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What the Water Safety Code says

WSC section 1.11.4 - "Buoyancy compartments must be watertight to ensure effective operation."

WSC section 1.11.5 - "Boats constructed after 1st April 2003 must have inherent buoyancy sufficient, together with their oars and sculls, to support a seated crew of the correct design weight in the event of being swamped."

Guidance Notes section 2.6.1 (extract) - "All new boats constructed after 1st April, 2003 must carry a plate indicating the maximum average crew weight the boat can carry and support seated in the event of being swamped. A club or individual purchasing a new boat must ask the manufacturer to supply this information." NB This is NOT a buoyancy standard, merely a statement of how the boat will perform when swamped.

... and section - "Before any outing is undertaken, equipment should be checked to ensure that it is in safe condition and in working order."

... and specifically paragraph a) - "Check for hull damage, leaks etc."

... and paragraph b) - "Check that buoyancy compartments, seals, hatch covers and ventilation bungs are secure and watertight."

Why do we have buoyancy compartments?

To provide the boat with sufficient built-in buoyancy so that it can support its seated crew largely out of the water even when fully swamped. The key principles here are to ensure that a) the crew members (including the cox) are supported out of the water to minimise the risk of hypothermia, and b) to provide the boat with sufficient clearance for the gates so that the crew have an opportunity to row towards safety.

An Edinburgh University coxed four demonstrated the ability to row a fully swamped boat at the 2003 BUSA regatta.

There has been a considerable amount of discussion on buoyancy following Leo Blockley's drowning in the OULRC swamping accident in Amposta, Spain in December 2000 (see Leo Blockley Memorial Campaign), and on the rec.sport.rowing newsgroup. Archived rsr posts can be found on Google. There's no point repeating it all here, other than to record my personal view that the introduction of a meaningful buoyancy standard for rowing shells is long overdue, and that it is in the interests of all participants in the sport to continue to press the ARA to adopt a real buoyancy standard at the earliest opportunity. The current WSC represents a step forwards at long last, but the job's only half finished.

If you are unlucky enough to end up in a boat that sinks beneath you, then if you can, stay in it (with your feet out of the shoes / clogs). Don't get out of it unless you have to, but if you do have to get out then stay with the boat, the boat will help you float, and it's easier to spot the boat and its crew together than several isolated swimmers. Either way, the more buoyant your boat is, the better your chances.

Key features

After each outing, it is good practice to open the hatches and bungs to let any trapped condensation dry out, otherwise it may start to affect the fabric of the boat. Remember to replace the bungs and hatches securely immediately before the next outing though!

How to check

Remember that you must check your boat before every outing.


Repairs to minor hull damage can be done using appropriate fillers. More significant hull damage may have to be carried out by a boat builder. Missing hatch covers or bungs should be replaced at the earliest opportunity; they can be obtained through any rowing supplier.