First, I heard the sound. It was sickening.
Then, looking in my rear-view mirror I saw the shell just as it came off the trailer, snapped in two, and crashed to the road.
It’d been a heck-of-a-day and it just got worse. Much worse.
I left the boathouse at 4 am and drove through pouring rain to the race course
We battled rain and cold through the entire day. When we left the course to go home we were soaked. Frozen. And with marginal racing results to show for our efforts.
We had just moved 50 people hundreds of miles, got them on and off the water safely, and now just miles from home a rowing shell had died on my watch.
One battered-ego later we figured out what happened
Since we left the course we had been driving into a stiff-and-gusting crosswind. An older boat strap holding the bow of the boat couldn’t take the stress and it snapped.
The wind then shoved the bow off the trailer. The stern boat strap, a new one, held tight. The sickening sound I heard was the boat breaking at the good strap.
It was a mess but thankfully no one was hurt.
To help keep something like that happening to you here are three questions you need answer
Transporting rowing equipment safely requires you to over-invest. What I mean by over-invest is to thoughtfully, critically, and methodically get the equipment ready for travel.
It’s a critical (and OFTEN overlooked…so often) component of safely transporting rowing equipment. Bluntly…the actions you take before….WELL before…you need to move the equipment—regardless of whether you are trailering or car-topping— will make all the difference. Over-invest today to transport safety tomorrow.
Let’s get to the questions:
Over-investing Question # 1: Is your transporting vehicle ROAD-ready?
That’s right, before the season starts it’s time to check the critical parts of your shell trailer or car-top set up. Here are six different areas to dig into:
A) Tires: Have the tread on your tires checked once a year by an expert. Never underestimate the importance of this action!
Tires can and do wear out faster than expected, and you don’t want to put anyone in danger (of course)… or miss a race because of a flat.
Read the recommended pressure on the sidewall of the trailer’s tires. Then, pull out a tire gauge and check the tire pressure. If the pressure is low, fill the tires to the correct pressure—and yes, a difference of 5 psi does matter—just like .01 second can matter in a race. Don’t forget to check the pressure on the spare tire as well. (You do have a spare, right?)
(And a hot tip…it is easier…by a factor of a hundred fold…to find an air pump and put air in a rowing shell trailer when-the-trailer-is-empty. And while you are at it fill up the truck/car if that would make life easier too.)
B) Brakes and bearings: Brakes and bearings need checking, and that is considered normal maintenance actions. More than one trailer driver cruising down the interstate has been passed by one of his own trailer-wheels that broke free because of a worn bearing. And functioning brakes on a trailer can mean the difference between a sudden stop and a full-on collision.
A car-topped single doesn’t add much weight to the car, but the added length and driving challenge puts more emphasis on the importance of stopping when you need to stop—in other words, check your brakes too.
C) Lights: Check and test every single light on the trailer, tow vehicle, and car—yes, even the little ones that illuminate the license plate. (I got a $25 ticket once because one of these two lights had burned out. You could still see the license plate at night but it wasn’t “bright enough,” according to the police officer.)
And while your at it, check to make sure your flags are abundant and prepared. Each shell should have one, on trailer or car top.
D) Trailer Hitch/Connector: How dirty…how greasy…how ABSOLUTELY critical! It’s so worth your time to make sure that the socket, lever, and all connectors for your trailer are ready to go. The night before the first trip is NOT the time to do that. Oh, and exactly where is your trailer hitch?
E) Insurance: It’s not exciting stuff, insurance. But you must have the right polices in place to protect your equipment, your program, and yourself. Here are guidelines to focus on.
F) Plates and registration: More than one driver transporting rowing equipment has gotten a ticket for expired tags. Don’t be that driver (your ego and your wallet WILL thank you).
Grab the registration card for shell truck, shell trailer or car, and check to make sure the registration and plates are current through-to-the-end-of-your-season. Then take pictures of them and put the hard copies in the place where you will have them handy WHEN (not IF) you need them.
For info on trailer regulations, read this excellent post by the late Mark Schofer.
Over-Investing Question #2. Is your vehicle EQUIPMENT-ready?
A road-ready vehicle is one thing. An equipment-ready vehicle/trailer is even better. A few critical items to check:
G) Racks and pads: When being moved, shells sit on racks or in car-top cradles. Chances are those racks, pads or cradle have been baking-in-the-Sun and exposed to weather since last season.
That equipment is tough but ultraviolets are even tougher and the weather can do-a-number on them. Check your racks for any corrosion or loose fasteners. Then turn your attention to the pads.
Pads not only protect the boats gunwales but a good pad will help the boat sit securely on a rack (or in a cradle). Are your pads whole and securely attached to the racks? Make sure they are…it’s CRITICAL.
H) Other Equipment Storage: There’s more to moving rowing equipment than motoring around rowing shells. Riggers, slings, tools, tents…the list goes on and on. That stuff needs to go somewhere. Is your “somewhere” ready? Sounds like a toss-away question, but…
The bottom deck of a trailer gets no respect. No love. Just abuse. Most are made of wood. And most will rot. Is yours in safe condition? Really? Will someone step on the deck and fall through? Will valuable hardware fall through that hole in the deck and go missing?
What about that storage box you throw all your gear in…when’s the last time you cleaned that out? And do you have room for all your equipment in your car’s trunk?
I) Boat Straps: If you’re unsure exactly how I feel about boat straps, read this. Do those actions. Be one of the cool (and well prepared) kids!
Over-investing Question #3: Is your DRIVER-ready?
Someone has got to drive the stuff… is she/he/they ready? Don’t under-estimate (NEVER under-estimate) the power and impact of this. Your equipment and lives (I’m not kidding here) depend on it.
I was standing at a race one day, getting ready to go home when I overheard a conversation between two coaches. The head coach told his assistant (who self-professed OUT LOUD that he had never…EVER…driven a trailer) to go, and hook up the truck to the trailer and then “drive that beast home.” Then the head coach spun around and tool off—leaving a bewildered assistant in his wake to fend for himself.
I was dumbfounded…to put it mildly.
A fully loaded shell trailer is longer than most tractor trailers. It’s a challenging monster to drive. A car-top with a double has a very dangerous overhang. Both vehicles take SKILL, PATIENCE, and a confident driver to navigate safely on highways full of distracted drivers and numerous challenges.
Add to that a layer of exhaustion from race day and a disaster can be just around the corner—literally.
Now is the time to train drivers. NOT on race day…well before race day.
All this might sound over-whelming, heck it IS over-whelming. But it’s all critical. It’s a big…scratch that…HUGE responsibility transporting rowing equipment. A few suggestions, ones that I do, when getting things ready to roll:
- Make a paper checklist, and check off items as you go. Sribble notes as needed
- Bring a co-worker….yes…misery loves company, but many hands (and brains) will also make all these actions easier…and dare I add…more effective
- Bring a camera/phone and take pictures of questionable items, broken things, important numbers and pieces of paper
- The little stuff counts…all the stuff counts…so take your time, make it right
In the end, stuff…bad stuff…can still happen. But by over-investing today (right now!) you are going to reduce the odds (greatly I might add) that you end up having a bad (or much worse) story to tell than mine.