NYC Rowing Accident

Wow, did you read about this? What a tragedy. Here is a guy living our dream life of rowing/paddling every morning before work, only to have it swept away by some moron in a power boat. This could happen to any of us on any waterway. Other than wearing bright PFDs, reflectors, and lights, what’s a righteous paddler to do?

Well, I would have said don’t be out there before dawn. But according to the story this is a fairly common activity out there that early in the morning. I’m sort of surprised this hasn’t happened more often I guess. Maybe it does but this one was just more newsworthy for some reason.

Perhaps some extra lights around the boat would help, story said they just had one at the bow.


Why are rowers “accustomed to rowing without a life preserver”?

Just a question, not passing judgement (yet). Is it because the PFD makes it too hot?

too hot plus it chafes them
Kayak, canoe, and surfski racers also typically do not wear PFDs as well when racing/training.

I’ve been wondering and asking
about this for years. Here in Cambridge, the crew teams stay on the water until it freezes–wearing nothing but spandex. One year I saw a capsize. The coach was in the boat and the support boat had no life preservers. Fortunately, they were in only 4 feet of water, 10 feet from shore. Some homeless people donated blankets, and ambulances took away at least two of the kids. I’m just holding my breath every year waiting for a more serious incident. It feels so strange when I’m out in a drysuit and neoprene hood and gloves, and they’re dressed for the gym, not the water.



– Last Updated: Oct-25-05 10:23 AM EST –

Watching racing sculls go up and down the Hudson is exciting . It looks really far out yet
they can sneak up on you with there low profile and fast pace .Ive been in a kayak when
co-ed teams from West Point flew past . Ive also filmed them rowing through the
morning mist not far from where the accident occurred .A boat going at a good speed early
in the morning might have a hard time seeing a rowing shell .Its a tragedy and I hope
something can be done to stop it from occurring again . John

Look both ways
when crossing the street?

It happens. It’s tragic. There will always be the drunk driver putting on his makup while talking on the cellphone.

or sober boat operators
Or sober boat operators running too briskly in the dark. I get bass fishermen running wide open on our lake in the dark. Hard to see much in the dark at 50-60mph.

Late sunrise
The sunrise is late this time of year. If you want to train before work you have to be out in the dark. A light on the stearn visible from 360 might have helped. The crew boats that I share a lake with have a single light on the bow. Then again, in urban area, running lights and anchor lights on small vessels tend to disappear in the mass of lights. I remember trying to navigate the James River in an industrial area (Hopewell) at night and having a supremely difficult time seeing the lights of channel markers and other small vessels.

I paddle in the dark almost every morning and use a red LED headlamp. If a boat overtakes from directly behind I have to turn in order to make my light visible. In order to mitigate that problem I try to train in NO WAKE zones where I outpace all motorized traffic. Every now and then some old Florida Cracker Redneck Jerk blows through the zone because 40 years ago he could go as fast as he wanted when and where he wanted. Hopefully I’ll always hear them coming and be able to get out of the way.

balancing act
Can’t train hard in survival gear. Can’t win without training hard and often. Can’t win if dead. Better stay in the boat. Novices probably shouldn’t be on the water in cold conditions. Experienced paddlers are taking a risk but based on the low death rate among experienced and elite paddlers/rowers I don’t think the risk is too high. When USACK had spots at the OTC in Lake Placid the kayakers used to train in the spring with “ice bergs” in Mirror Lake. I’d have probably had on my dry jacket and maybe neoprene pants in such conditions but I wouldn’t have had adequate insulation underneath for any prolonged immersion.

This AM it was 48F at my house with a 15mph north wind. I wore shorts, an IR synthetic long sleeved top and a spray deck on my k1. Didn’t even use pogies. I had steam coming off of me and I didn’t even do an intense session. I just did 12km at a brisk steady pace. It was darn cold though at the end of the workout when I had to unzip that spray deck and expose my bare sweaty legs to the dry cool air. Better not fall out.

paddling at dark —
paddling in the dark or dusk renders you essentially invisible. paddling in the dark or dusk without PFD and lights? well, there you are then.

Too much emphasis on the PFD
I just read the article - three of the rowers swam away and were rescued, the one who was missing was likely sitting where the boat hit them. It is unlikely that a PFD would have altered the outcome - in a contest between motor boat under any kind of power v. individual body, the the human will usually lose.

As to lights etc - perhaps running lights on the scull would have helped. But as above a lot of kayaking outfitting just plain doesn’t work for that, and they were in a spot where there are commonly sculls on the water. We have sculls on the Hudson here many nights, near Albany, as well as three boathouses near each other over on the Mohawk near Schenectady. As well as commercial traffic.

