Cave Rescue

Mountain Rescue Information

Mountain Rescue in the whole of the United Kingdom is free of charge both to the person rescued and to any organisation to which he may belong. Except for incidents on sea cliffs where H.M Coastguard are responsible, the overall responsibility for search and rescue in the U.K. rests with the Chief Constable of the Police for the area in which the incident occurs. It may request the assistance of voluntary rescue teams, National Park Rangers, R.A.F. Mountain Rescue Teams, R.A.F. or Royal Navy search and rescue helicopters.

All the above bodies work together both in the field and in the planning and organisation of rescue and none make any charge. The voluntary rescue teams in England and Wales are all autonomous bodies composed of unpaid volunteers who are called out by the police when their services are required. Most teams only recruit already competent all weather mountaineers who are then required to undertake suitable training in search techniques, stretcher handling, on vertical faces and in snow and ice conditions, radio work, and First Aid.

During the last few years there has been a considerable increase in the number of requests by the police to the voluntary rescue teams for assistance in searching and rescuing in a non mountain or open country environment. These requests would include searching for elderly, confused, or potentially suicidal people missing from their home or an institution and searching snow bound roads for stranded motorists.

The various local teams are grouped into autonomous regional organisations as shown in the Handbook. These regional organisations vary slightly in their organisation and function. They are usually responsible for operations involving two or more teams together with co-operation with the police forces serving their area and the R.A.F. (or R.N.) helicopter stations and rescue teams serving their area. They also frequently organise a considerable amount of training on a regional basis.

The Mountain Rescue Council is an autonomous co-ordinating body to which all the various regional bodies belong together with the British Cave Rescue Council and the Search and Rescue Dogs Association. The membership of the Council extends to cover the Association of Chief Police Officers, H.M. Coastguard, RAF Search and Rescue, The Home Office Radio Branch and Fire Service Inspectorate, The Sports Council and the Association of Chief Ambulance Officers. It is again a voluntary body and a registered charity. Its main function is to liaise on behalf of the teams with the various government departments in the running of Mountain and Cave Rescue and to arrange such items as the provision of communications, stretchers and First Aid Equipment, and the provision of accident insurance for team members when they are training or operational. The MRC also purchase, public liability insurance for team members.

The Mountain Rescue Handbook is published and updated regularly. The handbook contains detailed information on the entire Mountain Rescue operations in Great Britain, the handbook also contains information on the work of the RAF rescue teams, radio comms and call signs, mountain first aid, Helicopter operations, rescue and accident statistics.


Before Mountain Rescue Teams were organised as today, rescues were carried out by whoever was at hand and with only limited equipment. As the hills have become more popular, teams of volunteers equipped with purpose built stretchers and other specialist equipment have developed in all main upland areas of Britain. The organisation of each team is a matter for its own members, but there are a number of common features. Teams are usually called out by the Police and any call for assistance should be through them by 999 system. In a major incident, a team leader may call on other teams in his region, or the resources of the armed services for assistance. On prolonged searches, teams from other regions may be drafted in to assist.

Each team through its regional body is affiliated to the national Mountain Rescue Council. This body co-ordinates such matters as Insurance, the supply of medical / first aid equipment and the production of its handbook. It also provides the interface between individual teams and Official Bodies and Government Departments concerned with Mountain Rescue. Mountain Rescue Teams are increasingly being involved in non-mountain incidents (e.g. Lockerbie air disaster) because of their specialist equipment and search skills. Most Police forces now include Mountain Rescue Teams in their major disaster plans. In almost all cases, teams are composed entirely of volunteers and the team itself is a registered charity. Teams may be volunteer, but they are not second rate - the service provided is professional and responsible.

The voluntary nature of the teams has traditionally kept us free of the worst excesses of bureaucracy and is a proud tradition that the service wishes to maintain. In areas with Caves and Mines, specialist teams under the auspices of the British Cave Rescue Council have been established, they too are affiliated to the MRC as there are many areas of common interest, for example in equipment and medical matters. North of the Border, teams are in some cases more directly involved with the Police than is the case in England and Wales, but the basic principles remain the same. These teams are represented by the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland.


The majority of team members are male and between 31 and 50 years of age. Women are by no means excluded from the organisation but do form a small minority in most teams. New rescuers apply to teams to become members and after a successful probationary period will be accepted. Most teams require prospective members to have good general mountaineering experience and to attend a specified amount of training before being considered for full membership.


