As I write this it's been a year since the coronavirus upended our lives, in ways big and small. I doubt many of us expected to still be dealing with all the different ways our lives have changed; and for this group, how our rowing lives have changed. Last spring, as lockdowns continued and it became obvious that team boat rowing wouldn't be happening anytime soon, there was a rush on singles; the desire to get out on the water overcame many sweep rowers dislike of sculling and/or team boat rowers dislike of the single.
Fortunately most of these newcomers made their way into their singles during the warmer months when flipping wasn't such a dangerous proposition. Now though, we're back to early spring, and despite the cold temperatures, we're all tired of the erg and will do just about anything to get back on the water. For the many of you who are new to the single, please take some time to think safety.
If you've never flipped, now is not a great time to make yourself go over just to see if you can get back in so at least review videos of how to do it. While you watch the video, try to imagine yourself going through the motions.
Would you be able to do it? Do you have the strength to heft yourself out of the water onto the boat? Can you go through the steps to get back in the boat without the video playing? I tell people that if they can get out of a pool without jumping off the bottom or using a ladder, they'll likely be able to get back in the boat.
For an epic example, see this flip sequence: Photo Sequence: Instant Legends - WIRA Flip.
Most clubs have pretty strict rules about what size boats can go out in what temperatures but you might have fewer restrictions if you own your own boat. Still, that doesn't mean you should be stupid. If you don't have a launch out with you, at least find a buddy to row with. You can be the best sculler in the world and still end up flipping.
Have a plan for what you will do if you flip. Stay close to the shore so if you do go in and can't get back in the boat, you won't have to go far with the boat to swim to shore. It should go without saying that you never leave the boat; the boat will float so even if you can't get all the way back in, you can flop your body on top of it or shimmy up the boat from the bow and get your core out of the water.
If you take any valuables out in the boat – your car keys, phone, wallet – make sure they are attached to the boat. If you go over, the last thing you want to do is be worrying about those possessions, when you should be worrying about getting yourself out of the water.
People think it's the cold water that will kill them, but it's also the shock, which can lead to panic and rash decisions, that kills. After all, many people voluntarily take part in "polar plunges". The difference is they're expecting to go in, they're prepared so if you do find yourself in the water, take a couple of deep breaths to orient yourself, calm down, think what to do, and then act on it. A buddy can be a big help if you start to panic or start doing something stupid, like swimming to the far shore instead of the much nearer shore behind you.
Always, always double check that you have properly closed your oarlocks. It is very easy, especially on the dock side oarlock, to lift up as you screw in the keeper and it doesn't quite set. It feels tight, you think you're good and in the middle of the row, it pops open.
If you do scull alone, let someone know you're going out, which direction you're headed and when you'll be back. Wear a life vest. Not the big bulky ones you'll find in a coach's launch but a vest that will inflate with a CO2 cartridge, something that you can actually row in but that can save you if you end up in the water. You should carry a whistle with you to alert others to your predicament. Wear visible colors, especially a hat as that might be all someone can see if you're no longer in the boat. Bring your phone in a waterproof bag attached to the boat.
Have fun but be smart and stay safe!