Safety Concern for Torpids - Red Board

PostSafety Concern for Torpids - Red Board
AuthorDavid Severson
david.severson@seh
Posted At13:45, 21st Feb 2014
195 weeks ago
Firstly, I apologize for my flippant and caustic tone - I'm just more than a bit concerned that running Torpids at red board is not safe. Personally, I want to race and our first eight is perfectly ready to handle a bumps race. However, water conditions are very fast and the EA, the entity responsible for advising safety on the river, does not even recommend motorized boats should be used in these conditions. And we will be in unmotorized boats being manipulated by 8 rowers, some of which have never even been in a boat. Granted the river may sufficiently decrease to move off of red board, in which case this post is irrelevant. But barring this drastic change in river conditions, the race should not move ahead. There is a reason most colleges have insurance plans that do no cover rowing under red flag. This is because a traumatic incident that could severely damage (even total) a boat is too likely to occur. And they would lose a lot of money.

Oh, and colleges do make sure your insurance will cover you under red board. I don't think you want to have to buy a whole new boat without the aid of insurance in the likely event you total it in such conditions. It's completely your call on whether or not to race without insurance, but I would think carefully about this. I've always been taught that safety in the outdoors is put at risk when poor internal decision making meets tough external conditions. I believe we are dangerously close to such an occurrence. Now, it is possible the event could run with no dramatic tragedies and disasters, but this is not the rational way to think about risk assessment.

To assume a bumps race on red board river with 12 boats can be controlled bankside is not only arrogant, but ignorant. And honestly, I think it is somewhat shameful coming from an organisation whose ultimate goal is safety. The assumption should be made that someone can, and will, get an ejector crab - they happen too often even in pristine conditions to assume this won't happen (not to mention the fact that many rowers in this race will have never been in a boat before). And yes, this novice eight situation will happen as no one has been able to train on the river, and you have provided the exact incentives to encourage boatclubs to put out poorly trained 8s so as not to lose their positions for second and third boats on the river.

And now a bit of flippancy - with the rational assumption that someone could fall out, we need to be confident that most average (given the pathetic nature of the swim test, perhaps we should say below average) swimmers can safely return to the boat in these conditions. With this in mind, perhaps a member of OURCs would like to demonstrate before putting on the race, that they can in fact fall out of a boat and safely return to it in these conditions. Of course, to ensure that this test simulates the real situation; they would need to attempt a 2k PB before jumping out. If the member does not subsequently drown in the Isis, then I might begin to consider his or her opinion about the feasibility of a race in these conditions. After all, you are willing to place my teammates and rivals in such a situation. Any volunteers from the committee?
 
PostRE: Safety Concern for Torpids - Red Board
AuthorMichael Pontikos
michael.pontikos@exeter
Posted At14:01, 21st Feb 2014
195 weeks ago
Yes.
 
PostRE: Safety Concern for Torpids - Red Board
AuthorJR
jonathan.ross@pmb
Posted At16:24, 21st Feb 2014
195 weeks ago
David,

I have my own concern with the current plans for Torpids, which I will highlight later and thank you for opening the discussion but many of your points are just wrong – your post is extremely arrogant – there are people making these decisions that have years of experience far beyond your five terms and indeed have had to deal with deaths resulting from rowing in the Oxford community – do not think that they take the risks to our lives without a great deal of caution.

Pembroke is insured for low red board as I expect are most other colleges and indeed every rowing club in the country. Up and down the Thames the river is still rowable by clubs, universities and schools on red boards – risk assessments are taken and carefully considered. For example at Radley we must always have a launch with us and stay well clear of the weirs (over 2k) and do so with an experienced crew and cox. 7 boats (as would be the case for half divisions) on a highly supervised stretch of river (2 launches, marshals everywhere, etc) I think is sufficiently safe. The Isis compared to many other stretches is also a fairly slow stream as it’s actually pretty wide.

My issue, which perhaps you have tried to articulate but not done very well, is with the plans for the lower divisions. Even if the river drops off Red Flag I think that they should be cancelled now – even at Pembroke (where our M2 competes with 1st VIIIs) we are on the verge of scratching all our lower boats – because they have not seen sufficient (any) water time and thus cannot be considered safe to race. It is quite clear now that this is not a situation that will change before Torpids. In Cambridge they have a 10 outing rule – the college captain must sign off on each of their crews having done at least 10 outings before a bumps event – I’m not advocating this as it is somewhat arbitrary – a Schools’ boat with a combined 20 years of bumps experience that first gets together for rowing on is going to be safer than a beer boat that did the mandatory 10 – but gives some idea of what perhaps is needed be considered in this instance. Can we trust every captain to make the right decision or does OURCs need to take that decision for them?

