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Quad Flip-Lessons Learned

Updated: Jan 16, 2023

Marsha Wiener and Janet Palmer

Event Summary (Marsha) One Sunday morning several years ago, with ideal water conditions prevailing, sunshine in the mid-fifties and Mari Friend driving the launch, the Dosewallips, rowed by Heather J, Cotton B, MaryMel P and Robin S, capsized. Janet Palmer, RIRSC Safety Officer, convened a meeting of those five plus John Collins and Marsha Wiener on the following Monday evening for a debriefing and review session.

Stating that our Club policy of requiring launches to accompany rows is one of the best things that we do, Palmer asked those involved to state “what worked.” The rowers responded that everyone kept calm, there was no panic or drama, and there was excellent teamwork and communication. The rowers all looked to one person, Friend, for instructions. Cotton B was very conscious of the danger of hypothermia and the need to act quickly, thanks to information given at the safety meeting. The rowers all had positive attitudes and communicated with one another afterwards, learning from the errors made. The presence of Jeanne and Jim Costello, who had happened to be at the boat house at the start of the row and met the rowers and boat at the beach, was very comforting.

The incident was caused by all four rowers, two novices and two with limited sculling experience, performing a drill which consisted of sitting at the catch with oars squared and buried, a very unstable position. The boat rolled to starboard and turned completely over; three rowers were immediately free of the boat but Jones’s sandals became lodged in the foot stretcher and it took 5+ minutes for her to free her foot, with Banks’ assistance. Jones then climbed into the launch and called 911 by phone. Only Banks inflated her PFD. The other rowers stayed with the shell but didn’t attempt to re-enter it (it had been righted) but instead were towed to the shore by hanging onto the ropes on the sides of the inflatable launch. The rowers were probably in the water for 15 minutes before being met by the emergency responders waiting on shore near the Boat Haven. The rowers’ vital signs were taken; they were given blankets and warmers, taken into the warm van and soon released without further care needed. Friend then towed the shell back to the boat house.

Several problems were discussed, as follows

* A command to “Feather your blades!” might have prevented the accident.

* No ladder was used, making entering the launch impossible for all but Jones.

* A tow rope could have been thrown to the rowers.

* The inflatable launch was very cluttered and its contents unorganized, which made it difficult to find things.

* Although Friend had her cell phone with her, the launch should also carry a radio, which she didn’t take because she didn’t know how to use it. A brief class in use of the radio will be given soon.

* Appropriate footwear that doesn’t present a danger of the rower’s being unable to leave the boat should be worn (sandals aren’t a good idea.)

* PFDs carried in the launch could have been offered to the rowers for insulation and flotation.

* Foot stretcher tie-downs are very important and should be checked in all the boats and replaced if necessary (possibility of using “zip ties.”)

* A check list of steps needed in an emergency should be posted on the dry box of the launch. It should be very succinct and written in large font, with commands such as “Inflate PFDs,” “Ladder,” Call 911,” “Use radio,” “Blankets and Heat Pads.”

* A “man overboard” drill, including actually practicing rescuing rowers, using a ladder to enter the launch, etc., will be scheduled.

* The row began inauspiciously with the boat hitting the pilings; one experienced rower in the boat would have made a difference.

* Although this row became, in essence, a coached row, the general policy is that there should be at least one experienced rower, ideally two, in a boat with novices and/or rowers with little sculling experience

* The importance of attending the yearly mandatory safety class – and paying attention to what is taught there – can’t be stressed too heavily.

When asked by Palmer what they would like their next row to look like, all four rowers responded without hesitation that they were ready to row again, and their only fear was that others in the Club would be hesitant to row with them. Some have watched sculling instructional segments on YouTube, and Cheryl Goerger and the Club have good instructional sculling DVDs, which could perhaps be made available in the NWMC library. Friend has added a “Sculling Saturday,” during which experienced scullers are paired with newer scullers, to “Sculling Sunday” this week, giving new scullers more opportunities to increase their sculling skills.

Additional Comments (Janet):

* Towing rowers at the side of the launch could be very dangerous if any rower lost finger control and slipped off and came in contact with the engine propeller. As an alternative, the throw line could be tied into a loop around huddled swimmers wearing multiple PFDs and tow the group behind the launch. Other options could be lightest swimmer comes into the launch and two lift the next swimmer. Swimmers at boat can offer shoulders as foothold for someone climbing into boat. These options will be tested at an upcoming safety session.

* The shell apparently maintained its buoyancy and two rowers might be able to reach across holding wrists and get much of their bodies out of the water over the upturned hull. When righted, the shell had 5-6 inches of freeboard.

* The EMS fire boat was unavailable and not in the local area.

* Body temperatures were reportedly 96, 96, 97 and 92 (perhaps inaccurate – as care in the hospital would be indicated)

* In the heat of the moment, available resources were not used: PFDs, ladder indicating more training should be emphasized.

* The phone call to 911 is time consuming and occupied one person.

Finally, this group of women is very impressive; not only was the incident handled calmly and successfully, and one of the rowers said she enjoyed the whole thing!

Club members can expect to see:

– Rats overboard protocols

– Radio class

– Launch ladder practice

Are you still not wearing a Personal Floatation Device? Watch this fun video Cold Water Boot Camp from the Coast Guard


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