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NRC Safety Advisor Report - November 2005  by John Mulholland

The region has had a good year for safety in that we have had no serious incidents; but we have had some near misses.  Further afield, it has not been so good, with scullers drowned at Reading and in New York harbour.  We can maintain our good record if we think about it.  Rowing safely is just as quick and just as much fun as rowing dangerously.

Safety Audits
Only two clubs have not completed their safety audits for 2005.  Our regional 95% success rate will climb to 100% for 2006 because clubs that do not submit their audit form with their annual ARA affiliation documents will not be affiliated.

Club Incident Report Summaries
Our regional record for 2004 is incomplete; eight summaries have been received from 42 clubs.  A summary of these summaries will be placed on NE Rowing Online.

No serious problems apart from the safety boat sinking at Durham SBH 2004 while rescuing the Hexham 4+.  Lessons learned include: tin-fish are not safety boats; Elvet Bridge requires skilled steering and boats without buoyancy compartments sink.  Steering and watch-keeping still require attention; 27 out of 72 incidents were collisions, some with static objects that have been there for hundreds of years, but many with other boats (often on rivers nearly 100 metres wide at the point of impact).

Summaries for incidents in 2005 are due at the end of February 2006.

Club Water Safety Advisors
All clubs (especially universities and colleges) who have changed their safety advisors; please let me and Ken Hastie know so that we can update our records.  Every club must have an advisor, but he or she can hold another position in the club.

Safety Education
The ARA has had several meetings this year to try to improve safety, especially as a result of the tragic drowning in Reading and the second inquest into the death in 2001 of Leo Blockley.  A revised version of the ARA Water Safety Code should appear some time next year.  It will hopefully be much clearer and easier to read, especially for juniors.  The new code will be useless if it is not read and acted upon.  Safety education should be as important as skills coaching and fitness training.  The dead are never quick.

All beginners should be taught to check that their boat's bow ball, heel restraints and all other fittings are secure and working correctly.  They should be taught correct steering, navigation and lane-discipline.  They should be taught emergency drills e.g. capsize drills and basic first aid including hypothermia.  They should be taught how to dress appropriately for the conditions; that will be enforced at heads (if we see juniors boating with just their all-in-ones they will be sent back).

Throw lines
All clubs should have some.  They are of little use in a neat pack in the back of the boathouse if someone falls in over 500 metres from the club.  Each coaching launch should carry one, as should coaches on the bank.  Even if the lines can’t reach the middle of a wide river, they are a great help getting someone to and up the bank.

Life Jackets
The rowing life jackets are now available.  They should be worn by anyone who has a physical condition (e.g. epilepsy) that would make it hard or impossible for them to swim.

Last week a member of a quad drowned in New York harbour when their boat was hit by a motorboat.  The motorboat did not see their lights.  Most rowing boats are inadequately lit.  On tidal waters, rowing boats must show a white light visible from all directions (there is a proposal on the Tideway that it should be a flashing light; but that may not be legal).   Coaching launches are subject to the normal lighting rules for boats at night.  There is no reason not to equip an eight or a four with the three recognised navigation lights (red to port, green to starboard and white to the stern) to give an indication of direction of travel.  The River Wear at Durham has separate rules.

Boat buoyancy
There has been much discussion on this recently.  To be safe a boat should keep its crew out of the water, even in rough water that comes over the side of the boat.  Singles and doubles with intact bow and stern compartments are always buoyant, even when swamped.  Eights and fours with sealed buoyancy tanks (e.g. Janousek) are inherently buoyant and, even with water flowing through them, can be safely rowed.  Edinburgh University’s coxed four rowed the last 500 metres of BUSA last year with their boat flooded; it took them a while but it showed that their boat could be safely rowed home.  Boats without sealed under-seat compartments can be made buoyant with air-bags.  While the Tyne at Hexham and the Wear at Durham almost never produce swamping waves, unless the wind is too strong for rowing, our other rivers and lakes are not so safe.

Please make rowing safely one of your New Year’s resolutions; it is just a matter of learning the basics and putting them into practice every time you go out.  If all else fails and you end up in the water, please remember:

Stay afloat, stay with your boat.

John Mulholland
Regional Water Safety Advisor
ARA Northern Region

© 2006  North East Rowing on-line