Mike – I think that you should dignify your response a little more – particularly as you leave some ambiguity as to whether you agree with David or are happy to partake in his 2k test/swim challenge.
 
PostRE: Safety Concern for Torpids - Red Board
AuthorJohn McManigle
john.mcmanigle@wolfson
Posted At16:45, 21st Feb 2014
195 weeks ago
[Note: I'm the OURCs webmaster, but have been out of the country for most of the past calendar year, and was not involved in Torpids decision making. So the following is in my personal capacity only.]

It seems your primary concern is that throwing novices onto a red-flag river would be a huge mistake. I'm pleased to say that, to the best of my ability to tell, OURCs agrees with you. Don't conflate "Torpids can go ahead on red flag" with "there will be racing as normal even if there's red flag." There are detailed risk assessments with various levels of contingency plans possible. The plans were laid out at the captain's meeting, but perhaps not with quite as much attention to the correlation with flag status as might have been ideal. While the SUs and the OURCs secretary make these decisions, dynamically, you can expect them to follow the published risk assessment here:
http://www.ourcs.org.uk/files/file/racing/t14/T14_AppB_RA.pdf

In short:
"low" blue flag would in all likelihood be raced as normal.
"high" blue flag would be no novice coxes and bung lines away from the weir used.
"low" amber flag would be an extra safety launch (to catch those inept swimmers that so concern you), and the lower divisions run as half-divisions (further from the weirs, more safety launches per racing crew).
"high" amber flag would be restricted to S coxes and S crews, with only top divisions run, and even those in half-divisions.
"low" red flag is the same.
"high" red flag would cancel racing entirely.

You can think of racing with restrictions one "half-flag" lower than training. This makes good sense given the relatively outrageous amount of support during racing -- marshals with radios, emergency vehicle access assured, rescuers on launches, etc. These contingency plans are also nothing new. While they are reviewed and approved every year, bumps races have been going on under this system for decades. We've been lucky to have a decent river in recent years, but look at the bumps charts for Torpids 2010, Torpids 2001, etc. and you might catch a whiff of curry. (That's in addition to Torpids 2000, 2002, and 2007, which were canceled.)

So much of what you've said is either right or nearly there. "To assume a bumps race on red board river with 12 boats can be controlled bankside is not only arrogant, but ignorant." OURCs agrees with you, which is why they reduce division sizes in high stream. "The assumption should be made that someone can, and will, get an ejector crab." OURCs agrees with you, which is why there is an immediate klaxon for anyone in the water (so it's only one ejector crab per race) and a following launch (to catch the poor soul before they get to the weir).

It's certainly a good point regarding insurance. I know that Wolfson had to double-check with its provider. The conclusion was that OURCs, not the EA, was the more competent authority in guiding the safety of collegiate rowing on the Isis. That makes sense: the EA is primarily concerned with larger powered vessels (which are much more affected by stream) and underpowered "unpowered" vessels (punts and paddleboats and the like). Certainly, in grey flag, a club should take EA warnings (and the status of the CORC flag) seriously when doing its own outing risk assessment, but when operational, the OURCs flag is narrowly tuned to the purpose and a long track record. If your insurance doesn't cover you, I suggest a) working with your college to get better insurance, and b) talking with OURCs about what exactly their event insurance covers, because I don't know.
 
PostRE: Safety Concern for Torpids - Red Board
AuthorDavid Severson
david.severson@seh
Posted At17:50, 21st Feb 2014
195 weeks ago
John,

I was flustered that there did not even seem to be a conversation happening, so I intentionally was a bit inflammatory to get individuals with more understanding and competency talking about it. I had a conversation with a captain (not one of ours), who felt the plans were unclear and felt they did not have a chance to discuss it at the Captain's meeting, and so I wanted to somehow give the powers that be a sense that some individuals (more informed and important than myself) were not pleased with the current plans, and more importantly felt they never had a chance to discuss or even fully understand it.

I agree that I do not have the experience or knowledge to make such a call. But my primary concerns are 1) insurance for boat clubs and 2) running of the lower divisions given the lack of water time. Both of these concerns are largely due to the fact that my understanding is OURCs has left both of these calls in the hands of the captains. And with what I understand to be a standing penalty on boats that scratch, I think there is an incentive for captains to make the wrong call. People at Oxford are extremely competitive, and many captains are second year undergrads. I believe as the information stands there is a high likelihood for poorly prepared boats to be put on the water during the races. I should add that personally, I would be quite happy to see Torpids go ahead with the elaborate contingency plans provided that unprepared crews were not on the river. But from my understanding of the situation now, I think the ground facts are many captains could make the wrong call. I'm glad to hear (and frankly not surprised) that Pembroke is thinking clearly and carefully about the situation. I appreciate the responses, and again apologize for coming off as arrogant, I just wanted some attention to the matter. And perhaps a bit of reassurance for myself.

