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04/04/2014 - Vespoli link - correction (Stephen Blockley)
Sorry, the link to the Vespoli news item in the previous message is incorrect.

Try again!

Is Your Boat Safe?
04/04/2014 - Buoyancy in the USA (Stephen Blockley)
As we hoped, the move by FISA to make boat buoyancy compulsory in their sanctioned events from January 2015 has already had a trickle-down effect.

Some years ago British Rowing implemented a rule that all newly constructed boats purchased by affiliated clubs must reach either British Rowing's or FISA's buoyancy standard. However this is not the case in most other rowing nations.

This advert by Vespoli, a leading boat builder in the USA, was quoted on rec.sport.rowing. It indicates that in the absence of relevant national regulations, change can occur from the bottom up:

"Is Your Boat Safe?

Rowing is a "flat" water sport that rarely takes place on placid waters. Dangerous situations can lead to serious and sadly, fatal accidents. Rowing is a sport for all and we at Vespoli believe every rower should be safe on the water. Safety starts with the boat you row. Vespoli USA is the first, and only, US boat builder to voluntarily adopt the FISA Flotation Standards. These standards are the outgrowth of a fatal swamping accident several years ago in the UK. The FISA standards are a complement to good judgment and having a safety plan/equipment readily available. Please review the complete FISA flotation standards to become familiar with the minimum safety requirements. Read more to learn how Vespoli is exceeding these standards."

There is more information on the Vespoli website

Of course, the 'fatal swamping accident' referred to is that of our son. We are grateful that FISA responded so well to our representations. As recorded in the archive below, FISA first ratified their Boat Minimum Flotation standard in 2005.
31/03/2014 - FISA makes buoyancy compulsory (Stephen Blockley)
Following a long period when full buoyancy was advisory though not compulsory at FISA events (Worlds, Olympics, Paralympics, Youth Olympics), it is soon to be absolutely compulsory. We understand that FISA realises buoyancy makes for faster boats and better races, as well as much improved safety for competitors.

We hope that the message will filter down from National squads to domestic rowers in all rowing nations worldwide.

FISA Rules of Racing 2013

See Part IV: Boats and Construction: 2. Safety: 2.3 Flotation.

10/01/2013 - Link to RoSPA Safety Review (Jane Blockley)
We've realised the button link on the left does not link to the review itself, but instead it links to the Hansard record of the parliamentary debate which eventually led to the RoSPA Rowing Safety Review being commissioned by the government.

This link should take you to the review itself

RoSPA Safety Review
01/02/2010 - New phase of Safety Review (Jane Blockley)
RoSPA is planning to conduct a further audit of the state of safety awareness and provision in affiliated clubs and the sport in general.

You may remember that the Minister for Sport gave Sport England the responsibility to monitor British Rowing's response to the RoSPA Rowing Safety Review, which was published in June 2008 (British Rowing is the new name for the ARA).

After meeting with BR, Sport England was not able to decide if BR's response was adequate or not (see previous news item dated 26/06/09). Therefore Sport England went back to RoSPA for their opinion.

The original RoSPA review identified serious deficiencies in BR's safety strategy and advised action to remedy them. This further audit will establish whether BR has acted on that advice and whether their action has improved safety at club level.

BR's 'Row Safe' policy allows the continued use of under-buoyant boats and, contrary to the Review advice, does not set a timescale for all boats to be made fully buoyant. The new audit will establish to what extent this BR policy continues to put their members at unnecessary and avoidable risk.

If BR's response to the Review is found to be inadequate, and if BR does not act in a timely manner to put this right, Sport England has the power to impose sanctions - Sport England channels public money to BR for the administration and development of the sport at national level.

05/10/2009 - North West Region goes further than Row Safe rules on buoyancy (Stephen Blockley)
From 1st October 2009, in the North West Region ALL boats competing in British Rowing (formerly the ARA) events must have integral full underseat buoyancy or additional buoyancy added by way of buoyancy bags or suitable alternatives providing a similar level of buoyancy. All boats are expected to meet either the BR buoyancy recommendation or the FISA minimum flotation standard as detailed in BR's Row Safe. Most significantly, this ruling also applies to boats used in training.

