By the FCC rules, if you are in an emergency situation and it's your best chance at survival, you're allowed to TX on any frequency.

But what if you're hiking and are monitoring the Search & Rescue frequencies just in case you hear something and you hear that somebody is in dire need of services within a few hundred yards of you but it'll take SAR a long while to get there? Are you allowed to transmit to provide aid in the meantime?

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    $\begingroup$ How about walking over and rendering assistance first? $\endgroup$ – Jon Custer Jun 11 '16 at 18:32
  • $\begingroup$ @JonCuster - because obviously I was asking if I should sit in one spot while I talk to SAR and not actually move towards them. $\endgroup$ – iAdjunct Jun 11 '16 at 18:46
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    $\begingroup$ I understand... I'll let those with a more legal bent answer, but I would do what I could to assist an emergency situation. I think that would be in the spirit of the law. If you had material information or can render assistance, do so. $\endgroup$ – Jon Custer Jun 11 '16 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ I actually think you could rather get in trouble for not trying to use your transmit capabilities to the best of your knowledge to get help than for illegally transmitting something for a couple of seconds. $\endgroup$ – Marcus Müller Jun 11 '16 at 21:19
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    $\begingroup$ Would the answers you receive here change your course of action if this situation presents itself? I certainly hope not. Go with your faith. best- KC2JLJ $\endgroup$ – SteveRacer Jun 12 '16 at 9:25

§97.403 reads:

No provision of these rules prevents the use by an amateur station of any means of radiocommunication at its disposal to provide essential communication needs in connection with the immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property when normal communication systems are not available.

At least one ARES org. [PDF], and some other hams, construe this to mean that in an emergency, you may communicate by any means necessary. Note that the rule does not specify it has to be your life or property in danger, but does say "when normal communication systems are not available." So in the particular case you bring up (overhearing SAR traffic when you are in a position to help faster than they can), you should probably call SAR on the phone first and tell them where you are and that you can help. Failing that, you could try them on the radio. Either way, keep your comments short and follow their instructions.

Hope this is helpful.

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    $\begingroup$ 97.111 Authorized Transmissions (a)(3): Transmissions necessary to exchange messages with a station in another FCC-regulated service while providing emergency communications. -- So, if you are an amateur you can communicate with other FCC-regulated folks in an emergency. and 97.111 (b)(4) authorizes one-way communications for emergencies. Finally, 97.405 (b) allows assisting a station in distress. $\endgroup$ – Jon Custer Jun 13 '16 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ Of course, if it will take you several minutes to locate the contact information for SAR in the area in question, then longer to actually get a message relayed to them, but you are monitoring SAR's radio communication right now and can hit the PTT to talk to SAR right now and a person is in distress and you know you can help by communicating with the SAR team, then perhaps common sense should prevail over a literal interpretation of the rules, especially if you know that you won't be causing any harmful interference to the SAR team. (Keeping transmissions short should go a long way.) $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jun 17 '16 at 20:20

Are you allowed to transmit to provide aid in the meantime?

In this specific instance, one should not change their course of action (transmit out of permissible band) based on judgments here or the threat of FCC reprisal.

FCC rules usually permit during emergencies “any means necessary” to communicate in order to protect life and property.

If this a Type Specific/Type Certified question, or one of morality, it may be bordering on "off-topic" for this forum.

Do what you do, and in an emergency situation Charlie and "legal" opinions rendered from experts here should be the last of your concerns. To the SAR/First Responder, you'll be somewhere between a big help to a hero.


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    $\begingroup$ Please edit your answer so that it is complete and makes sense as an answer to the original question, not a response to a comment. $\endgroup$ – Kevin Reid AG6YO Jun 12 '16 at 18:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Kevin Thanks. Questions turned into statements. $\endgroup$ – SteveRacer Jun 12 '16 at 18:17

Disclaimer: the following is not legal advice in any juristiction

In the situation described, common sense need to prevail.

You are monitoring SAR frequencies, and for that: the SAR agencies are as well. If you hear a distress message to a SAR agency you should relay this in a legal manner: e.g. you contact the SAR agency by cell phone, or on a frequency you are licensed to use. Relay what you have heard, and on what frequency you have heard it.

You need to keep monitoring the frequency, to establish if a SAR agency tries to contact the distressed party. Please keep in mind that while you may hear the distressed party, you may not hear the SAR agency.

If the distress signal/message continues, and you have established that no official SAR agency is responding to the signal, you should answer the distress call; identify yourself, get as much information as possible, such as nature of the distress, location, number of people in the party, and any other information. Keep this communications as short as possible, as you are using a frequency you are not licensed to use, and you do not want to interfere with official communications.

Once again, relay this information to the SAR agency.

You are now the "gateway/relay" for communications and you need to follow the instructions of the SAR agency.

Keep monitoring the frequency, and once in a while... say every 10 minutes, contact the distressed party to ensure them you are in contact with a SAR agency. But ONLY if the SAR agency has not established contact themselves.

While doing this, in parrallel, you need to establish if you, or someone in your party can provide assistance to the distressed party. However; make absolutely sure that you are physically able to do so, and not putting yourself or others in harms way !! You do not want to become a second distressed party !

When you approach this in a proffessional manner, keep communications to a minimum on unlicensed frequencies, and follow the instructions of the SAR agency, you will not find a judge which will prosecute you for using unlicensed frequencies.

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    $\begingroup$ This is an answer to a slightly different question than the one I asked, but interesting nonetheless. I was assuming I was overhearing communications between the SAR operations and the SAR team where the victim didn't have communications. $\endgroup$ – iAdjunct Jun 13 '16 at 13:26

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