What the Water Safety Code says
WSC section 1.11.1 - "The bows of racing and training boats shall be properly protected. A solid ball of not less than 4 cm diameter made of rubber or material of similar resilience must be firmly attached to the bows. Where the construction of the boat, or its composition is such that the bow is properly protected, or its shape does not present a hazard in collision, this requirement need not apply."
Guidance Notes section 18.104.22.168 - "Before any outing is undertaken, equipment should be checked to ensure that
it is in safe condition and in working order."
... and specifically paragraph c) - "Check that the bow ball is securely fixed and fully covers the bow of the boat in order that adequate protection is given to any person or object struck by the moving boat. This check should also examine any fixing screws or bolts to ensure that they do not represent a further hazard in the event of accident."
Why do we have bow balls?
Two main reasons
- Firstly, to reduce the risk of puncturing an object, or more importantly a person, in the event of a collision
- Secondly, to protect your boat
Boats, when damaged, are easy to fix. People aren't. So keep your bows well protected for the benefit of everyone else around you, and maybe they'll return the favour.
Not convinced bow balls matter? Read these - Freak Accidents Mark Head of the Charles - Row, Row, Row the Boat - A 55-Year-Old Man Impaled in a Rowing Accident
Remember that collisions can happen on or off the water - people can walk into boats on the rack in the boathouse, and you can collide with people on the towpath while carrying the boat. If there's a risk that someone might walk into the bows of even a "dead" boat, then make sure its bows are adequately protected.
- It must fit properly - the round part of the bow-ball should fit snugly against the sharp end of the bows (or it will deflect too easily).
- It must be securely fitted - preferably glued and screwed, not just taped (be careful that the fixing screws or bolts do not protrude excessively though).
- It must not be cracked, torn or perished.
How to check
Remember that you must check your boat before every outing.
- Visual check - looking for obvious cracks or tears; be suspicious if there are layers and layers of tape,
- Test the bow ball to ensure it's firmly attached,
- With the heel of your hand, apply firm sideways pressure to the bow ball to ensure it doesn't deflect excessively.
I would suggest that the bow ball check is done by the cox or bow oarsman, and it should only take a few seconds. Remember that the bow ball is there primarily to protect other people, so you have a clear "Duty of Care" to make sure that your bow ball is fit for purpose. Don't skip it.
Bow balls don't last forever, especially if they have been in a collision, or used to rest the boat on. Wrapping layers and layers of tape around a defective bow ball is NOT a repair. The only way to repair a defective bow ball is to replace it. A good rule of thumb - if your bow ball appears to be more insulating tape than bow ball, it needs changing!
Make sure that you take off all the original fixings, tape, glue etc., and select a replacement bow ball that fits properly. The best way to fix it on is to use an appropriate adhesive; your boat builder will be able to recommend an appropriate one. For added security, you may wish to screw or bolt it on, but make sure that you don't leave any sharp protrusions. A few turns of tape around the neck of the bow ball can be added as a cosmetic finishing touch.
Get it right
- A well-fitting bow-ball.
- BUSA Regatta, Holme Pierrepont, 27 April 2002
- Normally a load of tape wrapped round a bow-ball rings alarm bells. What is it hiding? In this case however, whilst the bow-ball looks ugly, it was firmly secured and didn't deflect, so it is OK.
- Reading Amateur Regatta, 17 June 2001
- An example of a properly designed and fitted bow-ball.
The purpose of this section is not to "name and shame", but to make you aware of some of the common (and some not co common) faults to look out for. If any of your boats' bow-balls look anything like any of these examples, then get out and fix them NOW!
- It's not just boats in the UK that have potentially ineffective bow balls. This example is on a nearly-new boat in Hong Kong. The questions to ask yourself are: 1 - will the bow ball deflect too much and 2 - is that nut and bolt a good idea?
- BUSA Regatta, Holme Pierrepont, 27 April 2002
- First impressions count, they say, and this bow-ball did not impress. It looks loose, and sure enough it deflected far too much, and was easy to remove, revealing this mess. No-one had even bothered to remove the old fixing screws, let alone screw the replacement bow-ball in place. The sculler managed to borrow some tape, and by pushing the old bow-ball firmly into place, a reasonable temporary repair was made. Subsequently I noticed (but didn't have the camera available) that the sculler had taken the trouble to replace it completely before the next race. So credit to her for that.
- Now I know the ARA Water Safety video suggests that bow-balls are supposed to be able to deflect, but I disagree, and this one was sent away to be fixed properly.
- Firmly secured? I don't think so.
- Richmond Regatta, 30 June 2001
- Even if you don't have any collisions, the material most bow-balls are made of will eventually perish and need to be replaced.
- Marlow Regatta, 23 June 2001
- Two examples of battle-scarred boats, both with broken bow-balls: 1, 2. Of course you will have bumps and scrapes, and that's why there's a bow-ball, but when it gets damaged, replace it, don't rely on yards of insulation tape to bodge it.
- BUSA Regatta, Holme Pierrepont, 28 April 2001
- Another easily deflected bow-ball, and did you spot the missing bung? The bow-ball's very dirty as well, and as BUSA's held at Holme Pierrepont, where photo finish cameras are used, it pays to make sure your bow-ball is as clean as possible, or you might lose out in a tight finish.
- Another half-hearted bodge.