Coxing and Steering

Aim: To raise the standards of coxswains, their awareness of navigation rules and other river users and develop a course to facilitate easier training of coxswains.

The River Thames is a hazardous navigation encompassing both tidal and non-tidal sections and used by many organisations for trade, pleasure and cruising. Whilst most river users are familiar with rowing, a significant number are casual users and visitors who can raise the level of hazard. Additional hazards result from the number of universities, colleges and clubs who boat with inexperienced crews and coxswains particularly during the autumn and early winter when stream conditions and water levels can be high.

One university has developed an introductory course for coxswains who are allowed onto the water only when they have achieved a pass on the course. The Thames Rowing Council will introduce a similar scheme for all universities and colleges by end 2003.

A more detailed coxswains course has been developed encompassing the rudiments of coxing through to national competition level and this will be run annually.

A handbook will be published by end 2002 outlining the navigation and hazards for the Thames Lower (from Westminster Pier to Molesey Lock). Once completed and assessed then a further handbook will be developed for the remainder of the Thames. The handbook for the upriver reach should be completed by the end of 2003.

Launch Operation

Aim: To improve the skills of drivers of coaching and Safety Launches. To promote education to RYA II or RYA III.

The majority of clubs, schools, universities and colleges use launches for crew coaching and some operate separate launches as safety boats. It would be reasonable to assume that all of the launch drivers are suitably qualified to handle the craft they are using, however to hold a qualification is the exception rather than the rule. In 2002 Thames Rowing Council is funding a number of courses in which the participants will achieve skills equal to the requirements of RYA II (Royal Yacht Association).

Each rowing organisation will be required to have at least one driver – ideally two – qualified to this standard by the end of this five year plan. Apart from the obvious benefit to rowing organisations of having skilled members operating launches in the river, they will be able to utilise all the facilities at training camps held both in the UK and overseas since the RYA II certificate is internationally recognised.

The increase in he use of launches as safety boats has demonstrated the need for launch drivers to have knowledge of safety procedures and rescue. A number of courses covering these skills and leading to RYA III certificates will be organised. It will be an aim to put in place a plan to roll this out during the duration of this plan and its full implementation as part of the 2006-2010 plan. The proposal is that each organisation using a launch for this purpose will be required to have one qualified driver by 2005.

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Risk Assessment

Aim: To improve the knowledge of Club Safety Advisors so that they may determine if crews may go afloat.

On the non-tidal Thames a fairly crude yardstick is used to determine if crews may go afloat during periods of high water flow rates. Invariably the determining factor is the warning board put out by the navigation authority – the Environment Agency – these are yellow danger boards for stream rates increasing or decreasing and red danger boards which advise craft to moor up immediately. Unless clubs have specific arrangements with their insurers it is probable that they are uninsured if involved in an incident whilst the boards are showing. The Environment Agency’s safety policy requires that these boards are shown as advice to all river users when a specific number of paddles have been drawn at a weir, the same signals being repeated at the upstream and downstream weirs.

Prevailing and foreseeable weather conditions should form part of risk assessments.

Thames Rowing Council is in discussion with the authority and it is anticipated that speed of the centre of the stream will be available to clubs. Completion of these discussions should allow flow rates to be available on request form January 2003.

Self-assessment regarding club, equipment and water safety should be carried out annually and passed to the Regional Safety Advisor with a view to the Regional Safety Advisor formally and randomly carrying out fully safety audits of clubs.

Child Protection

Aim: To adopt policies in line with the ARA programme.

To be adopted and implemented as per the ARA’s roll-out programme to begin in 2003 and be adopted within the next 5 years.

We are waiting to see how the implementation will be done to fall in line with education and informing the clubs on the policy document.

Trailer Driving

Aim: To facilitate improved knowledge and training for trailer drivers

Courses are known to be available. The Police run one such course.

It is proposed to make these available to clubs.

Possibly with the ability to support with funding of these courses.

The Rowing Rules

Since time immemorial the “dictats” of safety, common sense and practicality, have governed the way small boat users have navigated the tidal Thames. Called “working the slacks” it represents the safest way for oar propelled and other similar craft to proceed up and down stream on the ever changing and tidal river.

Nowadays, as the river has become increasingly built up with vertical and inaccessible walls, small sculling and other rowing craft have become confined to the reaches above Putney Bridge and below Tower Bridge, the long reaches between being considered too unwelcoming other than at conditions of low tide.

