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Boathouse Hacks: DIY Bow Lights
posted on April 25, 2012

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Classic Water Bottle Bow Lights, spotted recently in a TBC launch
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From Jacksonville U: Dolphin deck lights (photo credit: Andrew Soloway)
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contributed by John FX Flynn, row2k

Another timely hack, because there is a lot of early morning, "do you have your bow light on?" rowing out there this time of year, especially for folks hoping to squeeze in some good strokes before 8 am classes or the opening bell.

Let's face it, until the rest of the US comes around to ditching this practice of saving daylight for the afternoon and leaves us with some well-lit early mornings, reliable bow lights are pretty crucial to doing what we do safely and effectively.

We're not going to get into the specific safety regulations here--we are hackers after all, not experts--but if you row in the dark, anything you do to make your shell visible is smart and essential.

Bow lights run the gamut, of course, from the pricey to the flimsy, but apart from, you know, visibility, what most folks are looking for in a "good bow light" is something cheap--largely because anything mounted on the end of a racing shell is destined to fall off into the water at some point (and haven't we all seen and used--and cursed, and lost--a few suction-cup mounted bow lights in our time?)

The hands-down winner in this category is what we hackers like to call the Water Bottle Bow Light: take an empty, disposable water bottle (the kind lying around, in spades, every boathouse and dock and regatta we've ever visited), cut off the narrow, cap end, and tape it on to the cheapest flashlight you can find. The result, pictured at right, is a really visible mini-lantern that, once taped to a spring clamp, can be clipped to the washbox in the bow or a gunwale in the stern.

You'd be surprised how well this works, turning a flashlight that you can often only see head-on into a light visible from any angle. They also work great on launches--which also need lights, of course--and won't break the bank when they go in the drink or just stop working. (For the record, as a visible, white light, these also meet the minimum USCG requirements for a "vessel under oars").

The other flavor of bow lights hacks that we like makes use of the bow number clip, which is--let's face it--a clever way to keep the light attached and, well, out on the bow. There are a few commercially available designs that make use of the bow clip, but we've seen some great hacks that have taken that idea and made it their own--probably for a bit less dough. One of the more elaborate is this one pictured at right--sent in by Andrew Soloway, the varsity coxswain at Jacksonville University--and we like how the PVC tube gets the light elevated a bit above the water line. JU mounts these bow and stern to keep their shells visible.

Like this Jacksonville model, a lot of these bow clip lights now-a-days make use of LED lights, and for good reason: lighter, brighter, and way longer lasting, LEDs are perfect for bow light hacks that attach to the bow clip. (Quick hacker tip for anyone wanted to try this at home: a great way to affix a light to the bow clip is to use an old bow number--something else you probably have more than a few of lying around)

We do have one last "make your bow lights great" trick to share: mount the light near the bowman, either by clipping it to the washbox or by attaching a second, safety-light-dedicated bow clip on the deck closer to the rowers. If the rower in the bow can actually reach the light, you gain two important things: the ability to turn the light off and save some batteries once the sun does come up and, probably more important, the ability to turn actually it on when that bit gets forgotten at the dock.

All kidding aside, bow lights have made a life-or-death difference on--sadly--more than one occasion, but we also want to remind you that your workout will be better, too, because if other crews and coaches actually see you, they have a better chance of respecting what you are trying to get done in your practice.

Got a great way to keep your shells well-lit? Share your tips--and hacks--in the comments below and feel free to send us some photos of what you use, too!

Have a great rowing hack for future inclusion here? Send it to us!


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