The year was 1995. The US team was racing at Lake Kaukajarvi, in Tampere, Finland. It was the FISA World Championships. The word on the dock was the water could get wicked rough.
I was the boatman for the US team, and the coaches, rowers and I knew that we would have to do something special to prepare for that rough-stuff.
We cut strips of 1/4 inch thick plastic and then placed those strips, which were about 3 inches wide by 2 1/2 feet long, onto the top of the rigger. Then I secured them with duct tape at the junction where the rigger met the gunwale. These silly little strips were our secret weapon.
Do Splash Guards Help?
The men’s 4+ won their race and the coxswain, Pete Cipollone, told me:
Those little plastic strips made a huge difference… especially at the start, where it was white-capping and the waves were rolling down the side of the boat.
It’s A Water Sport And We Get Splashed
Those helpful plastic strips are better known as rowing splash guards, and in their many different forms, are meant to keep water out of the boat. They also cut down on splashes hitting the rower’s face, hands, bodies.
When the water is cold and/or salty, that’s a good thing.
To be clear, a splash guard won’t stop big waves from entering a boat. That’s too much to ask. But they can keep you:
- a little bit drier
- a little bit lighter
- a little bit faster
And little bits do matter (the US won the 4+ in Finland by only 1.14 seconds).
To get the benefits of a splash guard, you don’t have to build something elaborate as we did in Finland, simple ones will work.
How To Make and Use A Super-Simple Rowing Splash Guard
Problem: The water is rough where you’ll be rowing
Needed: Boat in slings; roll of good duct tape (duct tape works well for this job, tending to be strong and not leave any residue when removed); paper towel(s) or clean rag
Time: About 2 minutes or less per rigger
Step 1: Put the boat in slings. If it’s a windy day, secure it with straps (or a human), so it won’t tip over.
Step 2: Clean. Take a clean rag/paper towel and gently clean the areas where you’ll be applying the tape.
Step 3: Prep tape. Rip off small pieces of tape, about 4-5 inches (10-13 cm) long. I usually rip off about 10 pieces at time. Each side-mount rigger will take about 8 pieces, 2 per junction. Wing riggers less.
Step 4: Tape on. At each junction of the gunwale and rigger, place the tape, making sure ends are well secured. I tend to use two pieces per junction.
Step 5: Go Race.
Step 6: Tape off. After racing, if you’re traveling, the tape needs to come off. I remove it asap, so the tape doesn’t get mixed up with the derigging, and so it finds its way into the proper receptical. If you’re not traveling, leave the tape on as long as you want (but duct tape does dry out and will leave residue over time).
This very short video might help. I splash-guarded that boat in less than 5 minutes. Those splash guards helped a bunch.