Berkshire Rowing

November Safety Feature: Winter Wisdom

October 31, 2012

A Timely Reminder from the USRowing Safety Committee

When the weather turns cold, many rowers bid a sad goodbye to their oars, but a rugged few insist on staying on the water, no matter the date or the temperature. US Rowing always wants rowers to err on the side of caution, (and spend some time on the erg), but we know there will always be those who want to row as long as there is water.

Most rowing above the mid-Atlantic in the east and above Texas in the Midwest stops when fall racing season is over, but some clubs and rowers have developed procedures to allow “cold water” rowing. The policies of each club should be dictated by their situations. If you row on an open body of water with little hope of an imminent rescue or if you row on a small river that is lined with houses, your policies need to reflect those differences.

Are you a single sculler heading out solo or is your team rowing through the winter? Are you accompanied by a coach or out alone in your boat? Are you near other crews on the water? Is your route a busy thoroughfare with walkers, bicyclists and cars within earshot?

Cold water rowing is dangerous. No matter what level of blade expertise you have gained, accidents happen. Even a stable recreational shell can flip if you encounter sizable debris or wakes. We know, it can’t happen to you. It can.

Below are survival times for persons immersed in cold water. These times are for people in the water, but remember that even if you get out of the water, how long will you be in wet clothing on top of your boat or on shore? Uncontrollable shivering, disorientation and impaired judgment start to occur before exhaustion or unconsciousness.

Water Temp. Exhaustion or Unconsciousness

Under 32°  Under 15 minutes
32.4 – 40°   15 – 30 minutes
40 – 50°      30 – 60 minutes
50 – 60°      1-2 hours

Here are some of our recommendations and examples of cold water safety rules from clubs:

Below are a few policies that are currently used by clubs to determine when (or if) to allow boats on the water:

Cold weather rowing brings a set of risks. You and your club need to take precautions to protect yourself and the boathouse. Flipping a boat, hitting a log or getting into some other accident is bad enough, don’t make it more dangerous by not following a few simple rules that make sense for your safety, your body of water and the club.

If you must row all winter, use sound judgment before you launch. If it is windy, icy, with swift current, debris-filled waters, DO NOT GO OUT.