The North West Region ruling goes further than Row Safe, which rules only that NEW boats must comply with said standards - but allows individuals to decide what level of buoyancy they want in older boats. Older boats make up huge proportion of the national fleet and tend to be used by the more junior and less experienced crews.

All crews visiting the North West to compete will have to comply with the new ruling, so the message about retro-fitting older boats will spread.
26/06/2009 - Sport England to ask RoSPA's view of the ARA's response to the Safety Review (Stephen Blockley)
On 30th April 2009 Sport England met with the ARA for an in depth review of the ARA's response to the RoSPA Review of Rowing Safety. Following this Phil Smith, Director of Sport for Sport England, wrote to our MP, Mr David Heyes, on 18th May, quote:

"In respect to your question regarding whether this (ARA)response is both appropriate and adequate, given the obvious significant context and nature of the Review, I do not feel that it is currently within my gift or expertise to determine whether the response can be considered either at this stage.

In light of this, Sport England, together with the ARA will be asking RoSPA for their opinion on this. As the body responsible for the original review, I am sure they are best placed to discuss the ARA response to the Review and its future plans in detail. I would hope this exercise will enable me to have a greater understanding and assurance on the adequacy and appropriateness of the ARA response, and indeed help the ARA to take any actions necessary.

In addition, Sport England will also be monitoring progress made with the implemetation of the ARA's water safety sub committee action plan as an integral part of our ongoing monitoring of our investment in the ARA over the next four years."

At the time the Review was commissioned, the then Minister for Sport, Richard Caborn, personally assured us that the ARA would have to comply with the Review's recommendations. His successor, Gerry Sutcliffe, officially charged Sport England with the responsibility to monitor the response from the ARA. Sport England channels funding for sport, so has the ability to set targets and increase or decrease funding as it sees fit.

We now await further details of Sport England's terms of reference for RoSPA's renewed involvement.

Given that the ARA has not complied with the RoSPA recommendations on buoyancy (for a testable, tested and effective buoyancy standard for all racing rowing boats, both old and new), it seems obvious to us that, so far, the ARA's response has been inadequate.

We will keep you posted!
01/05/2009 - ARA response to "In at the Deep End" and its implications (Stephen Blockley)
Our circulation of "In at the Deep End" to ARA affiliated clubs has drawn an unwise response from Stuart Ward, Chair of the ARA National Water Safety Committee. On 25th March 2009, he included an official response in the ARA Spring Mailing to all clubs and events, and also posted it on the ARA website:
Mailing to Clubs from Stuart Ward

In that mailing Mr Ward alleges that "In at the Deep End" (about the deficiencies of the ARA Row Safe document)contains "errors, confusions and misleading statements".
We always do our utmost to ensure that everything we say or write is evidence based,so are surprised and disappointed by these allegations.

Our response to Mr Ward, dated 28th March 2009, is here:
Letter to Stuart Ward re Row Safe

In this letter, we have included the evidence base for our statements made in "In at the Deep End", and ask that Mr Ward withdraws his his allegation.

So far he has only sent an acknowledgement of receipt. We are still awaiting his substantive response.
20/02/2009 - Answer to anonymous enquiry on "Support Us" page (Stephen Blockley)
We have answered the points made by "Rower and Coach" on our "Support Us" page on the rec.sport.rowing newsgroup:
Answer to anonymous enquiry
We would prefer that enquiries are emailed to us directly so that we can be sure the answer gets to the right place. We will always respect confidentiality.
09/02/2009 - In at the deep end? (Stephen Blockley)
We have been working to raise awareness at club level, of the safety issues arising from the ARA's Row Safe publication. We have sent the following flyer to as many of the ARA affiliated clubs for whom we could find email or snail mail addresses.

Click on this link to download the document.

In at the deep end?

