row2k Features
Coach Tricks
Rowing Hack: Carabiner Clipped Heels
May 5, 2022
John FX Flynn

Heel ties are not just for race day, even if that is the primary time folks remember to check them, and Dan Duxbury sent in a great hack for keeping heels tied all the time: Carabiner Clipped Heels.

We'll let Coach tell you about himself, but be advised that Duxbury is a bit of legend amongst the Rowing Hacks:

His last slick trick--The Finish Angle Decal Hack-- appears to have been adopted by Filippi as standard issue on their new shells. Having an idea you cooked up and hacked together picked up by the boatbuilders themselves? Yep, that makes you big-time in our book--and, if you need more proof, we even joked about how "maybe manufacturers will start offering it as an option" in the original column.

So, bonafides secured, let's let Coach Duxbury tell us about his next great idea:

"I’m here with another hack that I’m sure has been done out there one way or another. This time it’s heel ties. Safety is no joke and if you want to really impress the officials checking them dockside at your next regatta give this hack a try."

"Our program here at Kansas is beginning to phase in a quick release shoe system, which we love for a whole host of reasons, but the old-school method of using shoelaces or zip ties poses difficulties when you want to quickly remove shoes or swap them around. Some manufacturers have addressed this with various types of clips that work well but, if you are like us and need to retrofit your existing fleet, please read on."

"For the actual line materiel we chose to use 1.8mm guyline, the kind usually used for tents, which you can easily get on Amazon. It’s similar to paracord, but a lot thinner. Incredibly strong, ties easily, stays tied, does not stretch or shrink and it comes in a ton of cool colors. Plus, it’s pretty inexpensive: around eight bucks per 65 feet. We cut these lines into 1-foot sections, which allowed plenty of room for the knots needed at each end while still providing the appropriate length of heel travel."

"Next we purchased these anodized alloy mini keychain carabiners (1.3” in size). There are a lot of options available, even titanium for those programs that row on salt water."

"We used a hangman’s knot to attach the line to the carabiner and, for a really clean look, a monkey’s fist knot on the underside of the footboard. It took a couple rounds of trial and error to make a big enough knot to prevent the line from slipping through the hole in the footboard, but you could always use a hangman’s knot at each end if you wanted to. Now when we need to remove the shoes we simply disconnect two carabiners clips and pop the shoes out!"

Super simple, and it hacks up a solution to both keeping the heels secured and making it easy to swap shoes--or even just remove them to fix the footboard. We are guessing these are even popular with any athletes who might prefer to, ahem, loosen the heel ties...folks really shouldn't, of course, but heel ties never did untie themselves, did they?

Do you have a cooly hacked idea that makes things work better at your place? If so, share your tips--and hacks--in the comments below.

If you have a great rowing hack to suggest for future inclusion, then please send it to us, too, and we will feature your idea in a future column.

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Log in to comment
07/07/2023  7:26:18 AM
Hack update: LakeGator will be happy to know that we took their comments to heart and have changed to a Ti Stainless Steel clip that has a much higher strength rating. We also have changed the design to utilize a series of fisherman’s knots, which now affords a level of adjustability. We now need about thee feet of guyline per heel tie, but at $7.00 per 65 feet on Amazon it is still a really inexpensive safety/convenience upgrade. See the heel ties that are offered by Bont Racing if you’re looking for something pre-made.

05/06/2022  10:34:05 AM
As the articles says, safety is no joke. Heel ties are there to avoid having a rower trapped under a capsized boat, obviously. There are a few very sad examples where rowers died due to failures of the heel ties. I would worry that the carabiners might fail when most needed. The specifications for the carabiners referenced in the article have a maximum tensile strength of 33 pounds which is far lower than might be applied in an emergency. I would also worry that the spring holding the carabiner gate closed will get weaker over time which could result in the tie becoming disconnected. My experience is that heel ties are often ignored and ASSUMED to be in place until the annoying check at a regatta. I would suggest that moving to a stronger and more secure connector might be a good idea. Something like this would seem a better connector. 

05/06/2022  2:39:36 PM

Great comments - Thanks for adding the valuable input and links. I hope everyone takes note - dd

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