The techniques of rescue have their source in rope techniques of mountaineering but have gradually been extended over the years to become an identifiable separate discipline involving stretchers, pulleys, multiple belays, working with helicopters, searching and other skills including advanced first aid / casualty care and the use of drugs. The human resource available to teams is generally drawn from those with a volume of mountaineering experience who wish to become involved with mountain rescue, so recruits generally have many personal mountaineering skills essential to the rescuer, but team membership involves the development of a much broader range of skills.

The majority of training takes place within the team, being delivered by experienced team members to their less experienced colleagues generally once or twice a month. For many teams training hours exceed the hours spent on callouts. Teams typically appoint a training officer who is responsible for planning and programming training and in general an experienced and respected senior team member. The main skill areas are typically : First aid, communications, technical skills (including equipment familiarisation) , search techniques, incident control and helicopter procedures. In addition some teams cover topics as : off road driving, tracking, working with search and rescue dogs and acting on behalf of the coroners office.

Whilst most training is provided within the team there are generally regular joint team training exercises and several regional training opportunities. The Mountain Rescue Council provides some national training, Search Management and Tracking courses are run annually and a bi-annual Conference takes place to facilitate the exchange of ideas and techniques. Most Teams now have their own Team Training Manuals detailing rescue techniques and procedures and there is a gradual move towards standardisation nationally. Individual training logs are maintained.


During rescues search and rescue parties may be required to work at some distance from each other and from their base. Communications are maintained by light portable radio sets and heavier vehicle and base set. The Mountain Rescue Council is represented on the National Controlling Committee for the Search and Rescue Channel along with the MRC of Scotland, the Chief Police Officers of England and Scotland, the Home Office and Department of Trade and Industry. The Committee established procedures for the use and control of the Mountain Rescue Channel and has since maintained the operation of the allocated frequencies. Callsigns are considered and approved and this information distributed to prevent any possible interference / confusion arising. The complete list of official call signs is included in the pull out section of the handbook.

There are three national frequency allocations in the UK with two additional private channels available in areas where multiple incidents are likely to occur regularly. In addition most teams are equipped with radios capable of communicating directly with MOD Helicopters and the Coast Guard, the use of which require a DTI VHF Radio Operators Certificate of Competency.

Equipment upgrading is managed on a region by region basis and whilst the rate of equipment supply is governed by regional financial considerations, no compromise develops in respect of quality for it is by means of the communications made possible by radio that the well being of many casualties is determined. Included in the radio equipment specifications are additional facilities according to the operation requirements of individual teams. These include speech links with, for example, MOD helicopters, area ambulance control stations and Police control points.There is another aspect of radio communication which is appropriate to mention in this handbook. The possible use of Citizens band radio (CB) by a casualty or someone else at the scene of an accident to call for assistance from a rescue team.

The hazards inherent in such procedures have long been recognised by rescue teams and the following points should be noted. No rescue team routinely monitors CB frequencies and whilst some CB capacity does exist in a few locations, this is for secondary use only. Therefore, any call for help would probably be received by a fellow radio enthusiast who might be driving around and who might also be unfamiliar with the local area. So, if you happen to be involved in an accident, either directly or indirectly, and having decided that MRT help is specifically required and even though you might have CB radio to hand you should first send a written message stating grid reference, type, extent and number of injuries by hand to the nearest telephone and contact the Police by means of the 999 system, asking for Mountain or Cave rescue as appropriate. Only when a message is on its way by hand, should you then attempt to make contact by CB radio. If contact is established, pass the same details and request that this information be passed to the Police by the 999 system and ask also that the Police be advised that this latter message is a duplicate of one on its way by hand.


This brings us to the use of Radio Telephones which can be connected directly to the normal public telephone network by way of CELLNET or similar system. These devices are increasingly being used to summon help from the hills in Mountain and Cave Rescue situations. In case you may be able to make direct contact with the Police:- For Mountain or Cave Rescue dial 999 and ask for POLICE Be aware that you may be connected to a police operations room which could be well out of the area from which you are phoning. When connected be precise about the service that you require stating that you require Mountain or Cave Rescue. Give your position to the best of your ability (name and map reference if possible) and also the number of your portable cellular phone. The local Controller/Team Leader will want to talk to you.Watch that if you move your position by even a few metres that you do not loose your telephone signal. Do not rely solely on your portable cellular phone as a safety device in the mountains as there are many dead areas.


The MRC now have, and have for some years, a national scheme for third party liability and a national cover for working with helicopters on incidents and training sessions. Most mountain rescue teams are covered for personal accident by their county police authority while on call-outs or training sessions but alas this is not a national scheme at the moment, but is under review. Quite a number of teams pay for additional insurance cover with monies raised by themselves. All rescue teams are autonomous regarding fund-raising, there is no national scheme and the teams themselves wish it to be kept this way.