(PS We have not sent it to individual Oxford and Cambridge college clubs, because, as we understand it, they already have to follow their university-wide safety regimes.)
29/11/2008 - ARA fails to implement RoSPA Safety Review recommendations (Stephen Blockley)
The new ARA Row Safe Guide which replaces the old Water Safety Code has been published. It is a great disappointment – an opportunity missed. It seems to have decided to withdraw from the concept of regulating on safe practice or equipment standards, it apparently declares it will only “advise”, and is putting the onus of responsibility, and therefore blame, onto individual clubs and rowers.

Row Safe fails to address the vast majority of the recommendations in the RoSPA Rowing Safety Review. In particular, there has been no improvement in the ARA attitude to buoyancy regulation – and almost all of the RoSPA recommendations on this subject have been ignored.

Once again, it seems the ARA has failed to respond to nationally recognised expert independent advice – in the same way it failed to implement certain recommendations from FISA, from the Salvage Association, and most of those contained in two Coroner Rule 43 letters consequent upon the avoidable deaths of two of its members.

The ARA also appears to have cocked a snook at the Minister for Sport – who spelled out their duty to regulate on safety matters in the adjournment debate in parliament.

What follows is a detailed review of the new Row Safe Guide, giving our analysis of its successes (a few) and its failures (many). We start with an overview, which is followed by a list of the ARA response to each RoSPA recommendation.


1) Status

The introduction leaves the reader confused as to the status of the document. It says “All decisions about safety at rowing clubs and competitions should be based on ‘risk management’ as no ‘book of rules’ can possibly cover all situations”. Fine, but it is not clear whether any core basic rules still exist. Row Safe is referred to as a “guide”, and the sections are largely in the confusing form of “Minimum standards to be adopted” and “Further good practice” with no explanation as to why there is this distinction, or if the status of each is different. To add to the confusion, in places embedded in the document clubs are just advised to set their own rules.

Status is important as “guidance” cannot be enforced, but rules can be. A safety policy should as a minimum, include a core of basic rules of practice and equipment standards which are essential to reduce exposure to those significant risks to life and limb which are avoidable by reasonable means, without significant impact on practice and enjoyment of the sport. Such rules must be backed up by a system of checking and enforcement nationally – to give a ‘level playing field’ for clubs and equipment manufacturers.

It seems the ARA expects clubs to pick and choose from the guidance and set their own safety rules to enforce locally. Such a ‘free-for-all’ system encourages and allows the lowest common denominator.

2) Structure

The ARA has adopted a common format to all the different sections. At first glance this promises clarity and ease of use, but it fails to deliver. The desire to stick to this common format appears to have been given priority over the need to convey actual information.

Teasing out all the sections on ‘personal’ responsibility largely reveals a list of ‘read document x, follow standard y, be aware of procedure z’ etc. A reader will be not much the wiser, than before. (There is a separate leaflet entitled “Row Safe – Key points for your safe rowing” which is aimed at the individual – but, with the exception of detailed advice on clothing, it also largely just gives a series of lists, without actually imparting much in the way of actual information.)

Division of guidance into “Minimum standards to be adopted” and “Further good practice” is arbitrary, some basic essentials being relegated to the latter category and vice versa.

For some things, differing sections give differing recommendations or advice e.g. the wearing of life jackets.

3) Readability and content

After reading the document throughout, Joe or Jane Rower would be unlikely to feel much better informed. Yes they would understand they have responsibilities, and they must think about safety – good things indeed – but they wouldn’t necessarily know how to put it in practice.

a) There are many examples of excess verbiage with little information. Here is one:

“5.1 Sunburn, Heat Stroke & Exhaustion

Responsibilities – personal

- Comply with the minimum standards below and bring to the attention of club officials or competition officials any significant issues relating to sunburn, heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
- Take personal responsibility for precautions against sunburn, heat stroke and heat exhaustion."

b) Some “guidance” lacks clarity, is questionable and varies in different sections:

For example - Life jackets for rowers:

- Section 1.8 (Cold water immersion and Hypothermia – Further good practice) PFDs are advisable in high risk situations in low temperature conditions e.g. beginners – they could minimise the effects of swim failure (wrong – may reduce the consequences of swim failure, but would not prevent its onset. Why only beginners? Elite rowers end up in the water also).

