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Rowing Smarter and Safer

BY MARGOT ZALKIND AND MIKE DAVENPORT
PHOTO BY PETER SPURRIER

Boats are getting out on the water, and regattas are slowly starting up again. But don’t just go back to rowing as usual. Row smarter. Row safer. 

Pre-Row: Before you go out on the water, stop. Is it safe? What is the forecast? Do I know the hazards? Does anyone know I’ll be out?  

Prep: Given what I know, what do I need? 

Clothing, communication, hydration, sunscreen, PFD.

React: Don’t be stubborn; stay flexible. Yes, you want to row, but is it safe? Has the weather changed? Has motorboat traffic increased? Debris? High wind? Thunder and lightning? Get off the water now. 

Years ago, we were loading a trailer after a masters regatta at St. Andrew’s School. The scenario: wicked hot summer, late afternoon, the team heading back to the boathouse, waiting. Pressure. We’re tired. Most of us had raced, our trailer-loading mates are worn out, too, Family is waiting. Pressure. 

It’s hot, darkening skies, booming thunder. We’re on the top rung of a trailer in an open field, strapping down boats, when it occurred to us: This is dumb. On the metal multi-level trailer on a hill, we were a lightning rod. 

We did stop, but pressure and eagerness can drive us. We might keep driving the trailer all night, though exhausted. We go out on the water though conditions are dicey. Too often, we can look back at decisions and wish we could rewind. 

Summer rowing:

Many are now rowing at least a few times a week, and some like the midday row. 

Our advice: Avoid noontime. 

Mornings are the best time to row and are better than evenings. Why? Best temperature, best water, lack of wake-creating boaters, the least sun, least heat, low thunderstorm probability, least wind.

As we consider heat, who better to consult than an experienced rower and coach in Florida? So we asked Casey Baker. His wisdom? Any time of day, drink. Drink. Lots of cool water. 

“We like our rowers to take only water in the shell and not sports drinks.  The exception to this would be if we were going for a long row of two hours or more.  Rehydrate following the row with a sports drink or, even better (but possibly hard to stomach in the heat), chocolate milk!”

Hydrate. 

Protect your skin. Two hours in the sun without sunscreen, even in the morning, can get you burned.  The toughest sun time is midday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., so row early or late, but protect yourself any time of day. Sunscreen is critical, and if sunscreen in your eyes burns, wear a hat or headband to keep it away from your eyes.  

Protect your eyes

Wear sunglasses with protection for your eyes. Glare on the water can make the rays worse. 

Thunder and lightning:

Summer is thunderstorm season. Listen for thunder, watch for lightning. Better yet, before you launch, be aware of the forecast and do not launch if it looks iffy. If a storm arises, get off the water immediately. If you cannot get back to the boathouse, go to land (anywhere) and get off the water. 

Soak your head:

Casey has a favorite trick: A hat keeps the sun off your head and is handy for filling with water and cooling your head. Keeping your head cool will help you handle the heat. No hat? Scoop up the water with your hands and soak your hair. Even just sitting in the sun will drain your energy. 

Row safe. 

Actually, row safer

Get into a safety mindset. And pause.

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