Adding an Adaptive Event to a Regatta

11 Nov

How do I add Adaptive Events to our Regatta? Adaptive rowing is more and more popular with more races than ever. And just in the past month, I’ve spoken with Sudbury RC and Worcester RC who are looking to add adaptive events to their Head races (in the past, adaptive racing had been primarily a Regatta affair). So I have been fielding a number of questions for a while on just what one has to do to incorporate adaptive races into their event.

The key questions that tend to come up are the following:


Adding another event(s) to a race schedule is not particularly challenging (except for the issue of time and logistics constraints). The first issue people ask when adding adaptive events is “How do I ensure the disability needs are catered for?” Really, this boils down to two key questions…

  • Comfort‘Comfort’ is just a more colloquial term for Access. Frankly, adaptive athletes are considerably resilient and are used to managing less accessible situations. Adaptive rowers know that accessing the water can even be difficult for non-impaired rowers at times. Of course, if specialized ramping, supports (eg. handrails), firm ground and proximity (eg. disabled parking) can be arranged, then athletes absolutely appreciate the consideration and help. But if such aids are not feasible, it shouldn’t be a showstopper for offering adaptive events. The most straightforward accommodation for access is just a bit of a personal helping hand. Individuals who help carry equipment and support the athlete whilst maneuvering the access challenges overcomes the lion’s share of these issues.
  • Safety – People might think that access problems are a safety hazard if not addressed properly. Certainly they can be, but adaptive athletes are used to managing such hazards every day of their lives. If there are particular access shortcomings at the venue, then advertise those to the adaptive athletes and let the athletes make their own personal risk assessments. When it comes to ensuring safety with an adaptive event, the real issue is less about access and more about water safety. Every event sanctioned by British Rowing will have a safety plan, and most usually have a degree of safety launch cover. The two safety questions generally concern the following…
    • Capsize Assistance Speed – Fixed-seat rowers have more work to do to extract themselves from a boat in the event of a capsize. Not only are their feet secured to the boat (as with non-adaptive rowers), but also their body is secured to the boat (seat) with Velcro straps, as well (PR1 and PR2 classifications). Rowers in fixed-seat boats do have safety pontoons fitted onto their riggers, but these are no guarantee against capsizes. All rowers, including adaptives, will have undergone capsize drills and will know the actions needed to remove the straps and extract themselves, but any number of complications could make it more difficult. While the fixed-seat athletes are more at risk than sliding seat rowers who are not strapped to the boat, all adaptive athletes have a certain degree of added risk as their impairments might not only impede their rowing, but also might impede their ability to respond to a capsize as effectively as a non-adaptive rower. For this reason, it is best practice to alert safety boats when adaptive rowers are boating, so that the safety launches can be on closer guard and maintain closer distance to them in the event of a problem.
    • Manoeuvrability Limitations – In many cases, adaptive boats are not as maneuverable as conventional ones. Often they are wider and the presence of safety pontoons all reduce the speed and agility with which the vessel can be turned. Furthermore, the impairments of the athletes themselves can compound the reduced maneuverability for actions like proceeding to the start, crossing over the course or setting up for the start. As a result, best practice is to allow extra time and spacing for the boating and starting of adaptive races. Often, adaptive races are held at the end of divisions when no further boats are coming down the course and there is less time pressure to get the race going.

Here are a few added documents that can assist in your preparation for including adaptive events:


How do I get word out to the adaptive community?

  • BROE – List the events as “Open PR3 1x” and “Women’s PR3 1x” on BROE. PR3 has the highest numbers of athletes and (previously known as “LTA”) is a category the race organisers can currently select on BROE.
  • Poster – Add adaptive events to the race poster (with a note that specific events may change subject to entries received).
  • Facebook – Join the “Rowability UK” Facebook Group and post a notice there.
  • Adaptive Rowing UK – Let me know and I will add it to the list of Adaptive Events.



Due to the variety of impairments and smaller population of adaptive athletes, it is harder to pre-set certain race categories and later get the entrants to fill them. A better approach is to advertise relatively generic plans for adaptive racing, see which adaptive athletes register, and then craft the most appropriate racing categories around the entrants when setting up the draw.

In Marlow, we have the capacity to run races 3 abreast on our stretch of the river. We wait a couple of weeks and see who has registered interest in the event and then hand-craft match-ups. We will look at (a) para classification, and (b) gender. Going forward, I suspect that we will try to break out specific races for Juniors. We also look at registered athlete speed. The UK Adaptive community has a central database of adaptive athlete registered times both at timed official events and from training sessions reported by coaches. In this year’s Marlow Town Regatta, we had a couple Men’s LTA rowers who had about a 3:00 minute 500m and a few who were around 2:30 minutes. So we created an “OLTA 1x A” and “OLTA 1x B” race. We had no competition for the AS rower who registered, so we found a LTA athlete with very impaired legs and comparable boat speed. The match-up defied “official” categorization, so we just called it generically “Open Adaptive 1x”. The race organizers sort of “reserve” about 5-6 “race places” for us in the plans and then I just have to get them the specific line-ups when they do the final draw.



One option to enhance adaptive competition is using the Adaptive Time Handicap System. Like the system of Vets time handicapping, this system sets the competitors off from the start at varying times based on the competitor’s “handicap”…as in golf “handicap”, not physical “handicap” (in Head races, the time differentials are applied to the recorded times at the end of the racing). Actually, the adaptive system is much more like a golf handicap in that each athlete carries their own personal handicap that changes over time, based on their recorded performance (as opposed to Vets handicapping, which is a set number of seconds applied for each age band). For example, at the Marlow Town Regatta mentioned above, the “A” race had an even start, but the “B” race had some variation, so we gave one rower a 20 second head start and another a 10 second head start.

For a good case study of an event introducing adaptive racing, check out “Maidenhead Regatta 2017” which includes an interview with the Coach/Coordinator of the Adaptive/Pararowing programme at Maidenhead who spearheaded the added events and he discusses the process and learnings of doing so.


Adaptive regatta poster

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