Search & Rescue

Search & Rescue on the ACT

The Arctic Circle Trail is ONLY for experienced backcountry hikers who:

  • Have completed several long-distance hikes where they have carried all their own gear
  • Know how to navigate well in remote wilderness
  • Can administer first aid
  • Carry a personal emergency beacon (preferably with 2-way communication)

We stress this for your own safety, but also to eliminate unnecessary activation of Search & Rescue (SAR) teams in Greenland.

Up to 18 emergency workers can be involved in a single rescue – people who should be on standby in case of a genuine, unforeseen emergency.

Air Greenland helicopter flying
Photo: Aningaaq Rosing Carlsen – Visit Greenland

Responding to emergencies on the ACT

The following diagram illustrates what happens when an emergency is triggered on the ACT.

  1. The emergency signal is relayed to Aasiaat Radio by the international network

  1. Aasiaat Radio forwards the alert to the Greenland Police or Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) who determine the most appropriate SAR mission coordinator (SMC).

a) If there is only 1-way communication, the situation is treated as a full SAR mission as the location, nature, and urgency of the situation cannot be verified. In this case, a SMC is allocated within JRCC if the original coordinates indicate an emergency in the air, at sea, or is completely unknown. A SMC is allocated within Greenland Police if the original coordinates indicate the emergency is on land or close to shore (e.g. along the Arctic Circle Trail).

Regardless of who is allocated as SMC, Aasiaat Radio, JRCC, and Greenland Police continue to work closely together on each case. At the operations level (behind the scenes), a full SAR mission has a minimum of 5 people dedicated to the emergency.

b) If there is 2-way communication with the emergency caller, it is possible to determine the exact location, nature, and urgency of the situation. Depending on the details, the SMC may be allocated within JRCC, Greenland Police, or the Hospital, and a much smaller number of resources may be required. For this reason, we encourage all hikers to carry a 2-way communication device.

  1. At the tactical level (on the ground), the number of people involved depends on the transportation methods used and the number of people requiring assistance.

In all, up to 18 emergency rescue personnel can be committed to working on a single SAR event. This is a lot of people for Greenland and the reason why we insist that the Arctic Circle Trail is ONLY for experienced, well-prepared hikers who can look after themselves in most circumstances.

Recent ACT emergencies

In recent years, we have had the following emergencies on the ACT:

YearSAR events
20200 (Covid-19)

The 6 rescues in 2023 prompted the police commissioner to visit the Destination Arctic Circle offices to stress how this number of rescues is not sustainable.

He also informed us that several of these emergencies should never have arisen in the first place:

  • Activation of emergency beacon by mistake
  • Not enough food
  • Lost in the fog without a map, compass or GPS
  • Bad blisters

or could have been treated as medevac incidents if there was two-way communication with the hikers

  • Broken ankle
  • Sprained ankle / knee

We strongly request that all hikers carry a two-way emergency communication device (such as an InReach or Iridium phone) to remove pressure from our emergency services.

What constitutes an emergency

  • Any unexpected incident with potential for death or serious injury. Examples include airway or breathing problems, uncontrolled bleeding, or someone unable to walk due to an injury that immobilizes them
  • Environmental danger. Examples include severe flooding, fires, or major slips that prevent you from continuing or turning back safely

The smoke-filled Nerumaq Valley in 2019
A valid emergency – in 2019 a fire near the ACT filled the Nerumaq valley with smoke. Several hikers were evacuated. Photo: Ane Petersen

What should never become an emergency

These situations should never become emergencies if you have the required backcountry experience and are well-prepared.

  • You or a member of your group is missing or lost. You must know how to navigate through wilderness areas before attempting the trail, and carry appropriate navigation devices
  • Accidental activation of an emergency beacon. There is no excuse for this. Know how to use your device and how to cancel the emergency before you come to Greenland.
  • Insufficient clothing and equipment. Every hiker must be prepared for changing conditions. Even in summer, temperatures on the Arctic Circle Trail can be below freezing, or they can be in the high 20s Celsius. Your equipment must be suitable for rapidly changing conditions and you must know how to use it properly before you come to Greenland
  • Running out of food. If you are planning to hike a remote trail in 8 days, every experienced wilderness hiker knows you should pack 10-11 days of food. This is to account for unexpected delays and the possibility of underestimating how much energy you will burn through on the trail.
  • Blisters or other injuries that do not immobilize you. Yes, blisters can be bad. But you should have enough first aid experience to be able to manage them and walk out if they arise. They are not an emergency.
  • Deciding the trail is too difficult and you want out. Under no circumstances is this an emergency. Make sure you research the trail thoroughly and are honest about your abilities before deciding to do it.

Help the SAR teams find you

In the event that the worst happens and you do have a genuine emergency, you should not hesitate to call for emergency aid.

However, help us help you by carrying the following equipment:

  1. A two-way communication device that you know how to use
  2. A high-visibility vest or equivalent that is easily spotted in open wilderness.
  3. A signaling mirror to reflect sunlight
  4. A flashlight/headlamp of good brightness

Before activating your emergency beacon, try to find a sheltered position that still has an open view of the sky.  Do not turn off your beacon once you have activated it. If there is no longer an emergency, cancel the call properly.

Person overlooking the Itinneq River Valley on the Arctic Circle trail, west Greenland
Photo: Dieter Demey

Once you activate your beacon

  • Stay exactly where you are. If you move, the emergency team will start looking in the wrong place and it will take longer to find you. Another reason to stay on the marked trail is that it limits the search area.
  • Make sure you/the injured person stays warm and is off the ground. You can insulate from the cold with a sleeping bag or pad, or extra clothing. Pitch your tent and wait inside (but leave your transmitting beacon outside)
  • Administer first aid. Every hiker should know basic first aid before attempting the trail
  • Keep eating and drinking. Important to keep energy levels up
  • Make yourself visible and easy to find. Wear high-visibility clothing and be prepared to signal emergency services when they are close with a mirror and/or flashlight
  • When you hear the helicopter: use your signaling mirror and/or flashlight and wave two arms overhead (or even better: a jacket, t-shirt, or large item) to indicate that you need help. Do not wave with one arm as people often do this just to say hello.