YOSAR stock photo.

About YOSAR

YOSAR staff accompany a patient being short hauled into the Awahnee Meadow. - Photo by David Pope.

Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR) is the emergency response team for Yosemite National Park.

Each year, an average of 250 visitors are lost, injured or die in the rugged environment of Yosemite National Park. Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR) was established in the 1960s to respond to these emergencies with a cadre of trained professionals. Today the YOSAR team is comprised of Park Rangers, SAR Site members, SAR interns and other community members.

In any given week, team members may be crossing a swollen stream toward a stranded boater, rappelling from a helicopter to a severely ill climber, or extracting an unconscious person from a wrecked vehicle.

The majority of the YOSAR missions (roughly 60%) involve hikers, either ones who have become lost in the wilderness or injured on the trails. The duration and complexity of these missions can range from a month-long, $100,000 effort to a two-hour, two-person assist. Approximately ten percent of YOSAR missions involve climbing accidents. Often, these rescues attract the most attention because they are coupled with risky exposure and technical challenges. The remaining SARs are as varied as the activities in Yosemite.

YOSAR got its start at the same time as American technical climbing, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, as the NPS relied upon climbers for wall rescue work and eventually all kinds of searches and rescues. The “SAR Site,” an elite team of non-government specialists in high angle rescue, was established in Camp 4, so that team members could be available all season for missions.

As the work load has grown, YOSAR has gradually added more specialists, and now has excellent swiftwater rescue capability, as well as one of the top canine search teams in California. YOSAR is well-known for its helicopter rescue techniques, many of which were first developed in Yosemite.

Helicopter pilot David Boden maneuvers close to the massive granite wall of Fairview Dome while practicing a rescue technique. SF Chronicle photo by Michael Maloney.

For the past twenty years, YOSAR has handled about two hundred incidents per year in Yosemite, most of them from April through October. In addition, YOSAR gives mutual aid to the other national parks in the west, as well as to surrounding counties. Finally, many of the individual team members are on state, national, and even international search and rescue resource lists.

In many of its specialties – big wall rescue, emergency medicine, helicopter rescue, canine search – YOSAR ranks among the best teams in the world. However, because of its history, YOSAR is structurally quite different from other SAR teams in that many of its critical functions are unpaid and voluntary. The French team at Chamonix, for example, is salaried; search and rescue is seen there – accurately - as a full-time job for which constant paid training is required. In other countries, such as India, mountain search and rescue is seen as an adjunct to military operations, somewhat comparable to the United States Coast Guard.

YOSAR team members that are not NPS employees are rated as various kinds of specialists by the National Park Service, and during a mission are paid at an hourly rate only for the hours worked. This means that our most active volunteers are lucky to make as much as $5000 per season with YOSAR even though they are on call 24-7. Since funding not tied to specific incidents is almost non-existent, YOSAR members must volunteer their time - and often pay their own way - to get vital training in emergency medicine (most YOSAR members are EMTs), rope systems, and other demanding and highly-specialized skills and knowledge.

Learn more about the Friends of Yosemite Search and Rescue.

 

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