Rowing Safety

Rowing is a challenging and enjoyable sport. Like all sports, and water sports in particular, there are inherent risks. Accordingly, it is essential that all Rowing ACT participants (including rowers, coxswains, coaches, Boat Race Officials, volunteers and supporters) are aware of, and follow, the on-water safety policies set out on this page. We have also included some useful information to promote safe rowing practices in the ACT. On this page you will find information on:

–   official policies;

–   Club Safety Officers;

–   Boats and Equipment.

After you have read the following information, test your knowledge with the Rowing ACT Safety Quizes

You should do the following when an on-water incident occurs:

  • Is someone’s life in danger? Contact 000 for emergency services & ask that they also contact the Water Police.
  • If there are non-life threatening injuries, or there is damage to boats, then please contact the Police Assistance Line on 131 444. They will contact an ambulance where required.
  • If no emergency services are required then only an incident report form needs to be completed.

Rowing Australia, in concert with the State Associations (including Rowing ACT), has developed a number of tools to assist rowing clubs and the rowing community to enhance safety. Rowing ACT has adopted these policies. All members of Rowing ACT are required to comply with these policies.

Safe On-Water Code of Conduct

The Code outlines in the expectations of safe use of waterways and the relationships that exist between users of those waterways.

On-Water Safety Guidelines – A Practical Guide for Rowing Clubs in Australia

The Guidelines detail how the Code can be applied by Clubs and individuals.

Club Safety Officers

In particular, the Guidelines require that each Club appoint a Safety Officer to:

  • implement a safety program and monitor safety issues within their own Club (see pages 4-5 for more information);
  • conduct a safety audit of Club equipment (at least annually); and
  • record all Club safety incidents and report these to Rowing ACT (see  incident reporting below).

Safety Assessment Checklist

This checklist enables a Club safety officer to assess where weaknesses exist in safety procedure and equipment. The document is outcomes focused can be easily considered by Club Committees to ensure that members are using waterways safely and responsibly in line with RA’s recommended guidelines.

Boats and Equipment

As part of their Club safety audits, Club Safety Officers should check their equipment complies with the following criteria required by the Rowing Australia Rules of Racing. To promote safety and to assist Clubs meet their safety requirements, random checking may be made by Boat Race Officials at Rowing ACT regattas.

Bow Balls.  The bows of all boats must be fitted with a solid white ball, with a minimum diameter of 4 cm. The bow ball must be firmly affixed to the bow of the boat such that it does not significantly deflect if a side force is applied.

Quick Release.  The foot stretchers, shoes or other devices holding the feet of rowers in all boats must allow the rowers to get clear of the boat without delay. Each shoe device must be independently restrained such that the heel will not lift more than 7 cm from where it is tied down.  Where laces, Velcro or similar materials must be opened before the rower can remove their feet from the shoe device, these must be able to be released immediately by the rower with a single quick hand action of pulling on one easily accessible strap.

Blade Thickness.  The edges of blades, measured:

  • 3 mm from the outer edge of the blade for oars, must have a minimum thickness of 5 mm throughout; and
  • 2 mm from the outer edge of the blade for sculls,  must have a minimum thickness of 3 mm throughout.

Coxswain’s seat.  The opening of the coxswain’s seat must be at least 70 cm long and it must be as wide as the boat for at least 50 cm. The inner surface of the enclosed part must be smooth and no structure of any sort may restrict the inner width of the coxswains section.

Bungs. It is also recommended that boats are sealed/fitted with bungs so that, in the case of a capsize, the interior of the boat remains watertight.

Rowing in the ACT

Rowing in the ACT has some particular risks as an inland lake environment located in a cool climate.

Lake Traffic Rules

Everyone must be familiar with, and comply with, the Rules of the Lake and rowing guides.

In general:

  • boats should follow an anti-clockwise course, ie keep your bow side (rower’s left, coxswain’s right) closest to the bank; and
  • people on the water should keep a good lookout at all times, being aware of other boats, Lake users and obstacles (eg, rocks and buoys).

Give way to:

  • boats on bow side (rower’s left, coxswain’s right);
  • boats coming off the course, boats travelling the length of Lake Burley Griffin;
  • faster boats coming up behind your stern;
  • sailing boats and sail boards; and
  • coxless boats.

Even if you think you have right of way, it is best to give way to avoid any collisions! It is also helpful to call out to any boats approaching you (or an obstacle) so that they are aware of you (or the obstacle).

Below are two diagrams displaying the regular traffic rules on the Lake Burley Griffin course.

See reverse traffic flows for when Rowing ACT regattas are held on Lake Burley Griffin

Weather Conditions

Here is a summary of some weather conditions experienced in the ACT and recommendations on how to respond to different weather conditions.