- Section 1.9 (Swimming and capsize/swamping training – Minimum standards) Participants unable to demonstrate the minimum standard (of swimming?) must wear a PFD.

- Section 2.1 (Safety aids - Minimum Standard): Junior beginners must wear a PFD until they have completed a swim test, received training in capsize procedure and reached a satisfactory level of competence in, for example, a single sculling boat.

- Section 2.1 (Safety Aids - Further guidance): Adult beginners should be offered the use of a PFD. Those training on their own away from immediate help should wear a PFD, especially in cold conditions (but no definition of how cold is cold – and why only those on their own? Sikander Farooq died because of cold water immersion in full view of a coach and several rowers).

- Section 3.1 (Beginners - Further good practice): Policy on wearing of PFDs for beginners and juniors – set one and communicate and enforce.

- Section 3.2 (Juniors - Further good practice): Policy on wearing of PFDs for beginners and juniors – set one and communicate and enforce.

- Row Safe – Key points for your safe rowing: PFDs should be worn by beginners when skill levels are low, and the risk of capsize is high.

So – what exactly are the basic rules, and who is to set them? Have they really considered what is the purpose of wearing a PFD? All this jumble of guidance, advice, and further suggestions re-enforces the general idea that PFDs are for junior-beginners and non-swimmers only, so that NOT wearing one is a symbol of a rower’s status as an adult experienced rower. This is the wrong message. FISA indicates that everyone should have a PFD with them if water temperatures are below 10ºC – this is more sensible advice – actually wearing it would be even better.

Also, the advice on how to adjust heel-restraints is wrong.

Response to RoSPA Rowing Safety Review recommendations.

Taking each recommendation in turn:

9.1 Systems and Guidance

9.1.1 Risk assessment and safety management
- There is SLIGHTLY MORE emphasis on this than there was in the old Water Safety Code (WSC).

9.1.2 ARA Club auditing process
- NO CHANGE in the pre-existing system.

- Independent reviews or club safety officers auditing neighbouring club rather than their own – APPARENTLY REJECTED

9.1.3 Club management and structure
- GOOD EFFORT to spread responsibility for safety throughout the club.

- NO IMPROVEMENT to advice on systems of work for maintenance and boat repair activity.

9.1.4 Rowing boat transportation and competition attendance
- Guidance to manage risk of towing trailers to be made more widely available – NO CHANGE from before (was in the old WSC).

- Awareness of the issues relating to driving long distances to compete to be flagged as a safety issue – NOT INCLUDED.

9.1.5 Rowing boat identification, craft registration and adherence to navigation authority rules
- That the Tideway craft registration scheme be extended to all regions – DONE. (not in Row Safe – but listed in the ARA Rules).

- Codes similar to the PLA Tideway Code to be drawn up for other complex waterways – NO INFORMATION on this.

9.1.6 Incident reporting
- NO CHANGE to their pre-existing online incident report form. It doesn’t appear to have been developed in any way.

- There is NO INDICATION that the ARA is moving towards a system anywhere near as comprehensive as that operated by BSAC .

In particular there is no indication that rowers will ever be able to see incident reports, or any analysis or review of such.

9.1.7. Hypothermia, cold water shock and capsize
- SOME IMPROVEMENT in the quality of advice, but still short on actual information. We cannot find any other ARA documentation on this, other than what is in Row Safe.

- Refers to the 1 minute 1 degree code, but doesn’t explain what it is!

- There is STILL UNCERTAINTY about capsize drills. It is clear all participants should be instructed in safe capsize technique, but no clear guidance on need for or frequency of repeat practising.

9.2 People and Roles

9.2.1 ARA Water Safety Code (WSC) and strategy and role of regional water safety advisors (WSA)

WSC to be revised:
- To be more user friendly: SOME IMPROVEMENT.

