NOTE TO ALL: This article has been MODIFIED as of October 8th, 2019. PLEASE READ IN FULL.
DISCLAIMER: I am writing this in an attempt to help our pilot community make sure they are covered both at home and abroad if they have an accident while flying (paragliding, speed flying, hangliding, or skydiving). I AM NOT AN EXPERT and these are only opinions based on my research. PLEASE do your own research and make sure what I’m recommending covers you. This is a subject that causes a lot of confusion and my hope is that this article will help you navigate these tricky waters. The insurance recommendations I have made below are made to cover ANYONE, who resides ANYWHERE and is flying ANYWHERE- but please- DO YOUR RESEARCH! The costs of this coverage is a few bucks a day. An evacuation and repatriation to your home can easily soar into the 6 figures. Please don’t put this on your family or friends, and don’t be the fool who thinks “it’s not going to happen to me”- GET COVERED!
NONE of the recommendations below are a substitute for good health insurance. These are adjuncts designed to cover you when normal insurance doesn’t (eg when you travel). Make sure your own health insurance covers “high risk” sports like Paragliding and Hang gliding! This article does not attempt to cover this topic.
First it is VERY VERY IMPORTANT to understand the difference in kinds of coverage. Some cover medical, others cover search, others rescue/ repatriation. Some are specific to travel, some are domestic. If you fly here’s what you most likely need:
- Coverage for search AND rescue (not the same) if you hit your SOS on your SPOT or InReach. More on this below.
- Coverage for helicopter transport. Domestic IS DIFFERENT than INTERNATIONAL! More on this below.
- Travel insurance and Search AND Rescue for when you are traveling. More on this below.
Very few health insurance companies cover repatriation (ie you get hurt in a foreign company and want to get to a hospital on your own home turf) if you are injured. More concerning, most will definitely not cover you if you are hurt participating in human flight activities. There are now three options for international travel and “extreme sports” that I know of that work for anyone going anywhere (with some restrictions- for example Dog Tag doesn’t work for UK residents, you have to go through Dog Tag UK). The best coverage in my opinion is the Signature Patriot Travel Medical Insurance through IMG (make sure you get the “Adventure Sports Rider” addition to cover PG, HG, Base, etc.- which is what that link will take you to), “Dog Tag Extreme” covers HG and PG and is THE ONLY travel insurance that covers competitions, and World Nomads under their “Explorers” plan, but note their benefits are considerably less than IMG and Dog Tag Extreme, and I have recently heard complaints about them refusing to cover in-country hospital bills and instead force you to repatriate before getting any care- an obvious problem if you’ve had a back injury for example!
Benefits for IMG travel insurance for NON-COMPETITION Travel has great coverage for a very fair price (my recommendation):
- Trip cost up to $100,000 per person – Trip cancellation protection
- Up to 150% of trip cost insured – Trip Interruption protection
- $100,000 – Emergency Medical Insurance
- $1,000 – Emergency Dental Insurance
- $100,000 – Common Carrier Accidental Death & Dismemberment
- $2,500 / $500 – Lost or Stolen Luggage / Baggage Delay
- $2,000 – Sports Equipment Rental
- Up to 75% Cancel for Any Reason (if purchased within 20 days from initial trip payment)
- Up to 75% Interrupt for Any Reason
NOW importantly- these travel health insurance options DO NOT COVER SEARCH AND RESCUE and THEY DO NOT COVER REPATRIATION– they only cover medical and travel. YOU NEED EVAC insurance! If you are injured and need to get home to have a surgery or get home to be with your loved ones for your recovery, Global Rescue is activated anytime you are 100+ miles from home and has a $500,000 cap and covers EVERYWHERE (Pakistan, India, etc.). This covers evacuation and medjet assist (ie professional medical support during transport) and is very reasonable ($329 a year, but you can also get just your trip covered). Global Rescue requires two-way communication with either the covered person, or with someone who is with the injured person (another reason to get an InReach!). Global Rescue is NOT Search, they just rescue.
IF YOU PRESS YOUR SOS on your SPOT or InReach Device:
#1 thing to know about pressing your SOS: When you press your SOS on your device GEOS will be notified and will activate search and rescue through their many SAR partners regardless of where you are. So don’t hesitate- if you need help PRESS YOUR SOS! This is important- if you need SEARCH, this is BY FAR AND AWAY your best option- HIT THE SOS! If you have cell also call 911, but HIT THE SOS!
#2 thing to know about pressing your SOS: GEOS will activate a search and rescue and get you to the nearest hospital REGARDLESS OF THE GEOS coverage you have. GEOS has several coverages available (SAR, MEDEVAC, etc.), but only one covers free flight- the GEOS HIGH RISK BENEFIT. So…if you don’t have the High Risk Benefit through GEOS and you activate your SOS they will come get you, they will get you to a hospital, but if your insurance doesn’t cover this, you’re going to get an awfully big bill!
#3 thing to know about pressing your SOS: When you press it, you can override who is contacted simply by changing the details in the “Emergency notes” area of your SOS in your device set up. For example, when I am traveling abroad I always have Global Rescue. So when I’m traveling (ie when I am more than 100 miles from home), when I hit my SOS I want Global Rescue to be notified if I press my SOS instead of GEOS. I do that simply by adding this to the note field in my InReach:
So, if you want to be safe, go to the GEOS site and buy the “GEOS HIGH RISK BENEFIT“. It will walk you through connecting the service to your tracking device (SPOT or InReach). It costs $179 per year and is basically GEOS SAR rescue services but without the restrictions. For a full description of this service click here. GEOS only reimburses if the rescue is triggered via the SOS button on the SPOT or InReach. This is a problem – the pilot either has to trigger while conscious, or someone in the know has to do it. So, let everyone know to not call 911! Land next to the pilot and hit that button!
#1- Have good health insurance with NO free flight restrictions! Beyond the scope of this article. Do your homework.
#2: GET Lifeflight or similar! For helivac near home there are several options. If you live in the NW (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana) for $60 a year you and your spouse can have helivac service through Lifeflight. It’s $60 bucks a year. Silly not to have it. But what if you live somewhere else? Each area of the States has something similar. For example in Utah and Wyoming Intermountain Life Flight has your back. Medjet is another option, and there is a discount offered through USHPA (link here). Sorry, for the rest of you there’s only so much research I can do.
One of our fellow pilots Bill Beninati works for Intermountain Life Flight and wanted me to make sure you all knew the following:
The most important message I put out to our UHGPGA members about Intermountain Life Flight is that we do search and rescue as a community service when we are requested by a county sheriff. These are the officials responsible for search and rescue in Utah. For example, we could conduct a helicopter search and a technical rescue – but there is no charge to the casualty from the point of rescue to the “trailhead”. In this context trailhead has an insurance definition but it amounts to about the same thing as what you view as the trailhead. At the trailhead our role changes from rescue to medical transport. At this point a conscious casualty can refuse care, go to care in their buddy’s car, take a ground ambulance, or go with us for a charge that is generally covered by medical insurance if they have this coverage, and directly billed to them if they don’t. For Intermountain Life Flight financial assistance is potentially available to those who truly can’t pay for medical transport, and we are part of a healthcare system that provides close to $300,000,000 in charity care every year. If the injured pilot is in critical condition obviously cost is not a consideration.
I’d love to hear what you think of this and if you have any questions, comments or concerns please put them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to keep this article updated. Be safe everyone and see you soon at cloudbase!
Still confused? Here’s a little flowchart to help you decide:
And if you want to see ALL travel insurance plans and pick what’s right for you, go here.