About the Campaign
by Caroline Smith
Since Leo's tragic death, the intrinsic buoyancy of boats has been a constantly discussed topic on the rec.sport.rowing news group. People from all over the world, and from all walks of life, are in no doubt that it's time that something was done to make sure boats have sufficient buoyancy to support the weight of the crew should the boat be swamped.
Everyone wanted to do something to help, but no-one was quite sure what difference they could make on their own. Leo's parents have continued with their crusade, through nigh on every available channel. Progress is slow, but together we are all making a difference.
I was coxing Leo's boat the day of the accident, and have felt for a long time that there should be some way in which I could help. Something I could be doing to stop it happening to anyone else. So I wrote this website and began this campaign. Like Leo's parents, I am determined that his death should not be in vain. If this campaign leads to even just one life being saved, it will be worth it.
The ultimate reason for sufficient inherent buoyancy is simply that the crew should never have to leave the boat in circumstances where it would be the safest place to stay- like a swamping incident in adverse weather conditions.
Everyone takes risks every day, but these are reasonable risks- ones we can justify. Of course this is different for everyone. Some people won't go sculling without a pouch lifejacket in case they capsize and can't get back in the boat, whereas some people like to cross busy roads in really silly places when there's a pedestrian crossing less than 50m away. Risk is a very individual thing, and it gets complicated when more than one person is involved. As part of my job as OURC Secretary in 2000-01, I spent a lot of time writing risk assessments for regattas. They're big, and they're scary. The best any of us can do in any circumstance is to minimise a risk so that it is reasonable.
I now believe that rowing in an eight with no buoyancy compartments, other than those under the canvases, on water that I am not familiar with and where I am unsure of the safety provision is not a reasonable risk, and one I will not take. I will willingly cox our college first VIII Sims with no under-seat buoyancy on the stretches of river where we train in Oxford. The river is fairly shallow for the most part, and there are always enough people around that we could be helped very fast if needs be. Also, the river is such that large waves are unlikely to ever occur, and narrow enough that we could always get to the bank before being swamped. However, I would not cox this boat on the Tideway. I would rather sacrifice lightness and use the 2nd VIII Janousek.
I will admit I am scared of waves. Who wouldn't be after what I, and the other members of my crew, went through in Spain? But after a rough outing on the Tideway where stroke was petrified by the waves breaking over three's rigger and her back, I know I am perfectly safe in our Janousek IV+.
Of course education has it's place with respect to accidents and rowing, but how many times have you learnt things, revised hard, and still forgotten the vital equation or quote as soon as you sit down at an exam desk? Education is very, very important, but by no means is it the be all and end all. Same goes for checking weather forecasts or whatever before an outing. They're not always right- they missed the hurricane in 1987 after all! Also, the stream strength indicator provided by the EA can be useful when deciding which crews to allow out- Oxford has a flag system directly based on this. In high stream conditions a novice crew which is not very strong, responsive or manoeuvrable is clearly going to experience difficulties, as is an inexperienced cox who does not know the characteristics of that piece of river, or how to read a river. But they provide no indications of the chance of running in to swamping conditions.
I have felt very, very much safer while coxing in high, fast conditions than I have while coxing the same crew in a low stream but with bad water and waves breaking over the sax board because I know I can predict what the stream will do, where it will go, and where I should steer to if I felt I was getting out of control. But I have no control over how big the next wave is going to be. Bad water's a very hard thing to predict most of the time, especially in circumstances where weather systems come and go very fast. We can't do anything about the weather, which is why it is imperative to have boats which will remain safe in any conditions which my be encountered.
All I can ask is that somehow, by whatever circuitous route you take to get there, everyone who reads this ends up at the same conclusion that a crew should never have to leave the boat in circumstances where it would be the safest place to stay, and the very obvious way to achieve this end is to ensure that the boat has sufficient buoyancy, be that through buying new boats with inbuilt buoyancy compartments under the seats, or adapting older boats.
As Jane Blockley said back in November 2001, "For your own future safety, please do all you can to press for a policy to make improved boat buoyancy compulsory. This doesn't have to happen overnight, but you have to start somewhere." Start by signing our online support form.