row2k Features
Water Ready Chapter One - Health and Safety: Germs be Gone
March 6, 2021
Mike Davenport and Margot Zalkind

(Learn more about and buy Water Ready, How to Get and Keep Your Rowing Equipment in its Prime.)

These are unusual times.

As we write this, we are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. It is not the first we have had, it may not be the last. But this tragic experience has brought to the forefront of everyone's consciousness the importance of sane disinfecting and taking unusual steps to stay safe.

Today, more than ever, you MUST incorporate disinfecting the equipment into your rowing-equipment workflow. This is no longer optional.

A confusing part for some is the difference between disinfecting and cleaning. Disinfecting is different from cleaning: Cleaning is for function, for maintenance, for longevity. Disinfecting is for hygiene and health.

What do we mean by "sanely disinfect?"

Let's start with two quick definitions:

  • Sanely: with good sense or in a reasonable or intelligent Manner
  • Disinfect: to free from infection especially by destroying harmful microorganisms

Putting those two definitions together gives us an action plan: a reasonable way to remove or destroy microorganisms.

How to sanely disinfect rowing equipment

Following are actions to help you disinfect sanely. They are for shared rowing equipment. If you are the only person using the equipment then your disinfecting needs are much simpler than if the equipment is shared. With that written, using any or all of these actions won't hurt if the equipment is not shared. (That's what we mean by sanely.)

Action 1: Wash hands. The split-second people arrive at your rowing facility have them wash their hands. And again as they start to leave. This one action alone is critical. But here's the problem-humans are lousy at washing hands. We forget. (Yes, that includes you and us.) Change that.

How? Maybe you need someone to be a hand-washing leader. Or maybe gentle reminders will work. Or who knows, maybe gamifying it will work, such as washing for 20 seconds with soap and water, getting all parts of the hands and singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat while doing it. Try to identify what works best in your situation, and then do it. And incorporate a good hand sanitizer, too.

Now on to the equipment...

Disinfect your equipment like you mean it. LIKE-YOURNEXT- RACE-DEPENDS-ON-IT. Because it certainly could.

How do you disinfect equipment?

A critical component of sane disinfecting is bleach-a diluted solution. Bleach is simple-made from common salt, water and sodium chloride. Bleach is safe when used as directed. And bleach is cheap. Mike has been espousing the power of bleach and disinfecting since the 1990's because he has had too many experiences as a coach and rower of illnesses being "passed around."

Think of it like this, now it's time to go BIG with bleach.

Here are a few tricks to using bleach the right way:

  • Use a fresh bottle, bleach can lose effectiveness over time (loses about 20% per year.)

  • Mix a solution of 1:9 ratio (1 part bleach to 9 parts water). Mix it fresh each day.

  • Make a slightly stronger solution if your mixture will sit around for a few days.

Clean it! Disinfect your equipment like you mean it.

Where to disinfect?

There are 8 main areas to focus on for disinfecting rowing equipment:

Action 2: Disinfect oar handles. Oar handles are the most common piece of "shared equipment." Disinfect with a fresh bleach dip AFTER each row.

Concept2 recommends using a bleach solution of 1 cup/5 gallons of water. Mix it up, dip the handles, rinse, let air dry. Make sure you get the entire handle.

Greg Doyle, of Croker Oars USA, has a recommendation- dunk before AND after rowing. According to Greg:

"For all our grips-foam, timber, or rubber-the post-row dip in 10% bleach solution then rinse clean is ideal to disinfect. But take it up a notch, work with handles that are already clean to start. It would be a good idea to dip and rinse prior to rowing just to be sure someone did not forget after the prior row. Rowers can live with wet handles. It's kind of our thing."

Action 3: Boat surfaces. Any surface that a rower will touch-seat top, gunwale, oarlock, non-removable shoes- wipe down with disinfecting wipes, or spray with your bleach mix.

Action 4: Indoor rower handles. Follow the previous oar handle recommendations but keep in mind that dipping will probably be awkward. So use a spray bottle of fresh bleach solution-and treat the handles before AND after use. But don't use bleach on the seat rail (it will stain it). According to Concept2 use a cloth or soft scrub pad for that.

Action 5: Seat tops. See "boat surfaces" above.

Action 6: Quick release rowing shoes. If you have quick release footwear, like Shimano Rowing Dynamics, then remove and clean them.

According to John Geary, business manager for Shimano:

"The crews that use Shimano typically clean and sanitize their shoes by soaking them for a few hours in a five gallon bucket with soapy water (take the insoles out first) and then let them air dry overnight outside in cool dry temps. Or inside in front of a fan. The insoles can go in the dishwasher or regular washing machine. It's the best way to clean/disinfect them without taking the cleats off."

For other shoes, try spraying with bleach solution or another known disinfecting product before and after each row.

Action 7: Microphones. Here is our suggestion-give each coxswain their own microphone. Just bite the bullet and do it. And do that from now on. The cost is well worth it. But if the mics have to be shared, then pay attention to this tip from Joe Racosky at Nielsen-Kellerman (makers of the N-K Cox Box):

"Purchase a set of 'finger cots' to put on the end of the microphone. These are not hard to find at pharmacies. The finger cot should not affect the overall sound amplification and can be removed after use and then a new one reapplied for the next user."

Action 8: Electronics surfaces (but not microphones). Use the bleach spray at 10% strength.

Action 9: Tools and weights. Bleach will work here, however, bleach shouldn't be applied to copper or stainless steel because it can react with those metals and leave behind stains and even corrosion. If you are unsure and have any questions about disinfecting effectively, contact the equipment manufacturer.

Chapter One Takeaway:

Viruses and other germs can hang out in any area. Luckily you can reduce the possibility of cross-contamination with a proactive, effective and sane plan. You don't need to be fancy, go expensive, or be invasive to sanely disinfect.

Using these recommendations you can help rowers, coxswains, and coaches stay safer. All year long. Every year.

This is the first chapter of the new book, Water Ready. How to maximize off-the-water time to get the most from your on-the-water time. More than 100 important steps to care for boats, launches, trailers, boathouse, and more. And checklists on critical care - launch, erg, boat, boathouse, tools.

During these unprecendented times, row2k is working hard to keep rowing coming to you; please help us keeping it coming by supporting our work!


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