Boat Care Guide

The ONEC Boat Care Guide
Launching and Returning Boats Safely

Rowing shells are expensive and delicate. Damage to boats often happens when:

  • Launching and returning the boat to the boathouse.
  • Trailoring
  • On the water
A great deal of damage can be done that is avoidable. Boats can be dropped, riggers bent, finish chipped, holes put in the hull, and oars beaten up. Since each piece of equipment is expensive and hard to replace, damage can mean that boats can be out of action for some time and that funds to buy new boats are spent instead on repairs. Therefore, it is important to abide by good boat care practices.

Launching Boats Safely

(also see the more detailed launching procedure below)

  • Have one person direct movements of those carrying boat, by using commonly accepted commands and everyone responsible for following safe practices. Usually this is the coxswain or most experienced person, acting as captain.
  • Returning boats have right-of-way over launching boats, so try not to keep returning rowers waiting.
  • Never lift a racing double from ends, but a couple feet from each end.
  • Never allow the boat to bump the ceiling, floor, other boats, or dock, as this will damage it.
  • Each person is responsible to stop the boat from hitting ceiling, floor, other boats or dock by calling let it run or making the crew aware of obstacles in your path.
  • Keep oars safely in area where they won’t be stepped on or tripped over.
  • Lower boat away from dock so that it doesn’t bump against it. Start lowering when the boat is well over water and never start lowering it when it’s over the dock.
  • On lowering, the cox/captain and stern person are responsible for ensuring the fin doesn’t hit the dock.
  • Put dockside oars in first, before those on water side of boat.
  • Have one person steady boat by holding onto the deck or splashguards, never hold onto the oars or riggers (this can cause damage to these).
  • Before stepping into boat, ensure boat is several inches from the dock, so that the boat and its riggers don’t come into contact with the dock when one person at a time steps in.
  • Never step into the bottom of the boat, as your foot could go through it very easily or at least weaken it. Only place feet on the reinforced foot plate or thwarts intended for placing weight.
  • Adjust foot stops at the dock with one person steadying boat and keep it from rubbing against dock.
  • Always fend off the dock when waves threaten to push boat into dock before launching. Never let the boat bump or rub against the dock.
  • Have both crewmates push off from dock at same time with one gently pushing off with oar if boat doesn’t go out far enough. If someone is on the dock, they may push off your oar instead.
  • On the water, promptly leave the docking area and do not drift onto the rocky shore opposite the docks. If equipment needs adjustment, either go directly back to the dock or elsewhere on the River away from the shore, sailors, and other rowers coming and going. If there is a current, go to a calm section immediately to make adjustments. Never lose control of your boat.
  • When making adjustments, always hold onto both sets of oars and have the other people stabilize the boat, especially in currents. Those setting up the boat (balancing), should lay their blades flat on the water and never raise them in the air.

Returning Boats Safely

(Also see the more detailed boat returning procedure below)

  • Have one person bring boat in slowly and the other set up the boat by laying blades flat on the water and balancing the boat.
  • Come into dock slowly at a 45 degree angle or less.
  • As boat is one to two feet from the dock, boat captain calls to lean away from the dock, so the oars will be raised and clear the dock. The oars on the other side will then be submerged and act as a brake to pivot the boat until it becomes parallel with the dock.
  • As the boat comes near the dock, crewmates keep the boat from bumping by fending off with their dockside hands. They also continue to lean away the dock, so the riggers won’t come into contact with the dock.
  • To make it easier to remove oars after getting out, each rower may loosen the water side oar lock before leaving boat, but not lift the oar lock gate at all. Up until you get out, your oar is still needed to balance, otherwise, you will flip.
  • One at a time, each member will exit boat by placing one foot on foot plate and the other on the dock, outside of the riggers if possible, while holding onto the oar handles with one hand and the other hand to steady on the dock. Crewmates can help by steadying the boat for those getting out.
  • Remove water side oars first and close oar lock gates. Always step on reinforced areas of the boat and not on bottom of hull.
  • Remove dock side oars next and close oar lock gates.
  • Place oars safely in area where they won’t be stepped on.
  • Keep boat several inches away from the dock at all times.
  • Raise boat from water and lift high enough before bringing over dock so that it doesn’t rub against it.
  • Put the boat onto racks in boathouse without hitting the ceiling, the step after the ramp, or other boats and riggers.
  • Any crew member should call Let it run if the boat is about to hit something, to ensure people halt immediately or direct them to avoid an obstacle.
  • Put boats onto racks gently, ensuring that riggers don’t rub against other boats and that all oar lock gates are closed.
  • Wipe down boat with towel to remove harmful film that can act as an acid and damage the boat’s finish.

