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How To: Deal with an Incident

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The Isis is a busy place - minor scrapes and bumps often occur. However, sometimes more serious collisions happen. As a matter of consideration and responsibility for your crew, your friends, or strangers in other boats, you should know what to do in case the worst does happen.

Disclaimer: The information and steps below are advisory and in very general terms. In a real-life situation there is no substitute for being at the scene and in the position of the parties. It is the aim of OURCs to provide the information below as things to consider and possible courses of action for each of the parties. It is by no means a comprehensive list of possible courses of action, and contrary action may be required in extreme or improbable circumstances.

Key Points

  • Avoidance. Make sure all parties are aware of the danger.
  • Momentum hurts. If a collision is likely, reduce your speed.
  • Remain in control of your crew - if you panic, so will they.
  • Check your crew are unhurt. If you need to summon help, know how to do this as fast as possible.
  • Know where to land.
  • Afterwards, file an incident report.


Imminent Glancing Blow

In the case that two crews are at risk of clashing blades:

  • Shout "HEAD EIGHT" (short for 'ahead') to attract the other crew's attention.
  • Get one side of your crew to hold it up ("bow side hold it HARD"), such that you swing away from their blades. Get them to lean towards that same side.
  • If this still doesn't avoid a collision, get the not-held-up side to draw their blades in, and keep leaning in order that you don't capsize.
  • If there is blade-on-blade clashing, check that none of your crew are injured, concussed, or have been catapulted out of the boat. If someone has been injured, you need to take action.
  • If a collision did occur, file an incident report.

Imminent Head-On Collision

If two crews are at risk of shell-on-blade or shell-on-shell collision:

  • Shout "HEAD EIGHT" (or 'four' etc.) to attract the other crew's attention.
  • Get all eight rowers to hold it up (yelling "HOLD IT HARD"). If your crew is at, or slows to a standstill, get as many people (preferably all eight) to back it down as fast as possible. The smaller the speed differential, the less severe the crash. Backing it down might be the difference between a bent rigger and a shattered canvas.
  • If a collision is imminent, get the appropriate rowers to draw their blades in all the way, so the other crew does not get whacked in the back. Lie down if at all possible (including you the coxswain if there's a blade coming your way.)
  • If there is a collision, check that people in both crews are okay. Injuries to the head, neck and back are all possible. If someone is injured, take action.
  • If the two boats have become entangled, try and separate them. If they cannot be easily separated, you will need to head to the nearest pontoon:
    • Get your coach to seek a throwline.
    • Around the entanglement zone, get both crews to hold on to each other's oars, to minimise the stresses on the boats.
    • Arrange a suitable rowing arrangement with both crews to make the best safe progress to the next pontoon.
    • Don't forget to scratch on if you need to move perpendicular to your boats.
  • Afterwards, even if it was just a near-miss, file an incident report.

In the Case of Capsize

More information can be found at RowSafe 1.8 and 1.9

Please be concerned with:

  • Cold shock
  • Dry drowning
  • Hypothermia
  • Post-rescue collapse
  • Swim failure

 If there are people in the water and/or your boat capsizes, it is essential that the priority for all is to safely remove themselves from the water. Heat loss from being ín the water represents a significant risk. This might include the following:

  • Try to have someone take charge. This will normally be the cox, but if he/she lacks experience or it is more appropriate, then an experienced crew member should take charge. Bankriders may also be of assistance but remember that their view is restricted.
  • Take a good look around and assess the situation. There may be other crews or craft around that need to be avoided. In some situations this can involve the need to swim or dive underneath approaching craft. Signalling all crews that there are people in the water by waving your arms is recommended. Motorcraft in particular will need to cut there engines and may not be able to manouevre or halt with any speed and so alerting them to the danger early can make a big difference. If you are safely above water, please check to see if any crew members require assistance. All craft should have working heel restraints but it is still possible that crew members may become tangled in the boat and require assistance to get them free.
  • Please make sure that all crew members are accounted for, floating, and not in any danger of drowning. Injury, inappropriate clothing and the cold water can make swimming difficult or impossible - so your fellow crew members may require your assistance to get them in a position where they may safely float.
  • Stay with the boat. The boat should float if upturned or swamped and provide a usuable life raft. Otherwise, an oar may be used (not if it is snapped). People may wish to clamber on to the top of the boat so that they are out of the cold water and so reduce their heat loss.  If you do remain immersed, try to keep your limbs tucked into your body to reduce heat loss.
  • Boats may be turned over. This is easiest with smaller boats but it also acheivable with full 8+s with the crew's collaboration. This is normally achieved by standing on a rigger while reaching across the boat to pull the other side over. The boat is much easier to swim with once correctly oriented but note it then maybe harder to get people onto it and out of the water. Do not waste energy doing this if it would be to the detriment of those in the water. Be especially aware blades hitting your head if you do attempt it.
  • Rescue may be achieved using the assistance of any of the following; it is a judgment call depending on any injuries and the state of the boat:
    • Powered craft,
    • Throwline from the bank,
    • Swimming the boat using it as a floatation device to shore in an appropriate place, or
    • Re-entering the boat. Be mindful that the shell may now be swamped and without water removal will not be usuable with persons in it. Crew members should be aware of using riggers to tie throwlines to. Crew re-entry in an 8+ is significantly harder than in smaller boats. Using the bow and stern canvas, where it is lower to the water is recommended in any such attempt.
  • With regards to landing:
    • The easiest place to leave the Isis and re-enter the boat is on Christ Church meadow, where the bank is sloped and very shallow.
    • Rafts, while appealing, may not always be easy to exit the water from as they require lifting your entire body weight and the weight of the water absorbed by your clothing using your arms.
    • Ladders are present at the mooring post downstream of Longbridges boathouse and under the lower bridge.
  • Coaches should never leave their crew and remain on the waters edge while seeking further assistance.
  • When leaving the water immediately concern yourself with ensuring that all persons get warm and dry as quickly as possible. Spare clothing should be distributed to ensure that noone remains wearing wet clothing and everyone is in a warm environment. People may need to be monitored for a period after rescue.

If Someone is Thrown Overboard

Please see the comments above about assessing the situation and the dangers of being in cold water. It may be possible to have them re-enter the boat while the remaining crew keep the boat balanced. Please do not risk capsizing to do this and so this should not be attempted with a novice crew. The thrown member should still stay with the boat and use it as a life raft unless injury dictates otherwise. 


On the Isis and all of the Thames we have the additional danger of weirs. These are designed to regulate water flow and level and are operated by the Environment Agency. However, they represent a serious hazard. People might find it useful to visit them at one of the locks or weirs to understand the dangers and huge forces involved. Weirs are to be avoided completely when in the water. Iffley Lock includes a paddle & rymer, 6 small buck sluices, a larger sluice in the old lock, the current lock and boat rollers. Should one be faced with being drawn downstream towards them, the rollers are the safest (first on the right) place to exit the water. There are also steps near the lock and in the boat moorings. There are also a further 5 small buck gates are on the stream under longbridges that connects to the Hinksey Stream. These can generate a noticeable draw under the two bridges. 

If Someone is Injured

You should be aware of your club's emergency plans and procedures. If you need to call an ambulance, you should weigh up where you need to land - the CORC landing stage or Falcon is much easier to reach for a vehicle, but failing this Christ Church meadows also have vehicular access. Longbridges and the County towpath between Longbridges boathouse and Donnington Bridge has vehicular access with the appropriate key. During OURCs events, this key will be available at race desk. If the casualty is likely to have neck or back injuries, take extra care if they need to be moved.

More information can be found in Rowsafe 5.2.