West Mercia Search and Rescue is engaged in what is believed to be the first long-term trial on the effectiveness and best-practice use of quad-bikes for lowland search and rescue work in the UK.

The team has been trialling the use of two 500cc quad-bikes – better known as ATVs in the US where their use by SAR teams is already widespread – in different functions across their operational spectrum since July 2015, and early results already point towards their potential advantages.

Anecdotal evidence began to accumulate when the first deployment for the quads resulted in the discovery of a person at a location which would have been a much-later tasking for hasty foot search teams.

This prompted us to contact Kingston University and commission a study by graduate and undergraduate students into direct comparison between the effectiveness of foot and quad-based hasty search teams. The results of this study are yet to be published, but the team is also working on a variety of mixed-environment, mixed-target studies which it hopes to build in to a working guide for the use of quads as search assets.

The study is being paid for by team members and not charity donations, with the hope that if the results prove effective that there may be scope for a grant to fund the purchase of similar machines by the WMSAR charity in the future.

Aside from search, the evidence gathered by WMSAR for the use of quads during rescue, recovery and operations phases is also growing. The team has been able to deploy boats in several areas where 4×4 vehicles would not have been able to tow the boat trailers easily. And in two recent incidents they were employed to convey medical-rescue equipment to remote casualties with greater haste and less effort than would have been possible without them.

Research Methods

We made a spreadsheet which generates random results for the location, size, position and colour search targets along a 1km route. (Spreadsheet available for other SAR teams on request).


We chose a woodland location with varying track width and condition to conduct the trials in daylight and darkness, and 15 search targets were placed as directed.

The condition of the route changed from metalled fire-track for 450m, then muddy foresting track (pic 1 below) for 150m, then muddy bridleway (pic 2 below) for the remaining 400m. Vegetation was light.


We tasked a 2-man foot search team, a 2-man bicycle search team and a 2-man quad search team to progress along the route at a ‘hasty’ pace (progressing at near normal walking pace) and we timed how long it took to find each target, and how many targets in total were found.

The study then gives a start to the correlation between search method, effectiveness and speed.

Research Results:




For daylight search, the evidence shows a correlation between the efficiency of searching a ‘corridor’ between a foot team and a quad team, but that the quad team can complete the search in 60% of the time taken by a foot team. Additionally, the high point of view of the quad bike rider is cited as an advantage to being able to spot targets quickly and easily.

The distance from the given track did not appear to be a factor.

The colour of the objects did not appear to be a factor.

The size of the objects did not appear to be a factor.

Interesting is the relative inefficiency of a bike team compared to foot and quad teams. Assumptions made by the attending bike searchers for these results are:

  • Needing to concentrate on riding/stability as well as search – the quads offer a more stable platform.
  • Not being able to easily check behind/backwards for targets – many targets were positioned in locations which would have been easiest to spot when looking back on yourself to some degree. Not possible on a bike, possible on a quad.
  • Lack of experience of search (both bike riders are fairly new to SAR)


Further results and conclusions to come soon.

For investigation:
Experience and effectiveness of individual searchers – swap roles
Night search
Terrain and vegetation changes