P.S. I'm pretty sure he was saying yes to my challenge. Understandably, a flippant post merits an equivalently obnoxious response :).
 
PostRE: Safety Concern for Torpids - Red Board
AuthorDavid Severson
david.severson@seh
Posted At17:52, 21st Feb 2014
195 weeks ago
Ugh, confusing - my post was @Jon, not @John. Apologies
 
PostRE: Safety Concern for Torpids - Red Board
AuthorMichael Pontikos
michael.pontikos@exeter
Posted At19:26, 21st Feb 2014
195 weeks ago
Sorry for not replying earlier- actual non-rowing work got in the way. :) And I'm speaking personally, not in any official capacity, and with my knowledge of Torpids/Eights/Floods contingencies.

JR: Yes to the swim test/challenge. While my 2k PB leaves much to be desired, I know that if I capsized or had an ejector crab, at least two launches (three during high flag racing) would be in positions to rescue me before being swept into the weir, each with their first aider and associated safety equipment. The half-divisions make the crew:launch ratio better for the lower divisions, and for all divs if we have to run on Pfhal.

David: The notion that we "assume a bumps race on red board river with 12 boats can be controlled bankside is not only arrogant, but ignorant" is just plain wrong. Before we even approach a river, our event plan and risk assessment is reviewed and approved by people with more years experience than the years we have been alive combined. This system of checks-and-balances ensures that a rouge committee cannot decide to run Torpids while Oxford is three feet underwater. Closer to the event, we monitor weather and stream conditions to make predictions, all while the OURCs Secretary and RowSab are in near daily talks with the SUs and the university sports safety officer. We constantly assess conditions during racing, and if at any point we feel it is unsafe, we can halt racing or make adjustments to mitigate those risks. We decrease the number of boats in a division to seven to be able to have more launches per boat in case anything goes wrong. As I said above, on the water at least two launches, quite often three or four, are each ready to go should an incident occur anywhere on or along the river. As one of those launch drivers, I know that we have training above the required RYA L2 in how to specifically deal with incidents related to bumps racing. While racedesk, the SUs, and marshals are positioned 'bankside', there is a lot more going on, both before and during the event, to ensure that the maximal amount of safe racing can occur.

We spent a good 45 minutes discussing the Torpids contingencies during the Captains' meeting, during which many, many questions were asked and answered. If a captain did not understand something, they could have asked during that time, or even come by and speak to us after the meeting if they had a specific question.

Every outing, training or racing, has to have its own risk assessment, done by either the cox or coach/captain. There is nothing new there. If they feel that their crew, in those conditions, are not safe, then they have a responsibility to make the situation safe (e.g. not boating if stream is too fast ; coming in early if fog decreases visibility). This applies to our events as well.

If you read the relevant sections of the rules of racing, you'll note that the 'standing penalty' is waived if the SUs decide that the boat withdrew on safety grounds. Withdrawing a boat on non-safety grounds gives a 6 place drop for Torpids. However, the penalty for fielding an unsafe boat during Torpids is much more severe.

Regarding insurance, that is an issue that individual boat clubs have with their insurance provider (typically provided by the college), and they should check any details with them. If they have any questions regarding Torpids or its contingencies, Scott and Bernard will be more than happy to answer them. We all do this on our spare time (with the exception of Bernard, who also used to before being elected RowSab) and absolutely love rowing, but we know that safety comes first, and wouldn't run an event without mitigating the risks involved.

Personally, I'm looking forward to Torpids, but will not hesitate to speak up if things turn unsafe, and neither will anyone else on the committee.

The only question you asked in your entire post was for a volunteer, so I said 'Yes'.
Wednesday of 7th week sounds good, early morning before racing. With my (pre-Torpids) swim test, safety launches, medical cover, marshals, and blankets (http://www.ourcs.org.uk/files/file/racing/t14/T14_AppB_RA.pdf) all available to help me within seconds.

The canister in my lifejacket is near expiration, so I've been meaning to have a chance to use it before switching it out....
 
PostRE: Safety Concern for Torpids - Red Board
Authorstephen gaisford
stephen.gaisford@balliol
Posted At10:52, 22nd Feb 2014
195 weeks ago
also where will all the house boats & barges ect b going?
 
PostRE: Safety Concern for Torpids - Red Board
AuthorDavid Severson
david.severson@seh
Posted At18:00, 23rd Feb 2014
195 weeks ago
Hello All,

Thanks for the very informative replies, and especially the e-mail sent out to the captains the other day. They were extremely helpful. Perhaps, in the future it would be effective in these more intense river conditions to make it standard to send out an explanatory e-mail (similar to the one sent to the captains) that is meant to be forwarded to all participants.

Cheers,
David