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Your Best Race Starts with Staying Safe in the Warm-up Area

by Willie Black, Willie@usrowing.org | Mar 01, 2016
Welcome to the danger zone - the warm up and practice area of any regatta proves challenging to coaches, coxswains and rowers. Learn how to stay safe in these tumultuous waters.

19076828273_3b2af6d7fc_kCrews were warming up for the finals at the 2015 USRowing Youth National Championships. One boat was not where it was supposed to be and they collided with another boat. In this instance, it was not lack or experience that caused that accident by lack of awareness.

Accidents happen to even the brightest minds on race day when the brain is preoccupied on something else. They are focused like lasers on the race and the planned warm-up but forget about basic situational awareness. 

There are many stories about collisions, boat damage, and injuries that occur in the warm-up area at regattas. 

Its not just high school or novice coxswains that make mistakes in the warm-up area. Many years ago the U.S. men’s eight and men’s four collided head on during practice at the World Championships.  Somebody was not where they were supposed to be and neither crew was taking the time to look for other boat traffic.

Accidents happen to even the brightest minds on race day when the brain is preoccupied on something else. They are focused like lasers on the race and the planned warm-up but forget about basic situational awareness. 

What makes these careless collisions that much more unfortunate than a damaged boat or a bruised ego is when an injury occurs; which happened in both of the mentioned situations.

From novices to international level athletes, the problem is the same; not paying sufficient attention to what is going on around them.  The pre-race practice and warm-up areas are dangerous, but there are some things you can do to help reduce the possibility of accidents.

  • Teach your team to be aware at all times during pre-race practice and warm-up. 
  • Home and visiting crews must always be aware of what is going on around them.  Home teams may feel very comfortable with the warm-up area and know it well, but the visiting team may not and may be in the wrong place.
  • Make sure visiting crews have maps of the host team’s venue before they arrive. 
  • Take the visiting coxswains and bow seats of blind boats out on the water when they arrive, this can be done while the rowers are rigging their shells.
  • Have a large map of the course, warm-up area and hazards posted in the boathouse or venue for all coxswains, rowers and coaches to see and study.
  • If you are visiting a new venue, or if it’s new to your coxswains (just because the coach knows it well does not mean that your team will) get a map before the regatta and go over the traffic pattern and hazards.
  • Never go out of the designated warm-up/practice area, now is not the time to go exploring a new waterway.
  • If you are in a small boat or a single sculler then you need to find out all of these things too.  You can get information from the organizing committee or seek it out when you first arrive at a new venue.

Getting to the starting line safely should be part of every race plan. It seems simple enough, but the longer you stay in the sport the more often you will see crashes and near crashes because someone was not paying attention to their surroundings. 

Laser like focus is good; just make sure it’s on everything to make race day a success. 

USRowing Safety Committee:
Casey Baker
Jim Cooper
Catharine Labine
Rachel Lemieux
John White
Margot Zalkind, Chair
Willie Black, USRowing Safety Liaison

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