Flood action tips for rowing clubs

With flooding forecast in parts of the country, here are some issues to consider if your club’s river is at risk. Jon Mcleod reports

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(c) John Shore

If flooding is forecast in your area, the first step is to ensure the local flood risk assessment and safety plan is in place, including the criteria for cancelling water activity.

The following information can be used when formulating a risk assessment and preparing plans to help clubs cope should flooding occur.

1. Fast-flowing water

High water levels lead to faster flows and the consequentially dangers, including difficulties in boating, rowers being unable to make headway against the flow and losing control of the boat on the water.

Potential responses include:

  • Finding a land-based training alternative
  • Finding an alternative stretch of water (such as a canal) where the flow is slower
  • Starting the session by rowing upstream so that the return is downstream.
  • Using bigger, faster boats like eights rather than singles.
  • Steering close to the bank and on the inside of bends where the water speed is likely to be less.
2. Flow around bends in rivers

Do not get trapped on the outer edge of bends. The flow of water around bends in rivers is highly complex but a basic understanding will help rowers to avoid some of the hazards it poses.

In straight rivers, the fastest flow is in the middle of the river and around bends the water tends to flow fastest and be deepest around the outer edge of the bend.

In addition to the normal downstream movement of water, there is also a component of flow across the river. On the surface this is from the inner part of the bend to the outer, but close to the river bed the flow is in the opposite direction. This, in effect, becomes a circulation. There may also be a small circulation in the opposite direction close to the outer bank.

If this circulatory flow is combined with the downstream flow then the water can be thought of as flowing in a helical or spiral pattern.

Do not get trapped on the outer edge of bends

Rowing boats operate on the surface of a river and will only be affected by the surface flow. If a boat is positioned on the outside of a bend then it will be pushed downstream and further towards the outer edge of the bend.

This effect will be more pronounced when the boat speed is less than stream speed. In other words, take great care if you are on the outer edge of a bend, upstream of an obstruction and do not stop there.

Potential responses include:

  • Finding a land-based training alternative
  • Finding an alternative stretch of water (such as a canal) where the flow is slower
3. Water turbulence

Fast-moving water can lead to greater turbulence in the river, often just below the surface and invisible from the bank or boat. Therefore steering and retaining control of boats can be challenging. Singles and pairs, in particular, can capsize if one blade gets caught in a vortex, while swimming can be very difficult or impossible due to undertows. Turbulence can be a particular problem downstream of obstructions like bridges.

Potential responses include:

  • Land training
  • Alternative stretch of water
  • Avoid areas that can be expected to be turbulent
  • Using coxed rather than coxless boats.
Singles and pairs, in particular, can capsize if one blade gets caught in a vortex, while swimming can be very difficult or impossible due to undertows
4. Stationary objects such as buoys

The flow of water past anchored or stationary objects can cause boats to be swept into them. Moored boats, navigation and mooring buoys, bridges, pontoons, weirs, floating docks and other obstructions can create hazards.

Potential responses include:

  • Land training
  • Alternative stretch of water
  • Revision of the circulation plan to take the obstructions into account
  • Taking care to avoid the obstruction
  • Not stopping upstream of an obstruction
  • Using coxed rather than coxless boats
  • Having a coach in a launch to supervise the outing and provide an extra lookout.
5. Solid objects below the water

It can be possible to row over flooded meadows or farmland where rivers have burst their banks but fixed obstructions below the water line can cause dangers.

Potential responses include:

  • Land training
  • Careful navigation and local knowledge to avoid obstructions
  • Keeping a good look-out for indicators of obstructions
  • Operating a buddy system.
6. Contaminated water

Flood water can be contaminated with untreated sewage, farm animal waste and other materials. If the water is ingested or enters the body through uncovered cuts or grazes, it can cause illnesses such as Weill’s disease.

Potential responses include:

  • Land training
  • Avoiding or minimising exposure to the water
  • Keeping all cuts and grazes covered with a water-proof dressing
  • Washing or showering after the outing
  • Avoid eating when afloat and maintain good hand hygiene.
Further steps

Additional general safety measures and provisions for when flooding occurs include a having a suitable launch to rescue crews, appropriate first aid equipment and training, access to life jackets and buoyancy aids and potentially having helpers to throw lines from the bank.

This article originally appeared in Rowing & Regatta magazine, available free to British Rowing members. Find out about more membership benefits and how to join here

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