There is however a problem in that the Thames, from Richmond Lock downstream to the sea is a “Port” and as such is controlled by the Port of London Authority who by various Notices and Regulations, administer navigation for all craft using the tidal Thames. The prime instruments of control are the International Regulations for preventing Collisions at Sea (1972) and modifications thereto. Rowing interests have been accommodated within amendments to Rule 9(a), viz:- “Rules for Navigation of Vessels under Oars” and this concession, or formalisation of previous practice, has existed since the early ‘80’s.

The Thames Regional Rowing Council is concerned that changes to the Rules currently being considered will introduce unnecessary dangers and risks to the sport of rowing on the tideway. The changes contemplated would require the “Right Hand Rule”, fundamental to the International Regulations, to be applied to all craft navigating the tidal Thames, without exception. The Thames Regional Rowing Council finds this proposal unacceptable and is currently making strong representations to those involved in the belief that common sense will prevail.

The dispensation for Rowing has been with the sport for a long time, why the problem now? Simply, as usage of the Thames increases, with more and more commercial craft navigating the tideway and an ever increasing number of privately owned craft plying the river between Limehouse and Brentford and beyond, many with little or no experience or knowledge of the tideway, the Port of London Authority are seeking Rules of Navigation, clear and understandable by all. The special arrangement for rowing is seen as unnecessary and unfortunately, the behaviour of some of our membership in failing to comply with them, further aggravates the situation.

Rowing needs the special arrangement. Without it, the tideway for oarsmen and scullers becomes hazardous. The tideway is the home of thirty-seven rowing clubs, sixteen school rowing clubs and fifteen college rowing associations. In addition it acts as host to eighteen major rowing regattas and the internationally recognised University Boat Race. As such it can justly lay claim to represent the heart of English, if not British, rowing. There are other events outside the aegis of the Regional Rowing Council, sufficient to say, that the whole tidal river represents and provides an invaluable sporting and recreational asset for all.

We have to, and willingly do, share the river with other users and we must recognise their rights as do we expect them to be considerate of ours. What are our concerns in these proposals and where are the conflicts?

The tradition of “Working the Flats” allows easy and safe movement of rowing craft both up and down stream against the tide. Navigation against the tide takes place out of the stream in the slack waters close to the riverbanks. The main tidal flow can be very strong and for this simple reason, common sense dictates that movement against it should be done as close to the riverbank as is safe. The physical state of the river makes for other considerations. Extensive build-ups of shingle and other debris along the reaches make navigation for light craft dangerous and sometimes impossible. Further, there is the matter of escape from the river should an accident occur. It is a fact that since the vertical embankments were built, the river runs faster and vertical walls do not allow for easy escape for those at risk. Chains and steps have been introduced, but where sloping banks exist, as they do on the Surrey shore, around Dukes Meadows and elsewhere, easy access to, and escape from the water, is available for all.

The “Right Hand Rule” forces the oarsman and scullers, when moving against the tide into positions on tideway which are notoriously unsafe for small craft at most states of tide. Without listing all the locations where hazards exist, it is sufficient to say that they do, and that the Rowing Rules as presently applied, reduce to an acceptable level, the identified hazards of the tideway.

The Rowing Rules allow rowing craft to stay in safe water when working against the flow of the tide. It specifies crossing points from one bank to another, which are well recognised, although the promised marker posts have never materialised. When moving with the tide, the Rules allow clear passage for all. Further, the Rowing Rules have allowed safe boating routines at Putney, Hammersmith Chiswick and Barnes to be established with boat circulation patterns clearly understood and observed. None of these issues are met by the International Regulations and if we consider the result were they to be enforced on the Brentford/Syon House and Isleworth reaches, we see a situation where athletes are put into impossibly hazardous positions when moving upstream against the tide.

The Regional Council recognises that the sport is not blameless, some of the membership ignore the rules, some are in total ignorance of them and so efforts will be made to educate all concerned on the need to comply with the Rowing Rules. The Regional Council will continue its’ efforts to safeguard our special relationship with the Port of London Authority but it will need everyone’s co-operation. If you have an opinion on this matter, or would like to comment, or help, please contact your Regional Chairman, Mrs Margaret Adams, or any member of the Regional Council, your opinion matters.

W C Thomson

19th September 2004