I was doing an experiment and I had to tally how rowing equipment spends its life. I came up with this interesting tidbit of information…95% of the time equipment is in racks.
Yep, that equipment you count on to glide you through the water is lounging away in a rowing rack almost its entire life. A life which looks something like this:
Let’s make sure during that time your racks give the equipment the support and protection they need.
Rowing shell racks
A rowing shell storage rack (aka boat rack) is a structure that safely supports a boat when it’s not being rowed. A boat lays in it with seats-down.
That position allows the boat to be supported by its superstructure and gunwales—the two strongest parts of the boat. This also keeps the relatively fragile area of the hull protected.
However, dent-time happens when boats are in racks. It is not uncommon for hulls to suffer a series of small insults while racked.
The main culprits are the riggers from the boat in the rack above. If that boat above is not moved carefully then the hull underneath can end up with scrapes, dents or punctures.
But more than dents can happen—I’ve seen the lower boat get knocked completely off the rack by the boat over it being carelessly handled!
Like boats, oars need to be stored when not rowed. There are several different ways to store oars:
- Vertically in racks: with spoons-down (weight supported at collars)
- Vertically in racks: with spoons-up (weight supported by handle butt)
- Horizontally: laying on the side (weight supported by shaft)
Oars are awkward at best when off the water and, like boats, oars can suffer damage. But a quality rack can greatly reduce that.
What goes into a high quality rowing shell rack or oar rack?
As you contemplate your boat and oars sitting patiently in their racks, there are actions you can take to make sure both pieces of equipment are safe and properly supported.
For boat racks, look for:
- Racks designed and built to handle more weight than just the weight of the shell(s). (You have to take into account weight put on the racks from moving)
- Boat properly supported (2 beams for a four or smaller boat, 3 beams for an eight)
- Space between racks is large enough so boats can be moved in/out (need several inches of clearance between hulls and riggers from boat above/below)
- Beams are padded (prevents damage to gunwales and reduces unwanted moving of boat)
- For boats stored outside, the boat should be able to be securely strapped (to reduce wind damage) and covered (to reduce UV damage)
Douglas Lumsden, founder and owner of Space Saver Rowing Systems, told me this about quality boat racks, “A system that can be moved easily is important, because needs and designs in boat sheds will change. Also, a good quality set up should be built to last 30-40 years. And top notch padding is important—it will make a big difference to the boat’s gunwales.”
For oar racks, look for:
- Racks designed to keep sets of oars together
- For oars stored vertically with blades-up, the handle butt should be on material (such as wood or padding) and not on floor
- For oars stored vertically with blades-down, the blade tip should elevated off the ground
- For oars stored horizontally, beams should be set a distance apart so oars lay balanced
Which type of oar storage options is best? Lumsden noted that blades-down has several advantages, such as reducing the potential for hand infections, easily locking oars into the racks, and saving space because the blades fit in nicely with each other.
He also noted that “storing oars horizontally is often a great solution for boat sheds with low roofs.” And his least favorite set up was storing oars with blades-up.
What destroys a rowing shell rack or an oar rack?
Racks tend to be some of the strongest structures in the boathouse (or should be). However, they do get damaged.
What usually damages a rack and can make it unsafe to use is wear-and-tear, neglect (no maintenance), and/or overloading
And since many racks are homemade, it’s not unusual to see fasteners loose or rusting, beams and supports becoming un-level, and padding torn or missing.
Over the years I’ve found on any given day about 1 in 10 racks need some attention, and about 1 in 50 are so substandard they endanger the boat and so around it.
Inspect your rowing racks
Inspecting your racks can be a challenge, because most times they will have equipment in them. So for your inspect either schedule it when equipment is being rowed, or in transit, or bring a work party with you to move things around.
The 3 main areas to check on your boat racks are:
- The beams—are they all at the same height so the boat sits level?
- The fasteners—are they all tight?
- The padding—is it securely attached to the beam and-of good quality?
Three questions to ask about your oar racks are:
- Is the oar safely supported and won’t fall out of the rack?
- Are there areas where the oar could get damaged? Like if stored blades-up the tips could be damaged at the top
- Is the rack clearly labeled for the set of oars that is assigned to it?
Repair your rowing racks
If you have manufactured rowing racks which are in need of repair, and it’s beyond a simple correction by you (such as leveling a beam or tightening a fastener), I would contact the manufactured for guidance.
There’s too much resting on the rack to not take that step (and make sure you find out if the rack is still under warranty).
If your homemade rowing racks are in need of repair then you, or the handy person in the boathouse, have the responsibility to get it fixed.
Replacing your boat racks or oar racks
After many years of dealing with homemade racks in our boathouse, we finally reached the end of our patience.
We had spent about hours-upon-hours leveling and padding beams and realized that our best efforts were not going to be good enough.
So we took the plunge, signed a contract, and in 4 weeks we had a brand new, sturdy, safe, and perfectly level rack system. It was so nice I actually had a party.
If you are looking to make the leap to manufactured racks check out these dealers (and discuss installation with them):
You’ll find many different designs and options to help your equipment have a safe and supported rack life. And quality manufactured racks, such as those sold by Space Saver Rowing Systems, have a reputation of years of worry-free and low-maintenance use.
Actions steps: a review
- Inspect rowing shell racks
- Fasteners tight?
- Are beams level?
- Padding in good shape?
- Clearance between racks sufficient?
- Are shells in outdoor racks secure?
- Inspect oar racks
- Oar handles or blades off the ground?
- Blade tips protected?
- (Bonus tip: for racks with low clearance, put bumpers on the riggers, like this simple design at CRI)
- Complete needed repairs
- Make any purchases