October Safety Feature
October 03, 2012
In the last 10-12 years, the number of rowing clubs has doubled in the U.S. and the number of recreational boaters and personal watercraft users has shot up too. Mix in commercial traffic, and that is why many clubs are starting to take more action to help remedy the problems caused by more traffic on the water.
Rowers tend not to be involved in the larger maritime community and not well versed in maritime knowledge, like; who had right of way, what are common audible signals, what are legal requirements for lights on boats, who has jurisdiction for the body of water being rowed on and do I have to have a life jacket? Pleasure boaters are not sure what to make of rowers; fishermen don’t understand how fast shells are going and troll out right in the rowers’ path or go maximum wake speed to be nice, causing the rowers to stop rowing, or worse, swamping the shell. Commercial users are just trying to do their jobs without running over all the amateurs messing about in boats. And local authorities are often confused by the United States Coast Guard life jacket exemption in “navigable waters” and try to ticket rowers. It appears that many of the rowers, coaches, club administrators, pleasure boaters, commercial boats and law enforcement officials are not on the same page.
With all this confusion, not to mention some bad blood, more clubs are being proactive and talking to the local authorities, commercial and private groups that share the same water. The few examples that I know of where meetings were held turned out to be very positive and all on the water felt the results. Everyone learned a little bit about how the other operates and was grateful to have the opportunity to share concerns (or gripes) and then find solutions. The club members that I have talked to who have held this kind of meeting, or are planning one, make sure to include law enforcement, other obvious users and members of all the local rowing club.
The USRowing Safety Committee recommends arranging a meeting like this and we will be presenting more ideas later on successful agendas and topics. Below are three things that can be done to help inform club members, promote the safe and courteous use of the water and start to open the lines of communication with all the water users and authorities before a meeting is held.
It is hard to have a meeting with all the pleasure boaters, fishermen and commercial boaters that may use your water, but it might be a good idea to stop by your local marina and see what they think, or what they have heard about “the rowers”. If you share your water with commercial traffic, you might want to introduce yourself to them. Given past experiences, you will probably know if the initial introduction will be easy or rough, but at it may open doors for better communication later on.
The club needs to know who patrols your water and what jurisdiction(s) apply? Federal USCG regulations apply to water that is deemed “navigable” by the United States Coast Guard. You can contact the “Captain of the Port” to find out if your water is navigable or do a web search for your state. Rivers, large bodies of freshwater, almost all salt water and canals are usually “navigable”. If you are rowing on a lake that has no outlet to a river or larger body of water, it may not be navigable and may be under state jurisdiction. In either case, your local water authorities are probably going to be the Department of Natural Resources / Fish and Game / Sheriff / Police. Only if you row in a very large port connected to a large body of water, might the USCG be your primary water authority.
And finally, a recommendation for coaches, administrators and rowers who go out without coaches – get boating safety certified. When coaches and rowers get on the water, they have the same rights and responsibilities as all other craft on the water. USRowing recommends the one-day classes offered by your state; if the day course is not available, then take the online boating course offered by your state. A simple web search will tell you what is offered. This information will help protect yourself and your rowers and the knowledge can also be used to protect your rights as a boater.
The Safety Committee is collecting information to help with water users meetings, so if you have had any experiences, good or bad, with other water users and / or authorities, please let us know!
Margot Zalkind, Chair, NE
Casey Baker, SE
Jim Cooper, NE
Matt Lacey, NW
Rachel Lemieux, NW
John White, MA
Willie Black, USRowing Staff Liaison