- To take on the recommendations of the RoSPA report – OVERALL FAILURE

- To contain sections aimed at specific sections of rowing community – FAILS INDIVIDUAL ROWERS.

- ARA to foster a more collective view of safety – GOOD EFFORT.

- ARA to produce additional guidance for clubs on hypothermia and capsize management – NONE APPARENT so far. If anything there is less now than there was before.

- Role of Regional WSA – NO INFORMATION on this.

9.2.2 Supervision of water activities

- ARA to guide on documented daily launch decisions – NOT DONE.

- Logging of boats and crew onto and off water – NO GUIDANCE.

- Introduce named nominated officer of the day – NO GUIDANCE.

- Review communication systems between coaches, boats on the water, clubhouse and/or officer of the day – NO GUIDANCE.

- Clubs and the ARA to specifically differentiate between coaching and supervising roles – NO GUIDANCE.

9.3 Equipment

9.3.1 Boat buoyancy
- ARA, together with manufacturers to develop a test of swamped flotation of fours and eights, similar to ISO 12217-1 – NO INDICATION THIS HAS BEEN CONSIDERED.


- ARA to modify policy on boat buoyancy to state that all boats should be buoyant – NOT DONE.

(The ARA has modified their definition of buoyancy – but it is still imprecise and of dubious testability – “all newly constructed boats must have sufficient inherent buoyancy, together with their oars and sculls, to support a seated crew of the stated design weight, such that the rowers’ torsos remain out of the water and the boat can be manoeuvred.” We wonder what is their definition of torso – the dictionary says all but the arms, legs, neck and head – so when seated, as rowers are, where precisely does the torso begin? In addition they say new boats may conform to either their requirement or that of FISA.)

- ARA should have an agreed policy for retro-fitting of existing boats – NOT DONE.

- Develop a system for dispensation for non-buoyant boats – SUGGESTED as “Further good practice” in section 2.3 - but no detail given, and NO ADVICE as to the factors to be considered (as listed by RoSPA).

- The ARA considers the implementation of a 5-year period for all boats to meet a new buoyancy standard – NO PLAN TO IMPLEMENT.

- Rules and regulations to be introduced to:
A. Require each model of fours and eights to be subject to and pass the test prior to sale as required by the EU Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) and builders to complete a Declaration of Conformity – manufacturers required to label boats, but NO REQUIREMENT FOR BOAT TO HAVE PASSED THE TEST i.e. can label boat as for racing only and claim exemption from RCD.

B. Require each owner of competition four or eight to periodically test, and for the boat to pass the EU RCD, and to complete a Declaration of Conformity - NOT REQUIRED.

C. Set out a regime for the inspection of Declarations of Conformity, with penalties for non-compliance – NOT REQUIRED.

D. Ensure boat builders address their obligations to the RCD - MANUFACTURERS ASKED TO LABEL BOATS, as above.

9.3.2 Rowing boat and equipment manufacturers and suppliers
- The ARA and/or manufacturers to attempt to create a trade association or similar – NO INFORMATION.
16/06/2008 - Rowing Safety Review is released for publication (Stephen Blockley)

The independent national Rowing Safety Review commissioned by the government Minister for Sport has given a clear recommendation to the ARA that they should implement a policy of full buoyancy for ALL racing rowing boats to a
defined performance standard. To this purpose, the ARA is recommended to set out a regime for testing and inspection, with sanctions for non-compliance. Furthermore the ARA is urged to promote the buoyancy standard to the International Standards Organisation (ISO) for inclusion within the next edition of the ISO Standard.

The review includes many other recommendations for the improvement of rowing safety, including:

- the national roll out of boat indentification
- a complete rework of the ARA Safety Code
- improvements to the incident reporting system
- changes to the club auditing system
- better awareness and education on hypothermia, cold water immersion and capsize
- modification of roles for ARA Regional Safety Advisers (who currently have an impossible task)
- specific recommendations to clubs to improve safety.