Commands for Taking a Racing Double Out of the Boathouse

  • Hands on the boat… ready to lift.
  • Lift out to shoulders
  • Walk it out and watch for other boats
  • Watch the ceiling as we go down the ramp
  • Heads up on the dock (to warn other rowers standing nearby to watch for your boat)
  • Let it run. (when the bow person reaches the end of the dock)
  • Toe to the edge (to have each crew mate feel their feet to the edge of the dock).
  • Ready to roll to the waist
  • Down to the waist, to command the crew to roll the shell down to the waist.
  • Down to the ankles, to lower to the ankle height.
  • Watch the fin as we’re out and in (the water), to lower far enough out from the dock that the boat or the stern’s fin doesn’t rub against it. (This is where most fins snap off, when crews fail to lower the boat out far enough from the dock, so please be careful.)
  • Keep the boat off the dock, to ensure the boat doesn’t rub against the dock.
  • Hold onto the boat, to keep the boat from drifting and waves from knocking boat against dock.

Commands for Returning a Racing Double to the Boathouse

  • Coming into the dock, bow only, others drop out and set up the boat, to indicate that only the bow person to row into the dock.
  • Ready to lean away and avoid oars on dock.
  • Lean away, dockside oars lifting to avoid dock.
  • Fend off dock, to have crew ensure boat doesn’t bump against dock
  • Loosen water side oar locks
  • Ready to step out
  • Remove oars
  • Ready to lift to the waist without hitting the fin…and lift.
  • To the shoulders
  • Walk it in, nice and slow
  • Let it run (once you are opposite the rack)
  • Ready to put it in
  • Put it in and keep it off the riggers , to ensure the boat is lowered without it resting on the riggers


  • Boats cannot be launched until the full crew is at the dock and ready to row, and boats landing have priority over boats going out.
  • Put in and take out all boats with bows facing up river.
  • All gear and equipment must be removed from the docks as quickly as possible. Shoes and other equipment left on the dock constitute a hazard to other crews using the dock, and should be stored off the dock or taken in the boat.

Detailed Launching Procedure

Before lifting a boat off the rack for launching, agree to have one person assume the responsibility to direct the movements. Usually, this is the coxswain or more experienced rower.

On the dock, make sure you have a free area to move towards. The dock should have oars safety located away from the ramp and the area where you need to walk to for the launch.

In the boathouse, you should have your crew stand next to the boat beside their assigned riggers or mid way down the bow or stern deck of any double. (For the quad, you can have a strong person at the bow another at the stern, and the other two or three closer to the stern.) The coxswain or captain commands, All hands on the boat followed by the crew placing their hands on the boat ready to lift. Lift out to shoulders. The captain/cox will then ask the crew to watch for other riggers and obstacles as they lift the boat from the rack. Make sure the cables to secure the boats are not in the way and knock against the hull, as this can chip the finish.

When the boat is off the rack, the captain/cox will check to make sure there are no obstacles in the way, such as other boats riggers or items on the floor. They will command the crew to move forward while instructing all to watch for other boat’s riggers.

Be sure not to hit the boat on the ceiling or the floor, especially as you come over the step up to the ramp. As the boat angles down the ramp, make sure you don’t hit the end of the boat on the ceiling by having the lead person hoist the boat higher over their heads. This is especially true during low water when the pitch of the ramp is steepest. The quad is heavy, so more effort will be required to lift it over the step up to the ramp. It is club custom to ask others to help with the quad if they are available.

If at anytime the boat is about to hit something while carrying, any crew member should holler Let it run which essentially means stop or provide direction to avoid the obstacle.

On the dock, the captain will direct the launch. The quad is designed to go in bow or stern first, whereas the other boats go in parallel to the dock.

Lowering doubles and touring singles into the water:

For doubles, the captain/cox will command:

Toe to the edge, to direct each rower to place their leading foot at the edge of the dock.

Down to the waist, to command the crew to roll the shell down to the waist.

Down to the ankles, to lower to the ankle height.

Out and in (the water), to lower far enough out from the dock that the boat or the stern’s fin doesn’t rub against it. (This is where most fins snap off, when crews fail to lower the boat out far enough from the dock, so please be careful.)

After the boat is in the water, one person holds the boat to ensure it doesn’t drift or rub against the dock, while the other person gets the oars and gear. Do not hold the boat by the riggers or the oars, to avoid damage to these as much as possible.

First, put the oars into the dockside oar locks. When touring, this is the oar locks nearest the shore. This ensures the boat is leaning towards the dock and won’t drift away.