If I managed to run into one of these in a motor boat, especially if I was a local boater, it should first indicate that I was not attentive to my environment.

I kept saying that in the lighting thread. Million power spotlight, inconvenient and bulky, is the best thing to get noticed on the water in the dark. And keeping your eyes open and surveying area, not conducive to scull. Ct. law requires p.f.d. to be worn during colder months. Not meaning to stereotype, but the powerboat was a sensible design, not the cigarette or testosterone fueled style. It is very hard to see paddlecraft in the dark.

Wide circle

– Last Updated: Oct-25-05 5:34 PM EST –

The story said they were turning a wide circle to go back the other way, which probably put them out some distance from shore. The boat was not from the local area either, it was in transit from up the Hudson over to Connecticut, so may not have considered the possibility of rowing shells in the dark being around that area.

The Harlem River is pretty narrow in that area, appears to vary from 300-500 feet wide roughly. So their circle could have put them easily out in the middle.

I dunno, but I'm sort of thinking the rowers were just a little bit out on a limb here, but of course we don't know all the details yet.


We scullers are always ready to see the
power boaters go straight to hell. Think about it. What behavior in planing powerboats is not completely stupid, and often dangerous?

I used to have to get up at 5 AM to row in the Charles because later in the day, the powerboaters were totally heedless.

It does not matter
if it is heedless, stupid, or in my opinion, selfish behavior for the most part. The fact remains if you are out in a vessel that sits a foot off the water, don’t expect anyone to see you. Plan accordingly. A little nav. light will most likely not be seen. In my opinion, anyone out in a scull, dinghy, rowboat or whatever must be prepared to blow a horn, shine a spotlight, wear a lifejacket, fire a flare or whatever it takes to not be run over. This did not appear to be a “scull only” zone, no wake zone, steerageway only zone. The powerboater was not drunk. If you have a moped, go on the interstate, swear at the truckers for being idiots, you will still be dead.

funny how some rowers …
talk about how they hate powerboats, yet a lot of the rowing teams practicing have a motorboat with them, which can be annoying for canoers and kayakers.

A bit of understanding by all could start with the segment on responsibiliy in COLREGS. Everyone must take in account the limitations of other vessels…

Rowing tradition nationally has always seen rowers put in before dawn. For the motorboat involved, I imagine he could only be exonerated if he had just come into the area for the first time. Otherwise, he should know about the existence of rowers on the water at that time, and, quoting COLREGS again, kept a proper lookout. The shell apparently had a light on it, but it is not about being lit like a christmas tree, it is about knowing that shells, being low to the water, and being likely to be there, he is required to look for them and to operate accordingly.

Same for paddlers. I frequently paddle before dawn in a K-1, and choose not to use a light (other than the required “bright light to be turned on as necessary”). K-1’s are also a rarity on my river, so I simply navigate in such a way that I keep a proper look out for the vessels that wouldn’t be expecting me anyway, for example where it is too shallow for motor craft (and the many rowers!). It seems too common for river users to think they just have to put a lot of lights on, and then it is just up to the other boaters to keep out of their way.

As for pfd’s, CFR175.17 exempts “rowing shells, and racing canoes and kayaks” from carrying a pfd. Quite frankly, for those who complain that the rowers should have had them, my response would be, obviously you have never rowed. You cannot row properly and wear a pfd. And carrying them in the boat doesn’t work, 1) no room, 2) c’mon, ever tried to put on a pfd once you were in the water? Learning to roll may be easier.

BTW, I have been informed that CFR 175.17 has been tested in court, and the term “racing” is a pronoun, not a verb.

One other thing- you can’t properly row, or paddle a K-1, in a drysuit. Movement limitations, for one reason, and overheating, even in cold temps, is the other.

Obviously there is should be an acceptance of risk that should be understood by rowers as far as hypothermia, but having coached rowing for 12 years (stopped 10yrs ago), I do not remember much about the subject from my coach training. It is an important subject taught to ICK coaches, however.


sums it up
this is a poem I heard when I started sailing 35 years ago"Here lies the body of Johnny O’Day

Who died Preserving His Right of Way.

He was Right, Dead Right, as he sailed along

But he’s just as dead as if he’d been wrong"

quoted by Eric Hiscock in “Cruising Under Sail”, Oxford University Press, 1st edn, 1950.

Just dumb !
Paddling and or rowing in restricted visibility on the Hudson is akin to riding a bicycle in the same conditions on the interstate, just dumb !