The over-arching message is that the sport must develop a more inclusive and collective safety culture.

A copy of the report is being sent to FISA.

The Minister for Sport has asked Sport England to monitor the ARA's implementation of the Review recommendations.

Our campaign has been fully vindicated!

Here is the link to the full document. It is lengthy and detailed. For a quick overview we recommend reading chapter 9 which lists all the recommendations.

Rowing Safety Review
15/04/2008 - Requests for advice or information (Stephen Blockley)
Just to confirm that we are happy to answer any relevant requests for information and advice, to the best of our ability. We may not know the answer personally, but often we know someone who does, or we can point to other sources of information.

It is best to contact us directly via the email address in the 'Contact' section.

Recently we received an enquiry via the 'Support Us' page. Luckily we managed to track down contact details for the enquirer and answer as best we could.
07/03/2008 - Safety Review soon to be published (Jane Blockley)
The Government/Sport England-commissioned Review of Rowing Safety carried out by RoSPA is now complete. Along with the other key stakeholders we are expecting our advance copy in the next few days.

There will then be a short period of time (as yet not specified) for the ARA to plan its response, before the Minister for Sport will write to them formally to ascertain what action they are taking on the Review's recommendations. At that point the Safety Review will be made public and will be available for anyone to download from the internet.
19/12/2007 - Seven years on (Stephen Blockley)
Nearly seven years on and once again we relive that awful sequence of events. Time doesn’t heal something like this, but you do get used to living with it. We have found our own ways of moving forward, and life is sweet in spite of what happened.

Sticking our heads above the parapet was never of interest to us, but then we realised that a simple, cheap adaptation to his boat would have undoubtedly saved Leo’s life. That adaptation is of course full buoyancy, and the only reason it was not already the given standard for boats was a combination of tradition and misinformation.

When we were approached to help campaign for boat buoyancy it didn’t take us long to realise we could not refuse. Who could refuse in such circumstances? We now had knowledge which could help prevent a repeat tragedy, and we felt it was our duty to do our best to try and spread that knowledge.

Along the way we have learned a lot, got to know some wonderful people, and have thankfully received overwhelmingly positive support and encouragement from many within the sport. There have been rare notable exceptions, but we recognise that everyone has their own angle, and are entitled to their own views. You may have noticed a rather acerbic comment on the ‘support us’ page under the aegis of ‘Cerberus Rowing Club’, but in effect anonymous. We could remove it, but we’re not into censorship!

However we are regularly comforted by emails we receive from clubs and individuals from all over the world who have found the information on this site useful.

On a personal level, we are now both retired and enjoying it immensely. We have spent the last year renovating our house (after years of neglect!). Leo’s old room is now converted to a music studio for Stephen and his band to mess about in. Leo shared his Dad’s passion for contemporary music of all genres, so we are sure he would approve. We are immensely proud of our lovely daughter. She has just started as a GP partner in an excellent medical practice in inner city Manchester, which is what she has always wanted to do. Jane is getting around to starting that book - about the last seven years…

We wish everyone the very best of the season, and a happy new year.

Jane and Stephen
19/12/2007 - Update on Safety Review (Jane Blockley)
This time of year makes us reflect upon things, so we want to update you on where things stand at present. The Rowing Safety Review is complete, and we have seen and commented on the draft report.

The review was very thorough and wide ranging: assessing current practice throughout the sport, gathering the views of private individuals and official bodies and obtaining independent technical expert opinion. There has also been an analysis of existing guidance, structures and monitoring, as well as a review of current legislation and standards applicable to rowing equipment and practice.

The researchers from RoSPA visited many clubs and interviewed officers and members, as well as observing practice at ‘grass roots’ (on the understanding that responses are treated anonymously). They had discussions with ARA Regional Water Safety Advisers and the views of the ARA were gathered via the Honorary Water Safety Adviser as well as by attendance at a meeting of the ARA Council Water Safety Working Group.

