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How To Double-Strap Your Shell — And Why

Several years ago I wrote an article about how to strap your boat, for Row2k.com. At that time there was a serious discussion about strapping, accidents, and how to prevent them. I stuck my neck out and offered my opinion.

Not everyone liked what I had to say.

As most coaches/rowers/Riggers I try to learn as time goes by, and when I am wrong I will be the first to admit it . . . however, in this case I think that time has shown that my suggestions on strapping a boat are catching on, and hopefully helping.

You can read the entirety of that article, and I stand by the concepts there. However, I want to emphasize a particular method of strapping a boat—that of double-strapping—that I feel I didn’t emphasize strongly enough.

What Is Double-Strapping?
Double-strapping the bow of a boat (or whichever end of the boat is facing the tow-vehicle or front of the auto) is an inexpensive and quick way to add a critical back-up system to your efforts to safely move rowing equipment.

As you drive, your trailer and shells are subject to wind forces—some incredibly strong. Head winds, an effect of your driving, can be upwards of 70 mph or more, depending on the prevailing wind. And cross winds can be almost as strong. A study completed in 2005 found that winds can be a major contributor to tractor-trailer accident, and can actually cause rollover of the vehicle.

Winds (cross or head) can greatly affect rowing shells being transported by placing enough force on them to actually break a weakened strap, or push a strapped shell right off the side of a moving trailer.

It has happened to drivers. It has happened to me.

Ever since that moment I double-strap.

How Can Double-Strapping Help?
As rowers we don’t like wind much. As a driver of a vehicle moving a rowing shell, we need to view wind as a threat—and treat it with respect.

We travel with a lot of stuff and one concept that I think many don’t realize is that whoever is responsible for the vehicle that is moving the equipment is responsible for that equipment. Meaning, if something goes wrong, the driver is the one who will be held accountable—legally.

Not too long ago a coworker lost her son and husband in a very tragic accident on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Seven cars were destroyed and three people died due to a trailering accident. Although not rowing-related the thought of that tragedy motivates me to emphasize that safe trailering (or car topping) is a responsibility that cannot be taken lightly. For a long time the driver of the trailer awaited his fate in the legal system.

Accidents certainly do happen to shell trailers. This video serves as a dose of reality for me whenever I begin taking my trailer driving for granted. Although I don’t have any statistical evidence, I strongly believe that by placing a second strap on the right place on a shell you can significantly reduce the chance of an accident or damage due to a shell moving off a rack, or a strap breaking.

Two things that I have noticed recently. First it seems like my straps are wearing out quicker. I am not sure if that is due to a change in strap quality or designs of shells. I find that I am replacing at least one or two straps after each time we travel.

Second, coaches and teams are traveling more and more to away regattas, and those races seem to be getting bigger (meaning coaches are more tired when loading and moving equipment).

These two issues can quickly add up to reduce the margin of error when moving shells. Double-strapping is a backup that just might be there to help when you need it.

How To Do It
Here are the basics of double-strapping:

  • Every boat should have 2 straps at the end in the direction of travel (usually the bow)
  • Each place where a boat rests on a rack there should be a strap. Therefore an eight would have four straps (2 in the bow, 1 at midships, 1 in the stern)
  • When strapping the bow of a boat, one strap should go around a vertical support of the rack (usually requires a 12 foot strap for larger hulls). See video.

The key is to get the first strap tight, and place the second strap around the upright support. This second strap will help secure a shell from moving laterally. This brief video should give you an idea of how to double-strap.