Challenges and feasibility of applying reasoning and decision-making for a lifeguard undertaking a rescue research

David Szpilman*, Billy Doyle, Jenny Smith, Rachel Griffiths, Mike Tipton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

173 Downloads (Pure)


In areas where lifeguard services operate, less than 6% of all rescued persons need medical attention and require CPR. In contrast, among areas where no lifeguard services are provided almost 30% require CPR. This difference indicates the importance of the lifeguard is. Lifeguard work requires effective problem identification, diagnostic strategies and management decisions to be made in high-risk environments where time is of the essence. The purpose of this investigation was to assess all variables involved in lifeguard work related to a water rescue, and how the information obtained could inform lifeguard training and therefore performance.

Methods - By using the drowning timeline, the authors explored all variables involved in a single rescue event by inviting 12 lifeguards to complete a survey of their professional role using a three-round Delphi survey technique. The total potential number of decisions for each phase and sub-phases, the number of variables, the probability of a single event repeating, the duration of each sub-phase and amount of variables demanded per minute were measured. Each sub-phase was presented as predominantly rational (If less than 1 variable per/min) or intuitive (If more than 1/min).

Results - The variables identified in sub-phases were: “preparation to work” (8 variables and 0.0001 variables/min) and “prevent” (22 variables; 0.03 variables/min); these sub-phases were predominately considered to lead to rational decisions. The variables identified during “rescue” (27 variables and 2.7 variables/min) and “first-aid” (7 variables and 1.7 variables) were predominantly considered intuitive processes.

Conclusion - This study demonstrates the complexity of a lifeguards’ decision-making process during the quick, physically and mentally stressful moments of rescuing someone. The authors propose better decisionmaking processes can be achieved by reducing the time interval between identification of a problem and making a decision. Understanding this complex mechanism may allow more efficient training resulting in faster and more reliable decision-makers with the overall benefit of more lives saved.
Original languageEnglish
Article number379
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Emergency Mental Health
Issue number4
Early online date1 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018


  • Decision-making
  • Drowning
  • Mitigation
  • Preparation
  • Prevention
  • Reasoning
  • Rescue


Dive into the research topics of 'Challenges and feasibility of applying reasoning and decision-making for a lifeguard undertaking a rescue research'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this