Safety: Capsize training

Stephen Worley, British Rowing’s Honorary Rowing Safety Advisor provides guidance on capsize training.


At this time of year the water is as warm as it is going to be. If you have not done a capsize drill recently, perhaps because the swimming pools have been closed, then it may be possible to do one on the water where you row.

First check that it is safe to do so. Check that there is no significant risk from:-

  • Passing motor boats and other water traffic,
  • Being swept into danger (e.g. weirs, buoys, moorings, etc.),
  • Pollution and contamination,
  • The water being colder than expected, particularly below the surface,
  • Underwater current, perhaps due to flow round bends.

Then check the boat, pay particular attention and ensure that:-

  • Heel restraints are secure – the heel should not be able to rise above the lowest fixed point of the shoe,
  • Shoes are big enough for the biggest feet,
  • Hatch covers and bungs are correctly and securely fitted,
  • The seat will not fall out when the boat is inverted.

Check that you have:-

  • Somewhere to get into and out of the water safely,
  • Anchored safety boat(s), with engines stopped, nearby, preferably downstream,
  • People with throw lines nearby and in the safety boat(s),
  • Buoyancy aids for everyone who wants one or needs one,
  • Swimmers in the water, wearing wetsuits and buoyancy aids, to help anyone who needs help,
  • Somewhere nearby to get warm and dry.

Ask everyone to complete the Capsize Drill online learning module on the British Rowing website.

Even though the capsize drill takes place in relatively warm water, close to the boathouse, a real capsize could take place anywhere. Do not try swimming with the boat. Climb onto the inverted boat and paddle it to the bank.

A Capsize Drill is also a good opportunity for everyone to practise capsize and recovery, straddle and paddle, and buddy rescue. That way everyone will experience rescuing themselves, rescuing someone else and being rescued by someone else.

Some people report problems with their ears when they splash into the water. Give everyone the opportunity to wear a swimming hat that covers their ears.

Try to make this a fun event where everyone comes out of the water smiling.