OAR Masters Safety Guidelines

OAR Safety Guidelines and Practices
(updated 12-11-10)
The safety of rowers, coxswains, and coaches is the first priority in OAR Club activities on and off the water. All club members should exercise caution on the water at all times, especially during bad weather or dim light.

Safety rules and guidelines are rooted in common sense as well as established practices in boating and land-based workouts. While technically the club can make rules only for club-owned boats and equipment and club-sponsored activities, all members should apply these rules and guidelines when using their own equipment and in their individual workouts.

Weather Issues

No boats should go or be out:

  • when there are whitecaps.
  • when there is thunder or lightning.
  • When there is fog without 50-100 yards’ visibility.

Club singles and other small boats are generally advised not to go out when the combined air and water temperature is less than 90 degrees F. From the OAR web site the air temp at Dexter can be found under the Dexter Weather link and the water temp under the Water Temperature link, using the 7-day graph.

Rowers, coxswains, and coaches should dress appropriately for cold and wet weather. Cotton holds no insulating value when wet. Cold weather rowing calls for wool, silk or synthetic materials which are better at keeping you warm when wet. They shed water and hold body heat more easily

Rowers in singles or doubles should consider carrying life jackets. All club singles (or all singles?) should be outfitted with a whistle.

Small boats should stay as close to shore as practical unless otherwise instructed and with a safety launch present.  Bear in mind, close to shore are many spots with a high bottom, rocks and debris.

Safety in the water

Cold water is the greatest danger, more so than the cold air. Water takes away body heat up to 25x more quickly than air. Therefore the first priority any time one goes into the water should be to get out of the water. You should also (1) expect there to be the moment of shock and gasping for air and (2) seek to minimize your level of activity because activity (like swimming) causes you to lose more body heat.

Generally, the crew should remain with the shell, as it will normally float (make sure bow and stern ports are closed before going out on the water).  If the shell is sinking, it should be rolled upside down, as this traps air underneath the shell and increases buoyancy.  At no time should any crew member leave the boat to swim to shore.  A short swim can be far longer than it appears due to water temperature, personal fatigue, and other reasons.

Launches are equipped to assist in emergency

Each launch has a large bag with enough life jackets for at least eight rowers plus a coxswain, as well as safety blankets, a first aid kit, and a flashlight.

If your single capsizes

Re-enter the boat on water if this can be done quickly and reliably without severe boat damage. If you can’t and no rescue is imminent:

1.    Stay with the boat unless it has sunk or is taking you into imminent danger

2.    Put on life jacket if it is available. Use the whistle to attract attention.

3.    Get on top of the inverted shell on your belly and use the boat as flotation to paddle to shore.

4.    If this is not possible, put as much of your core as possible onto the inverted hull of the boat for warmth.

5.    In extreme cold or dangerous conditions, if you are within 10-15 feet of shore, it’s okay to swim to shore.

If you are swept out of a larger boat by catching a crab or other incident

1.    Try to remain submerged until the boat and oars have passed over your head so you are not hit by them and injured.

2.    The stroke of the boat will remove their oar and extend it to the person in the water.  Person in the water should lie across the oar and remain close to the shell.

3.    Stroke seat or coxswain should try to ascertain if the “person overboard” needs immediate assistance.  In dire circumstances, another rower may need to don the life vest in the boat and enter the water to assist the “person overboard”.  But this can be a dangerous proposition as a panicked person in the water can drown a potential rescuer. In a winter environment, you now have to potential immersion victims to manage instead of one.

4.    In the meantime, others in the boat should get the attention of the safety launch driver by waving a shirt, yelling or using the whistle.

5.    The safety launch picks up the person and the coach determines if the rower returns to shell.

If a boat is swamped

If rescue is immediately available:

1.    Signal safety launch by waving a shirt, using whistle, using cell phone, yelling.

2.    Follow instructions of coxswain and safety launch exactly

3.    Remain quiet and calm

If rescue is not imminent:

1.    Row boat to closest shoreline following instructions of coxswain (or bow person if uncoxed boat).  Often boats remain rowable despite being filled with water up to gunwales.

2.    Remain quiet and calm and follow directions of coxswain or bowperson (uncoxed boat)

If a boat has capsized or is damaged to the point of being unrowable.

1.    Generally rowers and coxswain should stay in or with the boat unless directed otherwise.

2.    Get attention of safety launch by waving a shirt, yelling, whistling, cell phone, etc.  Stay with the shell until safety launch approaches.

3.    The Coxswain should directs rowers to untie, signals launch and unloads rowers by pairs starting in the middle of the boat, as soon as possible to avoid further damage to the boat.

4.    Pairs should form buddies and keep watch on each other.  The coxswain should buddy with the stern pair.

5.    Stay with the boat and follow directions of the coach in the launch

6.    It’s okay to swim to shore IF: there is extreme cold, dangerous conditions, and you are within 10-15 feet of shore.

If a 4+, 4- or 8+ boat is sinking

1.    Remove oars and place them parallel to the shell.

2.    The bow four should move to bow of boat and stern four with coxswain should move to the stern of the boat (it is dangerous to roll a shell when near the riggers)

3.    Attempt to roll the boat in order to form a more stable flotation platform so that rowers can either lie on top of the hull or buddies can hold each other across the hull.

4.    Do not attempt to roll the boat if rescue is on the way.  However, be aware that body heat loss occurs as much as 25 times faster in the water.

5.    The launch should shuttle rowers to the nearest shore.  Be careful not to overload the launch.  Do not approach the launch until told to do so and never approach the launch near the motor unless specifically told to do so and motor is off.

Stay calm.  The coxswain (or bowperson if uncoxed boat) should get a head count and make sure all rowers are accounted for.  While holding on to shell, the crew should attempt to get the attention of other crews, boats or coaches on the water.  Wave and make as much noise as necessary to attract attention.

If the water and air temperatures are low, then the crew members should move along the shell and huddle together in pairs near the middle of the shell.  Keep as much of the body out of the water as possible by draping one’s body over the top of the hull.  A minimum of movement is the key to retaining body heat.  Constantly check on your buddy and crew mates and keep ongoing one-on-one communication.


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