Then, put in the oars on the other side of the boat without putting your foot on the bottom of the boat. You can easily put a foot through the bottom of a boat, so use the foot plate or thwart in the touring shells to step on. Usually the foot plates have non-slip surface to indicate where to step. As you put your other foot on the dock, try to ensure it is outside the rigger so your toes don’t get pinched if the boat moves and your balance causes the boat to lean on the dock.

After you put your oars in, adjust your foot stops by extending the oars out on the water, push the boat away from the dock a few inches, and then get into the boat by:

  • holding both oar handles in one hand
  • one foot on the foot plate
  • and the other hand steadying yourself on the dock.

Now the tricky part that is difficult for all, but the most acrobatic of rowers. On one leg, lower yourself down to a squat position and seat yourself. Your other foot may be outside the boat as you do this. As you bring your other leg into the boat do not step into the bottom of the boat, but put it into the footstop directly.

Never get in with the boat touching the dock or the riggers leaning on the dock, as can bend the riggers.

Never put a weight into the boat to balance one crew member from the other, as this can put a hole in the bottom, as experienced at another club.

After footstops are adjusted so that when arms are extended from the finish position, your blades are at right angles to the boat, you are ready to push off. The captain calls, “Number off when ready” or “Ready?” and when confirmation is received, then commands “Hands on the dock”, “Ready to push”, “Push” and the crew pushes off the dock. If the boat doesn’t go out far enough, one crew member only can gently push off with their oar. Since most boats flip at the dock rather than on the water, balance is important during launching, so all oars should be out on the water setting up the boat as much as possible.

Detailed Returning Procedure

When docking, approach the dock at a slow speed (one rower only), at a 45 degree angle or less. When a foot or two away from the dock, the captain/cox callsLean away which means for the crew to lean away from the dock so that the dockside oars clear it and the oars in the water act as brakes to pivot the boat into position parallel to the dock.

Keeping the boat a few inches from the dock, the captain can call to the crew to loosen their oar lock’s gates, but not to open them. When ready, they call One foot up and out and blades across to direct them put one foot on the foot plate to get up as the other goes on the dock, with one hand on both oars. Upon getting out, draw the waterside oar across the boat. After gear is removed and oars set aside on the dock away from the path to the boathouse, the captain/cox can start commands, beginning with boat off the dock to direct the crew to ensure the boat is kept a few inches from the dock before lifting to ensure it won’t come into contact during the process.

For the quad, the process is to have the bow brought up perpendicular to the dock with the majority of the crew at the stern with one person at the rudder to protect it in case it is to bump against anything.

Other boats are raised parallel and far enough away from the dock to avoid contact with its hull and fin. Failure to do so may result in a broken fin that can put a boat out of action for a while.

Boats are stored in the boat house bow first in a safe manner following the direction of one person, issuing commonly accepted commands. The boat is put away so that it rests on the rack without weight on the riggers (this would cause them to bend). The boat is wiped down by towels, to remove scum that can etch the finish of the boat and slow it down. After the boat is put away, all gear is promptly removed from the dock to ensure others don’t trip over it.

Trailoring: Boat and Equipment Care

Ensure all boats are tightly fastened to the trailor and have one person designated to ensure all boats are properly secured. During trips, oars and lifejackets can go missing, so designate one person to ensure they are to account for these.

Have the trailor chain attached to the vehicle, as insurance in case the trailor falls off.

Always place racing shells on stretchers and never directly on the ground, as this may damage the hull.

Always place touring shells on flat ground and never on uneven ground, as this can damage the hull.

Make sure the trailor is fit (tires checked, lights working, hitch fully secured).

On the Water: Boat and Equipment Care

Usually damage occurs when rowers hit things. This happens when either a rower isn’t watching out, when there is a submerged object that cannot be detected, or when there is an object in your blind spot directly in front of your boat.

Failure to watch for obstacles usually happens when distracted by a good run, when the bow person is focused on teaching those in front and not watching behind them, or when there is fatigue and a lapse in attention. To avoid collisions, always:

  • Know where the buoys are.
  • Know where the deadheads are.
  • Know where the submerged obstacles are located.
  • Watch for fishermen and their boats, as they often won’t say anything until you hit them.
  • Watch for overnight boaters temporarily moored on your rowing route.
  • Know the contours of the river or lake you row on, so you know when to look back.
  • The bow person should do frequent head checks both ways to cover the blind spot as much as possible.
  • Follow the commonly accepted rowing traffic flow to avoid hitting other rowers.
  • Set a course that can be tracked by on shore markers lined up against the point of your bow. For instance, check your course behind then find a tree you can keep your bow pointed at to ensure you are following a straight line.
  • Have navigation lights at night.
  • Wear clothes that stand out on the water so motor boaters can see you easily.