The views of the All Party Parliamentary Rowing Group


were sought – and, as we said before, we were interviewed at length.

The independent expert technical review of the issue of boat buoyancy was undertaken after consultation with FISA, the ARA, competition rowing boat builders, the convenor of the relevant ISO standards and others. A comprehensive literature review was also undertaken. The result is an authoritative and informed report on boat buoyancy constructional standards, their implementation, testing and enforcement.

The review makes several recommendations, not only about buoyancy, but also about several other aspects of rowing safety and how the ARA functions. One of the recommendations is that the final report is made public – which we feel is absolutely crucial. We plan to publish the report in full on this site, once it is finalised and released.

Meanwhile we were particularly pleased to read this passage from the (draft) executive summary:

“These recommendations have often been championed by some of and sometimes by all of those that we have spoken to within the sport and believe the benefit from adoption will be significant in improving safety within the sport. The impact of implementation in terms of cost and disruption should be minimal and acceptable to the majority of rowing.

We have found that those involved in the running of the sport of rowing have been open, enthusiastic and supportive of our work.”

Nice one!
23/09/2007 - FISA Boat Flotation Test Protocol (Stephen Blockley)
This document is now linked from the FAQ page. It was circulated to NGBs explaining the method of testing whether boats meet the FISA buoyancy standard:
"When full of water a boat with the crew seated in the rowing position should float in such a way that the top of the seat is a maximum of 5 cm (2 inches) below the static waterline."
07/07/2007 - Safety Review progressing (Stephen Blockley)
The independent rowing safety review is now in full swing. It is at the stage of evidence gathering, which includes (amongst other things) club visits and interviewing stakeholders. Today, it was our turn to present our views.

We are pleased with the process so far. There is a genuine effort to gather evidence and opinion from all quarters, and we feel quietly confident that the outcome will represent real progress for the sport of rowing.
28/04/2007 - Another NGB adopts the FISA buoyancy standard. (Jane Blockley)
The Hong Kong, China Rowing Association has investigated an incident in Tolo Harbour on 28th January 2007, in which four eights boats were swamped resulting in 36 people needing rescue. HKCRA has subsequently made recommendations for immediate and long term changes to improve rowing safety, including adoption of the FISA Minimum Flotation Standard for all boats from 1 January 2008.

From a posting on rec.sport.rowing by "Stamps":

"I'm pleased to report that the HKCRA has mandated shell buoyancy, effective 1 Jan 2008. The report on the race, with the new regulations, is here" :


This is excellent news.

Meanwhile we wonder what action is to be taken by the ARA following the sinking of ten eights at the Head of the River Race on 31 March this year? In the ensuing chaos 90 crew needed rescue from the cold river Thames, with water temperature approx 8-9C. Many required treatment for hypothermia. Reports confirm that those crews in buoyant boats were able to continue rowing even after being swamped, with some going on to the finish before the race was called off. Those in non-buoyant boats were rather less fortunate.
06/04/2007 - More retro-fitting information (Stephen Blockley)
We've just added another article to the buoyancy retro-fitting section. Robin Dickinson describes his practical experience of helping to convert his club boats to have fully enclosed underseat buoyancy compartments.

He details costings and time taken - approx £95 per boat and a couple of days. This seems very do-able, even for the average cash strapped local club. We hope his experience inspires others to do the same. Just do it!
21/03/2007 - Plaudit for our campaign (Stephen Blockley)
Some months ago we were contacted by a researcher from the UK Health and Safety Laboratory, who was undertaking research on behalf of UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency, entitled "UK Water-Related Incident Database Gap Analysis". This involved a wide ranging survey and analysis of all such UK databases, with a view to identifying how the data can better be recorded, collated, analysed and made available so as to inform safety improvement.

The final report was published late last year, but has only just come to our notice.