Rowing ACT discourages rowing in the following Dangerous Weather Conditions

  • heavy rain, especially when accompanied by wind;
  • hail;
  • heavy fog (section 5.2 of the Rowing Australia Code does not recommend rowing if visibility is less than 1000m);
  • strong wind conditions, eg with visible white caps on the water;
  • storms and/or thunder and lightning; or
  • without a coach or another crew between May – September.

Rowing ACT recommends caution when rowing in the following weather conditions

  • Darkness
    • ensure you have a white light on the bow AND stern of your boat (a red light on the stern is optional) (see Lights below);
    • try to stay close to others and/or a coach; and
    • keep a good look out for other lake users and obstacles.
  • Fog
    • in foggy conditions it is very easy to become disoriented and you could injure yourself and/or other lake users;
    • only go out in the fog if you are in a small group accompanied by an experienced coach;
    • ensure you are well lit (see Lights below); and
    • if fog closes in on you while out on the lake, make your way slowly to the nearest shore and follow this slowly back to your boat shed or the nearest safe spot.
  • Windy conditions
    • ensure you are familiar with the how to get into a boat after Capsizing;
    • wear warm Clothing; and
    • only go out on the water with the supervision of a coach or another crew.
  • Light rain
    • it is easy to get cold quickly in wet weather. Light rain can often turn into heavier rain/worse weather conditions.
  • Cold weather (1 May to 30 September)
    • comply with these guidelines .
  • Extreme heat
    • dress appropriately to avoid risk of sunburn, heat exhaustion and heat stroke (see Clothing); and
    • make sure you stay well-hydrated and do not go out without a drink bottle.

When in doubt, don’t go out!


Minimum requirement for lights

If you row before sunrise or after sunset or in conditions of poor light, at a minimum, all boats must have one all-round white light (continuous or flashing at least once per second) visible in clear conditions from a distance of at least 1km attached to the bow of the boat.

Recommended lights

For greater visibility, Rowing ACT recommends an additional all-round white or red light (continuous or flashing at least once per second) in clear conditions from a distance of at least 1km attached to the stern of the boat. This second light assists other lake users judge the direction of your boat.

It is considered acceptable for a stern light to be masked so that it does not to interfere with the vision of the boat’s occupants, provided at least one light is visible from any direction.

These requirements are based on Rowing Australia’s on water safety policies and the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (in relation to vessels under oars).

Rowing ACT Winter Rowing Policy

All rowers must comply with the following requirements between 1 May and 30 September:

  • Use sufficient lighting before sunrise and after sunset (see Lights);
  • Wear appropriate clothing (see Clothing); and
  • Report any capsizes to Rowing ACT (

Rowing ACT strongly recommends that rowers only go out on the water in winter if accompanied by a coach or another crew (ie not alone).

Participating in rowing

If you participate in the sport of rowing in the ACT, you should read the Official Policies above and determine what strategies you need to put in place to address any safety risks. If you are in any doubt about any aspect of your safety while participating in rowing, you should seek guidance from your Club Captain or Safety Officer before exposing yourself to that risk.

In particular, all participants should be aware of the following main risks:

  1. Dangerous weather conditions – see Weather Conditions for guidelines on rowing in different weather conditions;
  2. Collisions – it is essential that you review the rowing traffic guides and rules  and follow them at all times. It is also helpful to call out to any boats approaching you (or an obstacle) so that they are aware of you (or the obstacle);
  1. Falling out of your boat/capsizing or swamping with the risk of drowning or hypothermia, particularly during the months from June to August – see Capsizing for tips on getting back into your boat; and
  2. Physical injuries when moving boats or other equipment – you should adopt safe lifting practices when moving all rowing equipment. If you are injured while rowing or during rowing related activities, you may be covered by insurance against personal accidents under a policy maintained by Rowing Australia and subscribed to by Rowing ACT. However, this insurance will not cover property loss or damage and may not cover injury caused to third persons. Clubs take out their own insurance in respect of property including boats and equipment. Any participant who has a need for insurance cover of personal equipment and property should make private arrangements with an insurer.

Quick Safety Guide

Below, we have some practical safety tips.

Before going out on the water, make sure that you and/or your crew:

  • have checked the Weather Conditions – particularly wind, rain and temperature;
  • are wearing appropriate clothing for the weather conditions and event;
  • know the Lake Traffic Rules
  • know how to manoeuvre and stop a boat quickly and safely;
  • know how to fix a ‘Crab’.;
  • know how to get back into a boat after  capsizing;
  • have a coach and/or accompanying rowers (Rowing ACT does not encourage rowing without a coach or another crew between May – September);
  • have checked that boat is fit to row and properly set up; and
  • know any additional Club safety rules.

No one should go on the water if:

  • they are unfit to row, cox, or coach due to illness, injury or other medical reason;
  • they are unaccompanied by a coach or another crew between May and September (see Winter Rowing Policy);
  • they are unaccompanied and they are in their first season of rowing; or
  • there are Dangerous Weather Conditions.


