Table of Contents

It is important that coaches, athletes, and launch drivers are prepared and well-versed before heading out on the water.

It is also critical to have a well-equipped and working safety launch whenever working with crews, especially high school and college squads. 

Coaches should have the necessary training and be certified in first-aid and CPR. Coaches should work to minimize potential accidents and should work in a responsible and prudent fashion at all times, and this includes being aware of others on the water around them and how their actions impact the safety of paddlers and crews.


Club or program leaders should ensure that coaches are meeting the following standards. Coaches should endeavor to be prepared, professional, and knowledgeable.

  • Coaches themselves adhere to the following:
    • *Completed a boating safety course specific to Washington D.C.
    • *Have a D.C. boating license
    • Be wearing a life jacket at all times
    • Rowing coaches should have USRowing coaching certifications
    • Be SafeSport certified
    • CPR/AED certification
    • First-aid certification
    • Have a working phone and/or marine band radio
    • Engine kill-switch
    • Appropriate clothing for the conditions

*The first two items, above, are a requirement for anyone operating a launch.

**Please refer to 33 CFR 175 Subpart B

  • Coaches should be fully versed with the traffic patterns discussed in this document, including all hazards.
  • It is the responsibility of any coach boat to provide assistance to any capsized boat, even if from another sport or a pleasure boat. Coaches are reminded to stop at a safe distance and offer assistance. Approach with caution and in a controlled manner. Be aware of your prop! 
  • Coaches should make sure that for each athlete that is part of their training session that they have on hand a record of the following:
    • Name and date of birth 
    • Address 
    • Name and phone number for a relative or another emergency contact 
    • Height, weight, list of allergies and other important medical information 
    • Name of medical insurance provider, and pertinent insurance information 


All programs and coaches should ensure that all athletes meet the following qualifications before going on the water:

  • Physical, health evaluation, or other certification from their governing body, program, or club, as appropriate. It is important that athletes ensure their health will allow them to safely go on the water and engage in any of the planned activities they expect to participate in.
  • Swim test- have taken a defined swim test and be checked off by their governing body, program, or club as appropriate. (i.e. tread water for 2 minutes, followed by 100m swim [any stroke, no time limit], followed by treading water while putting on a life jacket). Pass/fail should be kept on file with the club/program. An athlete should either be kept off the water or required to wear some form of USCG-approved PFD until such time that they can pass the swim test.
  • Rowers/scullers should watch the USRowing safety video once a year to familiarize themselves with emergency procedures and safety precautions.
  • Carry any needed medications (inhaler, EpiPen, seizure or heart medication, hard candy for diabetics etc.), sufficient water for the conditions, appropriate clothing (including a spare set on land to change into), and food as needed for the effort.
  • Appropriate skill, as determined by their club, program, or facility, for the current and expected weather and river conditions.
    • People who are primarily 1x scullers or paddlers should go through basic training and testing to prove that they can:
      •  safely remove a boat from a rack
      • launch their boat, row/paddle competently including turning
      • re-enter a flipped shell (or at least know what do in the case of an emergency)
      • return the scull to the dock upon completion of their outing.
If rowing/paddling solo:
  • Sign out/in with your club or facility.
  • Make sure you let someone know your practice plan including start time, general distance, and initial direction of travel.
  • Carry a cell phone with you in a watertight case.
  • Carry identification.
  • Carry an audible alert device like a whistle.
  •  It is advised that all coxswains wear a PFD, especially in cold weather months. Inflatable suspender-type units are the most practical, however, a survival suit is extremely useful in the winter months for both floatation and warmth.
  • Coxswains should be encouraged to wear warm layers (non-cotton) and waterproof outer garments, as appropriate to the conditions. This is especially important in the cold weather months or when rain is expected.
  • In any shell the coxswains should have a designed “buddy” in the event of an emergency who will account for their safety and help monitor them until rescue has occurred (understanding that the coxswain’s job is to monitor the safety of the entire crew who has buddied up.).


In general, training groups should include a safety launch, especially in colder weather. Having a launch present reduces the risk of a fatality or life-altering injury in the event of an accident as quicker access to emergency support is possible.

  • Specific guidelines for use of a coaching launch:
    • High school and collegiate program crews or scullers should have a coaching launch with them at all times. This is for safety and liability reasons. The coach is responsible for these individuals at all times during practice.
    • A coach sitting in the coxswain’s seat does not count as a safety launch!
    • The presence of a coaching launch with club programs is at the discretion of said clubs. However, again, the use of a safety launch with organized practices is highly encouraged.
  • Occupants of a coach’s launch should be kept to a minimum. One extra person in addition to one coach should be the maximum for a safety launch (14′). Preferably launches should be large enough to hold all members of a given crew in the event of an emergency. 16′ foot launches are suggested. “V-hull,” or skiff style (Carolina Skiff) is recommended. Aluminum “john boats” are not recommended because of their instability with several passengers and less than stellar poor weather performance. Wakeless launches are acceptable if they are of a size that meets the above requirements.
    • All launch occupants should wear a USCG PFD.
  • Each launch should have the following items:
    • ***Registration sticker for the current year and identification #
    • *Life jacket for each person in the launch
    • PFD/Life jacket for each member of a crew on the water
    • *A throwable PFD
    • A megaphone (powered or cheerleader type) 
    • Emergency Space blankets for each member of a crew on the water 
    • Signaling device (flares, horn, whistle)
    • Paddle
    • Tools
    • Water bailer
    • 50ft. Safety line (for swimmer assistance or towing of shells)
    • **Fire extinguisher
    •  should be marked with the name of the owner/organization

*As required by U.S. Rules 33 CFR 175 Subpart B

**As required by U.S. Rules 46 CFR 25

***Required by MPD Harbor Patrol. See regulation section 1004

  • Operators of launches should have an uninterrupted 360 view at all times. Use of heavy ballast in the bow of the launch (log, a tire with rim, cinder blocks, passenger, etc) can be used to trim the launch so it rides level. See the section on rowing Before Sunrise/After Sunset for more visibility issues. 
  • Coaches need to be aware of the wake their launch throws! 
    • Coaches should do their best to minimize wakes when passing other crews when at all possible. 
    • At no time should a launch’s wake be allowed to swamp or endanger a shell/canoe/kayak. 
    • If a launch needs to pass or maneuver around a crew the coach should clearly communicate his/her intentions. 
  • There should be a minimum of one coach’s launch for every three 8s in a given practice.