Preparing for a Safe Season

As the spring draws near, teams chomp at the bit to get back into boats. The winter drags and the urgency to take racing strokes mirrors the urgency of a sprint race. We’re desperate to get out there and put into action all our training. Unfortunately, every spring season we hear stories of crews that that put themselves in danger when they take to the water without proper preparation. All programs, new and old alike, should set aside the month prior to their launch date as preparation time to methodically prepare for a safe season.

Racing starts and selection become insignificant when a crew swamps in 40-degree waters.

Safety should be at the forefront of every coach’s mind.

Every motorboat should be in good working order when the season starts — its first job is as a safety vehicle.

  • Service outboard motors
  • Check gas lines
  • Check dock lines
  • Check running lights
  • Check automatic bilge pump(s)
  • Make sure batteries are charged
  • Update state registration stickers
  • Treat gas that has been sitting all winter with enzyme treatment
  • Insert drain plugs prior to putting launch into water

Each coaching launch must be outfitted with the proper safety equipment. Check to make sure your safety kits are in good working order:

  • Inspect life jackets and make sure there are enough for all athletes/spares a launch oversees during a practice.
  • Inspect tow/throw lines
  • Restock first aid kits
  • Check emergency whistle/air horn/flash light
  • Check space blankets

Each coach should also check to make sure he/she has the following in order prior to the first day on the water:

  • Personal flotation device (PFD). If it is the inflatable type, check to make sure the CO2 canister has not expired/discharged.
  • Emergency phone numbers for each athlete and coach
  • Megaphone
  • Working two-way radio
  • Boating-safety certification
  • Foul-weather gear

Organize a coaches’ meeting a week prior to the first water practice to make sure all coaches are well versed in the program’s safe operating procedures. A systematic and repeatable approach towards safety and operation will provide the guidance and reminders new and experienced coaches alike need to run practices the right way every day.

  • Discuss the program’s emergency plan and review who you call and in what order.
  • Review your body of water — traffic patterns, launching and landing procedures, river hazards, etc.
  • Discuss the conditions that determine when crews cannot go out on the water. (a combination of wind-speed/air temperature, thunderstorms, chop, etc)
  • Assign specific launches, gas cans, safety gear and megaphones to each coach to ensure responsibility for equipment throughout the season
  • Discuss the maximum number of athletes a coach may have under his/her supervision on the water at one time. Additionally, a safe limit should be set on the number of passengers in a safety launch.
  • Discuss launch speeds – proper low-wake etiquette when passing other crews, no wake around the dock, etc.
  • A coach should take new coaches out on your body of water to get acquainted with the rules of the waterway, hazards etc. Also, observe them drive the launch to make sure they know proper operation.

In addition to having all athletes pass a swim-test prior to your first day on the water, hold a meeting with your team to go over safety and boathouse etiquette:

  • Review the US Rowing safety video
  • Review emergency procedures in case of a swamped shell
  • Discuss proper attire based on weather conditions
  • Discuss blister care
  • Discuss expectations of behavior around the boathouse and care of equipment and the boathouse.
  • Organize a separate meeting with coxswains to go over traffic patterns, hazards, commands, safety procedures, equipment maintenance, and proper attire for cold weather. Assign each coxswain his/her own Cox-Box, microphone and charger to ensure responsibility for equipment.

Finally, the head coach should spend some time making sure the program’s truck and trailer are in good working order:

  • Updated inspections/registrations
  • Working lights
  • Working breaks
  • Tires have plenty of tread

RowSafeUSA is a great website that offers insight and practical advice on safety. Please check it out at:

US Rowing has other safety information as well, please click here.