volunteer team briefing
Search and rescue team briefing in El Paso County, Colorado.    Photo Credit: Jerilee Bennet / The Gazette.

Nowadays, more people are entering public lands than ever before. Whether it be Instagrammers biting off more than they can chew, mushroom hunters straying off path, or those navigating with Iphones until the battery gives up, Search and Rescue teams are overwhelmed. More than ever they need competent volunteers.


Choose a Specialty

Many who volunteer for search and rescue jobs show up with niche skills that suit them towards certain operations. Civilian search and rescue volunteer roles include rescue diving, 4×4 driving, and lifeboat work. However, the most common position is looking for hikers, backpackers, and, depending on one’s skills, climbers or caving enthusiasts. Search and rescue members often view their vocation as a means of adding extra purpose to their favorite outdoor pursuits. After all, who better to rescue a climber than a climber?

Climber rescuing climbers
Climbers Rescuing Climbers.  Photo Credit: Western State Colorado


Get in Shape

If the ‘volunteer’ thing has you thinking they’ll welcome anyone, think again. Search and rescue coordinators won’t send someone up a mountain if they end up panting, whining, slowing progress, and possibly even facing the same plight as those they were deployed to extract. As well as the energy and endurance required to perform, physical fitness promotes the mindfulness, situational awareness, and confidence needed to act decisively. For search and rescue members, fitness is more than a vanity quest. Motivation to stay in shape takes on a whole new meaning when you know it will be put to real-world, high-stakes tests.

Learn the Ropes

A novice search and rescue volunteer’s most valuable resource is the collective experience of veteran team members, so listen and learn. Search and rescue organizations offer free training in navigation, equipment, first aid, evacuation routes, and response protocol. Nonetheless, showing up with a skillset will put you in good standing. Before you apply, consider becoming certified in wilderness survival, off-road driving, ropes, or any other skill that complements your chosen specialty.

Find a Team

Many search and rescue volunteer teams operate independently, so finding a comprehensive list and decent contact information may require a search. Start on the web. The media love writing about SAR members and their missions. These articles are a good resource for finding established names. Beyond that, contact your local council and inquire about search and rescue volunteer jobs for people with your skillset.

Stay Qualified

Acceptance by a search and rescue team doesn’t mean you can slack off. You’ll need to keep up with regular training sessions and strict certification renewal regulations. Maintain your fitness regime, and always be on the lookout for opportunities to sharpen your skills. The phone can and will ring at any minute, so ensure you and your gear are ready.


search and rescue team briefing
Search And Rescue Teams Are Largely Comprised of Public Volunteers. Photo Credit: Creative Commons

That depends on your skillset, location, and surrounding terrain.


Search and rescue helicopter
A Wing and a Prayer. Photo Credit: Creative Commons

Becoming the one in need of rescue, or at worst, a body extraction.


Search and rescue teams have been around since mammals began hanging out in tribes. The compulsion to help comrades in distress is a primal drive, maybe even an evolutionary requirement. As well as adding deep, meaningful challenges to one’s life, becoming a volunteer for search and rescue allows you to spend time in the great outdoors while helping the community. Moreover, it’s well known that rock-solid friendships are forged in high-stress teamwork situations.


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search and rescue book

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