Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update – 12 May

Following the publication of the UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy on 11 May, British Rowing has updated its advice to our Affiliated Clubs and Events and detailed the rationale behind these decisions.


The UK Government yesterday (11 May) published its strategy for recovering from coronavirus (“Our Plan to Rebuild”) which included a change to restrictions related to exercise effective from Wednesday 13 May. In line with our planning for a safe return to rowing, we have drawn the following conclusions (based on the rationale set out below):

    1. Rowing in privately-owned rowing boats from publicly accessible waterway access or with permission of landowners is possible subject to:
      • UK Government rules relating to social distancing being adhered to;
      • recreational use of the waterway being permitted by the relevant authority*; and,
      • an appropriate risk assessment and accompanying measures being in place taking into account any normal, local safety rules or good practice.
    2. At this stage, we recommend that British Rowing Affiliated Clubs should remain closed (current UK Government advice suggests leisure facilities may open no earlier than 4 July). Therefore, anyone launching rowing boats should do so from publicly accessible slipways/other waterway access or with the express permission of the landowner.
    3. We do not believe that any rowing activity requiring a coaching/safety launch fits within the spirit of the current UK Government guidance and also British Rowing’s RowSafe guidance (see below).
    4. Given the current situation and likely outlook, we have taken the decision to extend our suspension of Affiliated Competitions until 31 July – including the cancellation of the British Rowing Offshore Championships & Beach Sprints and British Rowing Junior Championships. We reasonably expect it is likely that this suspension will eventually be extended until at least the end of August.

* At the time of writing, the three major waterway authorities have differing restrictions – please see below for more information. 

We continue to monitor and review the latest advice from the UK Government and will update our advice, as necessary, as more information becomes available.

Please note that this advice relates to rowing in England. We continue to work closely with our colleagues from Scottish and Welsh Rowing to share good practice, however, the restrictions on the public now vary between England, Scotland and Wales. Latest advice for Scotland and Wales are available at the links below:


For a safe return to rowing to be possible, we believe that there are three key criteria that must be met:

  • Any rowing activity must be carried out in accordance with UK Government restrictions including those related to hygiene, social distancing and travel.
  • Any rowing activity must be allowed by the local waterway authority (e.g. Canal & River Trust, Environment Agency, Port of London Authority).
  • Any rowing activity must be safe and in line with our Row Safe guidance.

This may be met by relaxation of existing external guidance and/or changes to how we operate as a sport.

UK Government Restrictions

The UK Government’s latest advice on the use of public spaces, provides a number of key points that must be addressed when we consider rowing activity.

At this stage, it is clear that normal rowing club operations would not be possible whilst adhering to these restrictions and, in particular, that gyms, club bars and other social rooms are definitely out of the question.

The social distancing aspect of the advice could be adhered to by restricting boats to only those within a household.

The current challenge for rowing clubs in this guidance remains shared surfaces.

In addition to the advice around social distancing, in another section of the UK Government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy, it states that leisure facilities will be considered for reopening (subject to being ‘COVID-19 Secure’) in step 3, tentatively scheduled for no earlier than 4 July (as shown in the diagram below).

We have been working on advice which will help clubs manage and reduce the risk of transmission of the virus and we will align this to the UK Government’s own advice on making a facility ‘COVID-19 Secure’ once this is available. There is a challenge to sports clubs and rowing clubs as there are significant ‘shared surfaces’ created by the use of shared equipment (e.g. boats, oars) and facilities (e.g. boat bays, door/gate locks, landing stages).

At this stage, without those measures in place, we cannot advise that access to any shared facilities or equipment is appropriate.

Waterway Authorities

At this stage, not all waterway authorities have relaxed their restrictions on non-essential/recreational use of the waterways. As different waterway authorities diverge in their precise restrictions, we are no longer in a position to provide a blanket, national answer on this.

Therefore, our advice in relation to this is that rowers should check their local waterway authority’s current restrictions. Links to three of the major English waterway authorities’ websites are listed below, alongside their status at the time of writing.

Authority Status at time of writing
Environment Agency At this stage, restrictions remain in place
Canal & River Trust Restrictions on recreational usage of CRT managed waterways in England have been lifted
Port of London Authority At this stage, restrictions remain in place with any update not expected until later this week
Environment Agency
Status at time of writing:
At this stage, restrictions remain in place
Port of London Authority
Status at time of writing:
At this stage, restrictions remain in place with any update not expected until later this week

Please note, if you are rowing near a border with Scotland or Wales, you should ensure that you do not cross any borders whilst on the water as the restrictions on the public vary in those countries.

Row Safe Guidance

It is imperative that we all take our responsibility for water safety seriously whilst rowing at all times. It is particularly important that we do not do anything that would risk putting additional pressure on emergency services. As always, an appropriate risk assessment should be carried out in relation to any rowing activity and appropriate measures put in place to reduce risk.

Our previously published safety alert ‘Is it safe to go afloat alone?’ and RowSafe guidance may be of assistance in carrying out this risk assessment.

Please note, there may be reduced river traffic so the likelihood of help being at hand may be reduced.

Coaching/Safety Launches

The British Rowing COVID-19 Situational Review Group considered the question of launches extensively as there are a number of reasons for and against allowing coaching launches.

Whilst it may be that certain rowers, in addition to accessing private rowing boats, may also be able to access private coaching launches, it was felt that most launches would be owned by a club or shared outside of family groups. As detailed above, we advise that clubs should remain closed (for the reasons set out above) and, as such, any shared launches cannot be accessed or used. Using shared equipment without proper cleaning procedures could also increase the risk of transmission.

In general, it is also good practice for a launch acting as safety cover to have at least one crew member in addition to the driver meaning that it will be harder to adhere to social distancing rules. Similarly if when risk assessed it is found that individual safety cover is a requirement then this brings social distancing into question when a rescue is required.

Our interpretation of UK Government advice is that it relates to allowing for exercise rather than coordinated training activity which is more akin to club activity. Therefore, for these reasons, we have taken the decision to recommend that launches are not used until further notice.


Given the current situation and likely outlook for the coming months, we have taken the decision to extend our suspension of Affiliated Competitions until 31 July 2020. We fully anticipate that this will be extended until at least the end of August.

We have taken this decision on the basis that:

  • events bring together people from a wide number of households and geographic areas and therefore it will be very hard to run these in line with any Government social distancing guidance as they stand.
  • Based on the UK Government’s recovery strategy, it appears that sports clubs will not be able to open until 4 July at the earliest. With the work required to organise the club’s reopening, a reasonable amount of time will be required after this for club volunteers to organise entries to competitions.
  • Equally, with clubs not likely to open until 4 July at the earliest, competitions will also require time to make arrangements for the events and to have a suitable amount of time for a viable number of entries to be collected.
  • For a safe return to rowing, it is important that we take a phased approach to getting back to the next normal. Individuals will require time to train and build an appropriate level of fitness and rowing-readiness to safely return to competition.