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, wingsuit or basejump). 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. Many injuries in free flight are spinal- just stabilizing a spinal injury even in 3rd world countries can quickly go well over $100,000 USD. 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/repatriation (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 country 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- it depends on where you call home, and where you are going- MAKE SURE TO READ THE FINE PRINT!) The best coverage in my opinion is the IMG Signature Travel Medical Insurance (DO NOT GET THE IMG PATRIOT- get the Signature, which that link takes you to), “SafeTrecker” covers HG and PG and covers amateur “competitions”, and World Nomads under their “Explorers” plan (also covers amateur “competitions”, but note 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 Signature travel insurance for NON-COMPETITION Travel (if you get hurt competing- use your own judgement, but just say you got hurt flying, there’s no need for details) has great coverage for a very fair price (this is my preferred choice as I know of many pilots who have used this coverage with success):
- 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 (sufficient for most major injuries)
- $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 in-country medical and travel. UPDATE: Both World Nomads and SafeTrecker now offer a combined package, but I have not gone over them carefully enough to make a recommendation. YOU NEED EVACUATION/ REPATRIATION 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 your best choice (NONE of the GARMIN (formerly GEOS) insurance other than their High Risk Benefit [see below] is available after the Garmin buyout in Jan 21′), and there is no longer the 100 mile restriction- it works ANYWHERE! Global Rescue has a $500,000 cap and they cover EVERYWHERE but the Antarctic and Arctic (Pakistan, India, etc. are covered). Either of these options cover evacuation AND medjet assist (ie professional medical support during transport) and are very reasonable ($329 a year, or you can just get 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. SO PRESS YOUR SOS regardless!
VERY IMPORTANT: If you have an accident, MAKE SURE THE FIRST THING YOU DO, or someone assisting you does- CALL or otherwise communicate with your provider. INSURANCE COMPANIES WILL NOT PAY FOR MEDICAL AFTER THE FACT. Leave your insurance details with your family at home, and make sure everyone in your group has the details as well. If something happens- NOTIFY the provider! AND: try to transport to a larger hospital whenever possible and collect detailed receipts if paying up front by credit card. Best bet- contact your insurance company immediately, and let them handle all transport, medical and repatriation.
Summary- Get the GARMIN SAR HIGH RISK PLAN in case you hit your SOS. Get Global Rescue AND IMG SIGNATURE for non-comp travel OR World Nomads or DogTag Extreme when traveling for comps. Or do like I do- IMG Signature and Global Rescue and don’t say anything more than “I got hurt flying.”
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 InReach (SPOT is no longer in the IERCC system and is using their own so yet another reason to switch to InReach!) the IERCC (formerly GEOS, now Garmin) 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 (if you are using InReach!): IERCC will activate a search and rescue and get you to a hospital REGARDLESS OF THE coverage you have. BUT- their standard SAR 100 plans DO NOT COVER PG OR HG! So- you could be in for a very large bill. GARMIN still offers the “High Risk Benefit” for $299 a year, which covers most “extreme sports”, including HG AND PG. GET THIS! GARMIN NOW says they WILL NOTIFY GLOBAL RESCUE if you have it in your emergency notes!– get Global Rescue and add your membership details and their contact details to your emergency notes in your SOS settings so if you hit your SOS, GARMIN (IERCC) will contact Global Rescue and they will take over. If you hit your SOS there is no “search” required, it will send your exact location, so Global Rescue is perfect for the rescue and medevac. But the safest bet is still to get the High Risk Benefit through GARMIN. IMPORTANT: if you have the Garmin High Risk benefit coverage, they will do a search and rescue even if you DO NOT hit your SOS (ie pilot is unresponsive, but a friend hits it, or contacts the IERCC by phone to initiate a search).
#3 thing to know about pressing your SOS: If you hit your SOS there is no “search” required, it will send your exact location, so Global Rescue is perfect for the rescue and medevac:
In any doubt? HIT YOUR SOS!
#1- Have good health insurance with NO free flight restrictions! Beyond the scope of this article. Do your homework. Now that Global Rescue works anywhere and they have removed the 100 mile rule- get their yearly coverage and breathe easy.
#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. This space is apparently going through a RADICAL change in 2022 and most likely these memberships will be ruled illegal and not available. Sounds bad, but this is a good thing- they will be available for free.
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 flowchart to help you decide: