In the same September Safety update, Stephen Worley also included a piece on “Safety Advice for Blind Rowers” which I also contributed to (he also noted in the piece that advice for rowers supporting blind rowers is being drafted):
I was asked about how a person who is blind can be supported to row and, in particular, what needs to be included in a risk assessment and does the student need to do a swimming test or a capsize drill?
The response was We are lucky that rowing is a sport in which people with disabilities can take part. It is often possible for them to take part alongside able-bodied rowers and to compete with them on a “level playing field”. In some cases, we have to make adaptations to ensure that they can row safely. In the case of rowers with sensory impairments then we simply have to take a little more care.
We no longer have a requirement that rowers must be able to swim. Our guidance on Swimming and floating can be found in section 3.6 of RowSafe where it says:-
“Everyone taking part in rowing should be able to:
- Float unaided for at least five minutes
- Swim at least 50 metres in light clothing (rowing kit).
- Tread water for at least two minutes.
- Swim under water for at least five metres.
Those rowers who can only float or swim when wearing a buoyancy aid should also wear such an aid, or a lifejacket if coxing, whenever they are afloat ”
Clearly a person who is not able to see will need some help from the rowers around him or her. Providing these other rowers are willing and able to help then there should not be a problem. For this reason, it would be best if this rower rowed initially in a boat with several others (either a 4 or an 8).
There are some hazards at your venue that will be included in your risk assessment. The risk assessment should include additional hazards that the rower who cannot see would be exposed to and the additional Barriers and Controls that are needed to keep them safe.
The challenge we face is to be able to find ways in which people can row rather than to tell them that they cannot. This is not always easy, but it is worthwhile.
I copied this reply to a group of coaches who are involved with rowers with disabilities. They provided the following additional advice.
The primary adaptation that visual impairment requires is guidance. Otherwise, all other safety considerations to rowing are no different to any other rower.
There are several strategies to supporting Visually Impaired rowers depending on the resources available and the preferences of the rowers:
- Support Rowing – Row in a double scull or pair with a sighted rower in bow to provide steering to the VI rower.
- Guide Rower – A rower in a single scull rowing beside/ahead of the VI rower to provide guidance.
- Guide Launch – A safety launch following the VI rower to provide guidance.
Guide rowers and launch can communication by voice or by radio.