Calling Mountain Rescue - Walks Around Britain

Go to content
Calling Mountain Rescue
The vast majority of walks and hikes in Great Britain start and end without any incident - but just in case yours is one of the few which doesn't, here's some useful information about what to do and how a rescue happens.

It has to be said that quite a few of the incidents which happen whilst walking can be avoided by some simple forward planning.  

For instance, make sure you have more than enough food and water to last for the walk and don't attempt walks which are way too challenging for your level of experience.  

Never, ever attempt any challenging walk involving mountains, hill or exposed moorland without having the correct map and a compass - and the knowledge of how to use them.

Before you go out next time on a walk, register your mobile phone with the new Emergency SMS service here.  You can use this service to send a text to get help, but your mobile phone has to be registered first.

Most walkers who have got lost on route either do not have a map & compass
- or don't know how to use them.

However, you can be well prepared and still have an incident.  In Britain, most specialist rescue services in the mountains, hills and moorland are staffed by volunteers.  This means that unlike most of Europe, search and rescue in Britain is free - you won't be charged for a rescue even if it involves a helicopter.  Having said that, the volunteers have jobs and families - so it's worth considering whether you can get yourself out of your situation.  If the answer is "no" then don't delay in phoning for help - especially if it is getting dark and cold.

To get help

Dial 999 (or the EU standard of 112) and ask for the Police / Mountain Rescue (or if you're on the coast, the Coastguard).  That will alert the call hander it is urgent and will contact the nearest Mountain Rescue team.  In the UK, providing one network has coverage where you are, your emergency call will go through even if your network provider has no coverage.  

However, although you can call 999 or 112 out, the emergency services can't phone you back on another network - so it's essential you give all the information possible on the first call.  You may have to move out of a valley or further up a hill to get any reception at all.  If you are in a party of walkers, use the mobile phone with the most battery charge.

If you've already registered your mobile phone with the Emergency SMS service, you can text a message.  Put in the message Which? service you require, What? is the problem and Where? exactly it is.  So your text might look like this "Police. man fallen off rocks. broken leg. off top of kinder scout"

What the rescue services need to know:

  • Your location and the weather - a grid reference if you have one or as much information as you can give about where you are and how you got there.  Try to remember any landmarks or buildings on your journey to where you are.

  • The nature of the predicament or casualty - if it's a casualty, try to describe what happened and the type of injury - for example, head injury, lower back pain etc…

  • The number and age of people in the party - if you are alone, make sure you tell the emergency services.  The age of people in your party is very important if they are especially young or old - even if they aren't the casualty.

  • What colour clothing and equipment you and your party have - Are you and your party suitable clothed for the oncoming weather conditions and do you have anything the emergency services can advise you to use which will comfort the casualty until help arrives.

  • Any medical conditions you know about.  For example, is the casualty diabetic or suffers from any conditions which the Mountain Rescue teams need to bring additional medication for.

  • The registration number of the vehicle(s) you travelled in and where it is parked.

If you cannot use a mobile phone to make a call, you might have to send someone down from your party to raise the alarm.  If possible, send two people to do this, including an experience walker in the party.  Be sure to write down all the information down on paper before the two set off.

At least one should remain with the casualty - preferably someone with the most medical knowledge.

Until help arrives

Although Mountain Rescue teams practise and train hard for an incident, it may take quite a long time for them to arrive.  They have to collect their kit, travel by 4x4 and possibly by foot also to get to your location.  
So, until they arrive, you should look after yourself and your party.

  • Do everything possible to keep yourselves warm and comfortable.   Any casualties will get very cold quickly as they may not be able to move about.  Insulate yourselves from the ground, as you lose a great deal of heat by sitting on the ground.

  • Keep eating and drinking but remember you might be waiting for several hours for the Search & Rescue team to find you - so save some for later.

  • Remain where you are unless instructed to move by the emergency services.

  • Do not move any casualty unless instructed to by the emergency services.  The only exception would be if the casualty starts to vomit or choke on blood - then you need to roll them carefully onto their side keeping the casualty's head, neck and back in line with each other.  Sit or lie them on a rucksack or camping mat to stop heat loss.

  • Keep talking, singing and telling jokes - anything to keep your spirits up.

  • Never use the mobile phone you used to call 999 or 112 except to call the emergency services again - they may need to get back in touch with you.

  • Turn any other mobile phones off to save their battery life.  

  • Turn the vibrate function of all your mobile phones off, and turn down the brightness of their screens to further save battery life.  Tell the police you are turning off your phone if you need to, and will put it back on in 10 minutes or at an agreed time.

When the Mountain Rescue team arrive, one person will identify themselves as the Team Leader.  Update them on the situation and report anything that has happened since you last talked to the emergency services on the phone.  

You can then relax and let the Mountain Rescue team
take over and evacuate you and party as quickly as possible.

It is possible an
UK Search and Rescue helicopter or air ambulance could arrive before a Mountain Rescue team on foot.  If you see a helicopter approaching get someone to stand with their arms wide apart to alert them of your position.  At night, don't shine a torch directly at the helicopter, but rather gently wave a mobile phone screen from side to side to attract the pilot's attention without blinding them.

All photos courtesy of Dartmoor SAR Plymouth
Related Links

Safe In The Hills

A website created by Kirkby Stephen Mountain Rescue team with more information about keeping safe when walking in the hills.

Emergency SMS

Website for the new text messaging based Emergency contact service.  Visit here to register your mobile phone before you go out on your walks.

Since October 2015, Bristow Helicopters Limited operate the UKs search and rescue operations on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) replacing the RAF and their famous yellow Sea King helicopters.  Find out about Bristow's UK heritage here, and their brand new state-of-the-art fleet.

About Us

Join us for short walks and walking info from Britain's leading digital walking destination
Walking routes, information, walking festivals, gear reviews
on the website, social media, radio/podcast, DVD, books and television.
Back to content