Sixteen year old sailor Abby Sunderland should arrive home in California today, her plan to be the youngest person to sail around the world solo scuttled by another young adventurer who beat her to the title, and her small boat wrecked a violent storm in the Indian Ocean that resulted in a massive rescue effort that involved a chartered jet and at least three ships, at a cost reported to be somewhere between $100,000 and $300,000.

While we were all relieved at the news that Ms. Sunderland was safe, I have to ask the same question that goes through my mind every time some foolish adventurer gets into trouble that requires a massive rescue effort. Who pays the bill?

The news reports say that the countries involved in the rescue effort have no plans to seek payment for their services, because rescues at sea are covered under international agreements regarding maritime search and rescue operations.

Okay, but somebody has to pay the bills, whether it be American taxpayers, or in this case, citizens of France and Australia, the countries who participated in the girl’s rescue.

I can understand an all out effort to save the crew of a commercial vessel who get into danger at sea, or even people on a private boat who run into unforeseen difficulties. But we’re talking about a teenager who really had no business being out on the ocean by herself. And I say that whether it had been a boy or a girl, or even an adult for that matter. Is it really fair to expect taxpayers of any country to pay for the foolhardiness of somebody who pushes their luck and gets into trouble?

Every year in America huge sums of money and uncounted man-hours are spent to rescue hikers who get lost, mountain bikers who run off cliffs, boaters who push their luck too far, mountain climbers who fall, and hunters who do something stupid. These are not innocent victims, they are people who chose to put themselves in danger, relying on the fact that if they get into trouble, somebody will come to their rescue. Who pays for that? Usually the taxpayers do. But not always.

In some states, Arizona for one, they expect you to pay the cost if you do something foolish that puts you in a situation that requires rescuing. Every year during, Arizona’s annual monsoon season, brain dead drivers ignore warning signs and enter flooded washes. If they are lucky, they might lose their vehicle. If they are not so lucky, they lose their lives. If they survive, it is usually because brave rescue personnel put their lives on the line to save them. Rescuing these numbskulls sometimes involves helicopters, and always entails great personal risk to those who come to get them back to dry land.

I have no objection to the state fining anyone so dumb as to drive into a flooded wash, and I think that they should be expected to pay the costs for their rescue. Maybe you can’t fix stupid, but it shouldn’t be a ticket to a free ride either. What do you think?

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16 Comments on Who Pays?

  1. MichaelG says:

    I hope you aren’t one of those people suggesting that she was too young to take the risk. She was an experienced sailor and knew what she was getting into. Nothing magical happens at age 18 that turns you into an adult.

    What’s more, if you read her blog, this was the least “solo” solo trip you could imagine. Not only did she have all the weather and navigation equipment they could stick on her boat, but she had an internet connection and two satellite phones. The boat itself has safety compartments that would allow her to ride out any storm. She had multiple satellite emergency beacons in case she got into trouble.

    In the accident, she wasn’t in danger of drowning. The ship didn’t sink, it just lost its mast from a large wave. Which as she pointed out, has nothing to do with her age.

    Realistically, the only danger she was running was falling off the boat or getting sick. She was consulting her “team” before she even went on deck in a storm, or when she did repairs. While it takes bravery to even attempt something like this, it’s not exactly setting off alone either.

    As for the rescue cost, she was prepared to sit out there on the boat for weeks if necessary. I think there was a major publicity factor, plus emotions from her family and the public desperate to save this “poor little girl” that drove up the costs.

    Someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but for an ordinary sailor, I doubt they would have chartered a jet just to see if she was OK. A commercial flight in that area might have flown low to check her out though. Diverting a fishing boat out to pick her up was probably pretty standard. How else would she be rescued?

    As for who to bill, the people involved in rescues say they rescue anyone. You are not going to leave them to the sharks because they can’t pay the bill, after all. And I doubt there’s some huge expense worldwide to pick up adventure sailors. It’s just not a large group of people.

    Hikers are frequently idiots, but we don’t kill people for that either. We rescue them, bill them, and if they can’t pay, that’s life.

    I don’t really see what else you can do.

  2. Connie Braidh says:

    I would like to see these people pay for the rescue effort or at least some part of it.
    What really bothers me is the stupidity (lack of common sense or what ever you want to call it) of some people. When we were in Yellowstone National park we watched the film showing what happened to tourists who got too close to bison/buffalo. It was played over and over at the visitor’s center. We watched people in Yellowstone then get too close to these wonderful WILD animals. We watched a woman learn over the edge of Grand Canyon holding her child out over the canyon while trying to get the kid to feed a chipmunk. We watched a man and his daughter climb over the rail fence with the no trespassing sign at the top of a waterfall. The man kept gesturing for the little girl to get closer and closer to the edge of the waterfall for the perfect picture. She and he were standing on slippery rocks. We talked to locals who told us that several people a year fell over the waterfall and were killed because of this behavior. What is wrong with these people? I have always had a healthy dose of self preservation. Why do people do these stupid things? And yes, when they get hurt or die, IT IS THEIR FAULT. No suing the attraction, nor suing anyone should be allowed. Instead they should be paying damages because they didn’t follow the rules or common sense. And yes, I think a young girl all alone in a small boat trying to go around the world or whatever is stupid. If she gets in trouble rescue her, but charge her for it.

