The following notes are intended to assist Club members in ensuring their own safety whilst at sea and should be read in conjunction with the Club’s rules which include specific reference to boat design and safety features as well as compulsory safety equipment.
Safety Equipment Checklist
It is equally if not more important to carry all such equipment when out training as, unlike Club races, there is unlikely to be other rowing boats or official guard boats in the area. You should always ensure that your lifejacket is approved to British Standards, is in good condition and of a suitable size for you. Jackets with inflatable canisters should be regularly checked so as to ensure that the canister is in good working order. If in doubt, replace it. A new canister only costs a few pounds! Also check that your flares are in date, that batteries in your torch are properly charged and that your compass is functioning correctly.
All boats should be self-draining or carry a pump(s) of sufficient capacity to ensure that excess water can be dispelled. Always check that batteries are properly charged and that the contacts are working before you leave the shore.
In addition to the obvious safety benefits, it is always good practice to train with the equipment that you’ll be expected to use in the Club races. Apart from this, the Harbourmaster will not look kindly on anyone needing rescue that does not have the full itinerary of safety equipment with them. The reputation of the Rowing Club is at stake as well as yours!
Don’t put safety equipment into compartments where it cannot be reached. Keep your lifejackets close by and always ensure that the remainder of the safety equipment can be reached quickly in case of capsizing or hitting a rock. It is Club policy that all safety equipment should be kept in a sealed container attached to the boat by lanyard.
Mobile phones may be used as an additional means of summonsing assistance but must NEVER be used in place of your compulsory safety equipment. St Peter Port’s Harbour Radio can be located on Channel 16 and the Guernsey Rowing Club uses Radio Channel 6 as its race communication channel.
A complete list of safety equipment to be carried during all Club races is attached.
In addition to ensuring that you have all the necessary safety equipment on board, it is also sensible to carry out the following tasks before entering the water:
Advise someone on shore where you have gone and what your expected return time is.
Allow plenty of time to carry out your row and ensure that you return before nightfall.
Wear suitable clothing (including cap and sun lotion in the summer) and make sure that you have drunk sufficient fluids. It is always wise to take further supplies with you.
Check the boat to ensue that it is seaworthy and ensure that all equipment such as oars and gates are functioning correctly.
Always check the weather forecast before you go to sea. Reliable forecasts are available online from Windguru and the Jersey Met amongst others. Generally any weather up to force 3 in which will be okay to row. Force 4 can be safe but may be unpleasant, depending on the prevailing direction of the wind. Conditions on the East Coast of Guernsey are generally much calmer if the wind is between Southwest and Northwest. Easterly winds make the harbours unpleasant, especially on the slipway at high tide. Please note that wind speed and direction can alter dramatically in squally conditions
Never put to sea in poor visibility or if coastal or sea fog is forecast.
In general it is better to row into the tide on your outward journey and come back with it. If anything breaks or you become tired then the tide will bring you home. An exception would be if a strong wind were blowing against the flow of tide that could create rough conditions. In these circumstances it may be easier to row wind against the tide on the way back.
In general the tide flows North outside of St Sampson’s and St Peter Port harbours from half tide up to half tide down with the strongest tide at high water. From half tide down to half tide up the flow is to the South and strongest at low water. Slack tide is at half tide up and half tide down and lasts longer on neap tides. It will generally be calmer at slack tide. The exception to the aforementioned analysis of tidal flow is in a half-mile wide coastal strip from St Peter Port Southwards past St Martin’s Point and all the way to Pleinmont. Here there is a slack tide around high and low water with the tide going to the South from high water to low water and then North when the tide is rising.
Herm is out of bounds for Club boats and all boats should avoid crossing to Herm near to high or low water on spring tides. At those times the tide can be quicker than you can row and the Little Russell can get rough in places at certain states of the tide.
It is usually safer to row in the stretch of water between St Sampson’s and St Peter Port Harbour (Belle Greve Bay) as the tides inside the bay are not so strong. Most of the rocks there are well marked but be very careful around Vivyan (the black and white beacon at the Southern end of the reclamation wall). When the tide is running strongly you can often see where submerged rocks are by patches of turbulent water.
For a more detailed analysis of local tidal flows, it is advisable to purchase a tidal atlas from a local chandler.
Always be aware of where you are rowing, particularly as the wind and tide can affect your intended course. Look out for potential obstacles, including other craft, rocks (submerged or otherwise), beacons, marker buoys and pot bobbers.
RULES OF THE SEA
Continental rules apply at sea and you should pass to the right of oncoming boats (port to port). There are a number of other rules for collision avoidance but the main thing to remember is that a rowing boat will come second in a collision with just about any other craft and it’s best to stop if in doubt. In theory all powered and faster boats should give way to you but don’t assume that they will do so, and always give way for ferries. The majority of larger boats do not realise the wash they cause and pass too close. Turn directly into the wash if necessary to avoid being turned over. The best policy is to avoid busy areas such as the route to Herm, outside St Peter Port Harbour where it gets particularly choppy even on the calmest day, and any yacht or dinghy race that may be in progress.
Take extra care when crossing the harbour mouths and wait for any large boats to leave or enter. The red lights at the harbour mouths indicate that shipping is moving and that you should wait for them to clear before entering or exiting the harbour. When entering or leaving the harbours stay on the Southern sides so that if the lights do come on, you are well out of the way.
LAUNCHING & TRAILERS
Always ensure that conditions are safe to launch. Sudden backwash from harbour walls (in particular take care with the Havelet Bay slipway) or wake from passing boats can cause water levels to rise sharply and could cause you to lose your footing or result in you losing control of your craft. Beware of other port users, particularly divers, swimmers and other small boat users and ensure that you keep a safe distance from them wherever practicable. Give an audible warning if you consider that contact is inevitable.
If your trailer does not need to be returned to the clubhouse or designated boat-park while you are at sea then make sure that it is left to the side of the slipway or launch area so as not to impede access for other port users. Check the tides before leaving to ensure that trailers are left sufficiently high up the beach or slipway on a rising tide. This may sound obvious but crews are often caught out, especially on a spring tide. When approaching a slipway/launching area, the person in the bow should remove their oars from the gates and bring them into the boat out of the way beforehand whilst the person in the stern carefully guides the boat in. This allows the person in the bow to get ashore and manoeuvre the boat safely.
There are several simple precautions that can be taken to help avoid the threat of capsize/swamping. It is imperative that you are always aware of what is going on around you, particularly as regards tidal and weather conditions. Always keep an eye out for rough patches of water and the wake of other craft (many of which you might not be able to see but whose wake could lead to capsize/swamping if caught unaware). If you are at all concerned about the size of an oncoming wave or surge of water turn your vessel into its path in order to meet it head on, thereby avoiding swamping over the side of your craft.
The event of capsize/swamping is, not surprisingly, a most unpleasant experience and is often unexpected. If you are unfortunate enough to experience such an eventuality, immediately check that all crewmembers are safe and stay with the boat. The cox should check for the safety gear. Try to right the boat and empty it as much as you can before attempting to get back in. If you cannot do this then quickly then all crewmembers should put on their lifejackets. If the boat is holed or you right it then flares should be fired. Use them one at a time. Do not set them off all at once. Always stay with the boat and do not attempt to swim ashore unless you are absolutely certain that you can make it, remembering that it is always much further than it looks. Never attempt to swim into the tide or try to go across it.
It is very difficult for a rescuer to spot a single person in the water but a boat and crew together will be found. Air Search now use thermal imaging equipment which can find you in the dark but will work better if you are all together. If you hit rocks stay with the boat as long as possible as the boat will usually come off with rocking and wave action.