Effects of Exertion and Distractions on Search Efficiency in Riverine Search and Rescue (SAR)

Hannah J. Moir, PhD 1, Alex Tasker, PhD 2,3, Christopher C.F. Howe, MSc 1 & Ian Greatbatch, PhD4
1School of Life Sciences, Pharmacy and Chemistry, Faculty of Health, Science, Social Care & Education, Kingston University, London, UK
2The Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex, UK
3Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Social & Historical Sciences, University College London, UK
4School of the Environment, Geography and Geosciences, University of Portsmouth, UK

Email: Hannah.Moir@kingston.ac.uk



This work sought to examine the impact of physical exercise, and mental exertion prior to launch on
lifeboat search effectiveness.

Four three-person volunteer crews from the United Kingdom’s Royal National Lifeboat Institution
(RNLI), were exposed to combinations of physical and mental exertion tasks before launch and
performance measured during riverine scenario-based search and rescue training. Two unchallenged
groups (control) were deployed for comparison. Half the deployed crews were subjected to a distraction
exercise completed during the search to simulate real-world conditions to place demands upon the
attention of the crew (such as passing radio traffic, navigating or planning search tactics). Heart rate,
GPS tracking and search success were monitored, with success defined as the location and
transmission of an identifying code of each placed target.

Heart rate monitoring showed clear association between measured psychological stress and the
physical challenges presented to the crews and demonstrated that the exertion and distracting elements
of the experiment had a measurable effect on the participants, where lower heart rates corresponded
to greater success in searching. Overall, results showed that exercise and mental activity generally
improved perceptual performance of the crew in the pre-scenario-based training, whilst the distracting
element (alone and in combination with exertion) diminished performance during the scenario-based

Increases in alertness and search performance have significant implications for those involved in search
and rescue. This study contributes to an increasing body of cross-disciplinary work exploring team
performance in high-pressure situations.

KEY WORDS: maritime search and rescue, Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), physiological
stress, lifeboat, volunteer

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