  3. Bob Jackson says:

    As a career Coast Guardsman I have seen and participated in Rescues at sea. If the majority of “sailors”were as prepared as the young lady the amount of expense would drop and as has been said only the” intelligence” challenged would be left whether on land or sea.
    Those who do not understand the the vagaries of the oceans tend to fear it as we all should, it can be mother natures most terrible as well as most beautiful place to be.
    She was brave and well prepared and I salute her and her parents.

  4. Kenneth says:

    Nick I could not disagree more.
    If we fine people who act in a manner that is unsafe then we will fine those who run in the rain, slip in the bath tub or drive too far on a low tire.
    You can’t fix stupid but do you wish to fine them.
    How many fines would I get or you.

  5. What a boring world it would be if talented, capable people took no chances or “adventures”. The new world would never have been discovered, flight would not happen, and the list is endless. The young lady was better qualified and better equipped for her attempt than 99 and 44/100 percent of adults. What she attempted has no relationship to stupid people challenging wild animals. Hers was a very well planned and equipped attempt at a serious mission. More power to her.

  6. Dale says:

    While we’re at it, what about some of the other reckless behaviors that cost all of us additional money such as smoking or driving without a seat belt or riding a motorcycle without a helmet?

  7. The older I get….The more I realize how smart my dog really is ! Its just gods way of getting rid of his MISTAKES*****

  8. My hat’s off to her and to all those risk takers who push the boundaries. We, as a society, are better off for them risking life and limb to demonstrate and expand what we as humans can do. We, as a society, can afford to lend a hand when one of our own gets into trouble.

  9. Ben says:

    I’ll chip in $10 for her rescue. I think it’s great she pursued her dreams. She tried and failed. I hope she goes after something else just as big. This is America, where we pursue happiness. We dream big and sometimes fail big. It’s what makes us strong. Her age is irrelevant as long as she is mature enough to make good decisions. Her parents judge that, not the Government.

    Despite our president’s assertion, we are a Christian country. Apparently France and Australia are too. We rescue people in need regardless of how they got there. Fifty years ago, no one would have known of her situation until she drifted up on a coastline somewhere a month later. With satellite phones, we know almost immediately. The good people of those countries couldn’t ignore her and neither would we.

  10. MikeL says:


    In this case I feel you are wrong and I agree with what Al Hesselbart wrote and ugh what Michael G said. Is there cases where the person should pay yes, however in that young girls case I believe you to be way off base.

  11. “Foolish adventurer”? I’ve heard that term used about fulltime RVers, especially those venture off the beaten path to boondock.

    I’m sure it won’t be long before another RVer gets trapped by a wildfire, caught in a flash flood, or stranded by a blizzard, and someone will write about how foolish they were. If they’re not going to stay home like normal people at least they should have sense enough to stay in an RV park for gosh sakes!

  12. P.S. about the age issue. RV travelers get that on the other end. “He’s 84 years old, he doesn’t have any business being out there on the road…” yada yada yada

  13. Quite a bunch of arguments on this subject. We’re with you, Nick, but starting to lean the other way. What has “the president” said about this not being a Christian country? Are we still ruminating about old rumours?

  14. Dale says:

    This is not a Christian country. It is a secular country wherein many of its citizens practice Christianity.

  15. Chris says:

    You play stupid
    You pay, Stupid!

  16. Andy Baird says:

    I have no quarrel with Abby Sunderland’s desire to sail her boat around the world, but I do have a concern about her goal: “to be the youngest.” We all know records are made to be broken. Next year perhaps it’ll be a 14-year-old; then a 12-year-old; then a 10-year-old… How far will this be allowed to go? With stage-managing parents willing to put their kids in harm’s way for the sake of publicity, the likely answer is “too far.”

    I think it’s a bad idea to encourage children to beat each other out in order to “be the youngest” in risky activities. Youngest chess grandmaster? Fine. Youngest to climb Mount Everest? That’s asking for trouble–and an expensive rescue.

    Guinness’s “Book of World Records” division has retired a number of categories over the years (e.g., anything alcohol-related; animal weights; driving on the pubic roads) because they realized that people seeking those kinds of records were likely to endanger themselves or others. To me, “youngest round-the-world sailor” fits squarely in this category.

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