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Attention. Go. But Not Before Understanding the New Rules

April 25, 2012

Almost anyone who has been to a rowing regatta has experienced standing at the finish line long after an event was scheduled and wondering why there aren’t any boats coming down the course.

In most of those situations, there were problems getting the race started. It frequently happens with novice events, or on days when wind or river currents make it difficult for crews to get their bows pointed and boats lined up.

This year, in an effort to keep regatta schedules running on time and races started without interference from crews signaling they are not ready to race, USRowing and the Referee Committee modified the start rules.

According to John Wik, USRowing’s Director of Referee Programs, while the changes are not extensive, they are significant with the most obvious being that the starting officials will no longer recognize crews indicating they are not ready to race once the starting process begins.

“Basically, we’re putting the start of the race back into the hands of the start official,” Wik said. “Larger, day-long events with tight centers (the time between each race) were getting backed up. Crews would delay the start by raising their hand, often without apparent justification or need. It was beginning to become problematic.”

“We were just not able to keep up with the number of events in a given regatta. The referee needed a mechanism to safely keep races on the published schedule,” Wik said.

Under the prior regulations governing starts, if a coxswain raised a hand to indicate that the crew was not ready, the start was delayed. Under the new rules, a raised hand will not be recognized and the official will begin the start process when he believes that boats are aligned, pointed and it is safe to begin.

During events that are difficult due to wind or current conditions, the officials will use a “quick start procedure,” that, in effect, replaces the old countdown start.
With the new start sequence, the officials will announce the name of the crew, sequentially by lane, using a “deliberate cadence.” When the crews are named, the official will call “attention,” raise the red start flag, pause and then say “go” as the flag is dropped.

In a quick start situation, when the official sees that the crews are aligned, the command will be “quick start,” followed by, “attention,” raising the flag, then “go” as the flag is dropped.

In each start situation, crews signaling they are not ready will not be acknowledged. It will be up to the discretion of the official at the start to determine if a crew is not ready, in which case the official will slowly lower the flag and announce, “as you were.”

Wik said that the calling of the crews’ names is not the same as polling the crews, as was done in the past.

“We are not polling the crews at the start; polling implies a required response,” said Wik. “The starter does not want a response. Control of the start is in the hands of the starter.

“That doesn’t mean that if a boat goes off point, the race is going to get started. It means the referee is taking responsibility for stopping the start sequence if someone is off point or something does not appear safe.”

Wik said he has been traveling to different events this spring and is pleased with the results of the new procedures, but said that not everyone is aware of the changes.

“I’m finding among novice crews, particularly at the junior level, that they have not been coached in the new start. The first time they are aware of the new procedures is at the coaches and coxswains meeting when the chief referee provides instruction. While the new start may not be that significant of a change, it’s enough of a change that it can create problems if the crews are not aware that hands are not going to be recognized,” he said.

“Several times this season I have seen crews sitting at the line raising their hands as the announcement begins. This does nothing but jeopardize the crew and its ability to get off the line quickly.”

However, Wik said there is no change in the rule that states that a crew that believes it is not in a safe starting position, or has a problem with an athlete or equipment, should start rowing.  As in the past, they should remain at the start until an official can come to their aid.

“It’s not only recognized,” he said. “It’s encouraged. If for any reason, a crew is at the start and they feel that their start is not going to be safe, or they have a real issue, they should not leave the start. They should sit there.”

Below is a summary of the rules changes that took effect in the 2012 Rules of Rowing regarding the start procedure and other rules changes implemented this year.

  • 2-305 – Start. Replace “polling” with “announcement” of crews. Eliminates recognition of hands once announcement begins.
  • 2-306 – Starting commands with flags. Replace “polling” with “announcement” of crews. Eliminates recognition of hands once announcement begins.
  • 2-306.1 – Starting commands with lights. Replace “polling” with “announcement” of crews.
  • 2-307 – Quick Start. Replace “polling” with “announcement” of crews. Eliminates recognition of hands once announcement begins.
  • 2-308 – Countdown start. Deleted in its entirety.
  • 3-104 – Minimum weight of boats. Simplifies availability of scales before regatta.
  • 3-107 – Foreign substances. Simplifies rules and interpretation
  • 3-201 – Uniforms. Allow composite crews to wear their own uniforms.
  • 4-107 – Eligibility to Compete in Events. Mixed crews must be 50%/50% men/women.
  • 5-105 (b)(10) – Electronic Devices. Deleted – clerical correction.
  • 5-210 – USRowing Alternate Progression Systems. Correction to the table.
  • 6-305 – Starts. Replace “polling” with “announcement” of crews

In addition, Wik and the USRowing Referee Committee produced a video in which Wik explains the changes and shows them being used in actual racing this season.

Click here for a link to the video on USRowing’s You Tube channel.


Ed Moran

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