Summer (1 October to 30 April)

  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after exposure to hot weather (see p11 of Rowing Australia’s On Water Safety Guidelines)
  • For sun protection, Rowing ACT recommends that you wear:
    • a hat or visor;
    • sunscreen with a high SPF factor;
    • sunglasses; and
    • a t-shirt or long sleeved top.

Winter (1 May to 30 September)

  • For warmth, Rowing ACT recommends that you wear:
    • several layers of close-fitting thermal garments with high wicking capability rather than bulky tops or pants . Cycling jerseys and vests are also handy. You can remove layers as you warm up (put in a plastic bag to keep dry!)
    • woollen or thermal socks. Water proof socks are also handy!
    • head gear such as a beanie, ear-warmers, hat or buff;
    • pogies (rowing gloves); and
    • for coxswains and coaches: puffer jackets, wind proof jackets and pant, and hot water bottles can be good sources of extra warmth.


Capsizing is when you fall out of your boat.

Swamping is when your boat fills up with water and sinks.

If you capsize or swamp your boat, there are a few important things to remember:

  • stay calm. If with other crew members, keep in contact with everyone and make sure that everyone is alright;
  • stay with your boat!  Do not attempt to swim for shore. Your boat will act as a flotation device, even when it is full of water;
  • where possible, keep your head and face out of the water to avoid consuming lake water;
  • if you have fallen out of the boat, attempt to get back into the boat;
  • if you cannot right the boat, or get back into it, try to rest your body on top of the boat/out of the water to preserve energy and warmth; and
  • try not to move around too much so that you don’t lose too much body heat.

If you have capsized: How to get back in the boat

Check out this useful YouTube clip.

See p 10 of Rowing Australia’s On Water Safety Guidelines


  1. Right the boat – place the oars perpendicular to the boat, feather the oars
  2. Hold the oars together in one hand and haul your torso up onto the platform of the boat. Sometimes it is easier if you lift one leg up onto the boat.
  3. Rotate your hips so that you are sitting in the boat
  4. Still holding the oars, lift both legs into the boat

Back on land

Have a shower to clean off and warm up. Note: if very cold (hypothermic) it is not preferable to get straight into a warm shower or to exercise in a very cold state, as these methods can provoke arrhythmia (see other tips to get warm below)

  • Get dry and warm as soon as possible:
    • use dry clothing and blankets to insulate yourself and preserve your body heat;
    • if possible, get in front of a heater, or in a heated car; and
    • have a warm drink.

Catching a ‘Crab’

Catching a crab occurs when your oar gets caught in the water at the end of a stroke and the boat’s momentum pulls the blade into the water and pushes the handle into your body or head, or behind you.

What to Do

Don’t fight a crab by pushing against the oar (as you may get pushed out of the boat or snap the oar). Instead, try to push the handle up and feather the blade, and lean back/lie flat to let the handle of the oar go over the top of you (see picture above).

If a crew member catches a crab, Rowing ACT recommends that other crew members stop rowing so that the boat can slow down/stop completely, and the person who has caught a crab can regain control of their oar by feathering the blade and tapping out.

Club safety equipment

In addition to the Rowing Australia Safety Assessment Checklist, Rowing ACT recommends that all Club tinnies/coach boats are equipped with:

  • 2 x Lifejackets;
  • a Torch;
  • an anchor and throw line;
  • a paddle;
  • a bailer;
  • an emergency rescue blanket;
  • a medical kit;
  • a fire extinguisher; and
  • 1-2 x spare lights.

Incident Reporting

As required by Rowing Australia, Rowing ACT collects information detailing rowing related safety incidents in the ACT. This information is used to analyse and assess risks in order to manage those risks and mitigate the chances of reoccurrence.

As set out on p5 of Rowing Australia’s On Water Safety Guidelines, Clubs must ensure that any member who witnesses or is involved in an on-water incident or ‘near incidents’ reports that incident as soon as possible:

  • in the Club’s ‘Incident Reporting Logbook’; and
  • to the Club Safety Officer.

It is the Club Safety Officer’s responsibility to ensure this information is detailed in the following form and sent to  Rowing ACT (

Rowing ACT Incident Report Form – PDF

Rowing ACT Incident Report Form – Word Doc

Information may also need to be reported to the Water Police and insurance agencies.

An on-water incident or ‘near incident’ is an event causing or involving:

  • a collision or near miss;
  • a capsize or swamping of a rowing boat in winter (1 May to 30 September);
  • a capsize or swamping of a coaching boat at any time;
  • material damage to a boat;
  • danger to a person caused by a boat’s operations;
  • danger of serious damage to a boat;
  • danger of serious damage to a structure caused by a boat’s operations;
  • loss or presumed loss or abandonment of a boat; or
  • serious injury (or grievous bodily harm to, or death of) a person caused by a boat’s operations.