top of page


Updated: Jan 30, 2023

The possibility of swamping a shell, especially a four or an eight, in cold rough water is about the most dangerous thing about rowing in Port Townsend. It’s easy to swamp a boat. The wind can pick up in minutes leading to choppy water. A boat wake taken the wrong way can fill a boat. Just pushing the limits too far and rowing in rough weather can lead to the boat taking on water. And, of course, you could hit something.

Swamping a shell can – and probably usually – results in the shell breaking in half since the flotation is in both ends with a thousand pounds of rowers and another thousand pounds of water in the middle. If the boat begins to take on water and you can’t bail fast enough to control it, get the rowers out of the middle of the shell and into the launch as quickly as possible. Without a launch, if you have to self-rescue, it might still be a good idea to get the middle four rowers out of the boat with life vests, floating on oars or up on the bow and stern decks – as long as they don’t break the decking so that the floatation is compramised. The bow and stern pairs may still be able to row the swamped boat to shore. If the middle rowers don’t get out of the boat, it will probably break in half which will make it more difficult to self-rescue.

So, with this in mind, don’t take fours or eights far from shore without a safety launch. Always take a bailer and a sponge, take wakes parallel to the wake, have a whistle, phone or radio and stay close to shore or the safety launch in rough weather.

The Helen as she buckled and went under – note the stern rising out of the water. About as ugly as it gets. To the right you can see the bow jutting above the water – the shell is broken cleanly in two. Tyee photos.

What to do in case of swamping

a. Coxswain directs rowers to untie, and by seat number rowers should carefully, but quickly, slip overboard.

b. If the boat is taking on excessive water, signal the launch and unload rowers by pairs – starting in the middle of the boat – as soon as possible in order to avoid damage to the boat. Pairs should form “buddies” and keep watch of each other. The cox should buddy with the stern pair.

c. If rescue is not imminent, take the following steps:

1) Remove oars and place them parallel to the shell. All persons should move to the two ends of the shell. It is dangerous to roll a shell when near riggers.

2) Then roll the boat to form a more stable flotation platform so rowers can either lie on top of the hull or buddies can hold onto each other across the hull.

3) Remember that body heat loss occurs 25 times faster in the water. Do not attempt to roll the boat if rescue is on the way.


Recent Posts

See All


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page