EA advice for rowing and high water *updated 05/03/2013*

On February 28th, British Rowing published the following advice from the Environmental Agency on rowing and high flow on rivers. In an update – issued on March 5th – Clive Killick, BR Hon Rowing Safety Adviser gives some context to this advice from the Environment Agency.

‘The position for clubs and events remains as it has always been.  The EA advice is something all clubs and events should take into serious consideration before boating. The EA is the relevant authority for many of our clubs and there should be very good reasons not to adopt their recommendations.


‘Because the EA advice relates to wide sections of our rivers, clubs who have the responsibility for outings and their safety, may consider that on occasion, some limited rowing may be possible whilst an EA warning is in place. We would expect that a club firstly sets down in its written safety procedures the ground-rules for considering rowing in such circumstances. The contents of this procedure is at their discretion but one might expect that a club, based on their knowledge of local conditions would limit rowing to a particular stretch of the river that is regarded as less hazardous and where they know they can provide effective rescue. They would also put limits on the age and experience of the rowers and the size/type of the boats allowed to go afloat.  They might also provide additional safety-boat cover or require some athletes, regarded as more vulnerable, to wear life-jackets.

‘The second step would be the risk assessment, on the day, for the specific outing or session. That risk assessment should take into account the EA warning, the provisions of the club safety procedures (as above), the exact conditions on the day and make a decision on the crews that are able to boat and the safety cover / rescue plan to be provided.  I would suggest that the outing risk assessment is written as well.  I am aware of many clubs who use a standard template for their risk assessment, thus limiting the effort required each time.’

EA advice for rowing and high water

Published 28th February 2013

Inclement weather has forced the cancellation of Head races up and down the country this winter, owing to dangerously high flow on our rivers. In light of this, British Rowing has been asked to pass on the following advice from the Environment Agency:

‘Despite the extremely high flood flows on our rivers in recent months, some people have still been out in their boats. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, some have found themselves in difficulties – the sculler who capsized at Wallingford in Oxfordshire, for example, and there have been similar events in Marlow and Reading. Luckily, these people were able to get out of the river unaided, or with help from other users. The river has many dangers even in benign conditions; when in high flow, it can be treacherous.

‘We are the navigation authority for the non-tidal Thames, Medway, The Great Ouse, River Nene, Stour, Ancholme, Welland and Glen. We have had a strong stream warning system in place on the Thames, Medway, Great Ouse, River Nene and the Ancholme, for many years. When river levels reach trigger points, we issue one of three warning levels: Yellow: stream increasing; Red: strong stream; Yellow: stream decreasing, for the Thames or Strong Stream Advice on our other waterways.

‘Our advice to all unpowered boaters – including rowers and scullers – is not to go on any stretch of the river where a warning is in place, regardless of which level it is at, as the flow will be dangerously strong and very dangerous around weirs, sluices and other river structures.

‘The purpose of these warnings is not to spoil people’s enjoyment of the river; it is to keep them safe from harm. And while we understand all boaters’ frustration when river flows are high for long periods, we would urge everyone to resist the temptation to ignore our warnings, especially in winter flood flows where the river is extremely cold, very fast-running and sometimes full of debris. A momentary lapse in concentration, or being struck by a large unseen object being carried in the water, can result in rowers finding themselves in the river rather than on it and being swept downstream very quickly. In such a situation it may be difficult to escape even before the effects of cold shock make the situation worse. Coaching vessels, if present, may be of little help, and emergency services may not be able to arrive and affect a rescue before it’s too late.

‘Warning information is displayed on our rivers at lock sites and elsewhere and our  staff will advise boaters and clubs on what action they need to take. Information is also available on our website www.environment-agency.gov.uk/riverthamesconditions, for the Thames, www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/recreation/130933 for the Anglian waterways, and www.allingtonlock.co.uk for the Medway, where visitors can also register for email alerts. To report an incident ring 0800 80 70 60.

‘Remember – Flood warnings are different from our user river conditions information! Always check the above details before going out on the water.

‘We would urge all boaters and clubs to register for relevant alerts, and to always check the prevailing and forecast river conditions via the website before getting on the water. If a warning is in place, please heed the advice that accompanies it.’

Russell Robson
EA Waterways Team Leader

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