The researcher was interested in our Accident Database. We explained that the database was set up as an agent of change, and had largely fulfilled its purpose once FISA had acted by setting their buoyancy standard and disseminating unequivocal advice for action to all rowing NGBs. (That the ARA has yet to act on that advice is another matter). As such, and also because it contains incident data not just from the UK but from all over the world, our database did not fall within the remit of the survey. Nevertheless we were singled out for a special mention:

"4.2.5 Additional finding of potential benefit to the MCA

The Leo Blockley Memorial was established following a fatal ‘Swamping’ incident (a rowing boat becoming swamped by water, usually following a change in weather conditions) in 2000. The memorial has been relatively successful in reaching, and communicating with a substantial number of rowing participants. Publishing articles in special interest magazines and publications, starting threads in sport-specific chat rooms, raising the issues in relevant forums, as well as word of mouth were some of the approaches used to achieve this. These approaches to sharing information could be used by the MCA to ensure knowledge about accidents reaches the wide target audience."

There is also a more detailed report on our database at 6.4.26 (p53).

The document is quite lengthy, but is interesting reading. It highlights the fragmentary nature of data collection by the many and disparate agencies involved in water safety, including sport NGBs. There are recommendations for action to work towards a National Water-Related Incident Database, with information shared from all agencies. In our opinion this would be a big step forward for water safety.
21/03/2007 - Safety Review to start soon (Jane Blockley)
The Department for Culture Media and Sport has at last given RoSPA the final go ahead for the Rowing Safety Review to get under way.

The next step is for the stakeholders (including ourselves) to agree on the terms of reference, which should not take long.
07/01/2007 - Buoyancy retrofitting advice (Stephen Blockley)
Please click the button on the left to access excellent, detailed and thorough retrofitting advice from a renowned expert.

We invite contributions from others and aim to build up a comprehensive repository of useful tips and advice.
07/01/2007 - SARA votes to keep buoyancy regulation (Jane Blockley)
A belated post to report the excellent news that SARA's EGM on 30th December 06 voted to go ahead with implementation of their excellent buoyancy ruling on 1 January 07.

There has been a slight change to the wording regarding retrofitting older boats, but in essence the ruling remains the same - i.e that all boats within SARA's jurisdiction must comply with FISA's minimum flotation guideline, whether racing or training.

See entry for 30 Dec 2006 on:

14/12/2006 - SARA Buoyancy Regulation under threat (Stephen Blockley)
Copy of email circulated to SARA officers and member Clubs:

We have been informed by multiple sources that all is not going well with SARA's buoyancy ruling due to come into force on 1 January.

We understand the decision that all boats should meet the FISA minimum Buoyancy Performance Standard by 1 January 2007 was reached in March 2005,by a unanimous unopposed vote. There was clearly much enthusiasm to take this historic step forward to improve the safety of SARA's membership.

We are now aware that there is to be an EGM on 30th December (two days before implementation) to discuss proposals to render the buoyancy ruling ineffective, and that this was called giving the minimum possible notice of
21 days. 30th December is not a fair or sensible time to hold a meeting about such an important issue. The Executive must know that many will thus be unable to attend.

The required quorum is representatives from 8 member clubs, which is a small number indeed to make such a momentous decision.

Why momentous? SARA will severely damage its reputation and credibility if it reins back from what has been hailed as a huge step forward in rowing safety. DCMS has established that in the UK the sport National Governing
Bodies have responsibility for the safety of their members. The Scottish Executive has representation at the government linked National Water Safety Forum. RoSPA, who provide the secretariat for the National Water Safety Forum are facilitating the upcoming Rowing Safety Review. We have ensured that those concerned are already informed of SARA's excellent decision to implement FISA's buoyancy standard. A 'U-turn' at this point will ensure SARA is seen by all as disorganised and ineffectual, and possibly as deliberately dismissive of FISA-endorsed improvements in safety.

If Scottish clubs are not ready for the 1 January deadline, then SARA has failed in its duty to facilitate its own ruling. Since the unanimous vote for the buoyancy ruling in March 2005, what steps has SARA taken to support clubs in the process of bringing all their boats up to standard? For example:

- has SARA effectively publicised the ruling, with regular updates and countdown reminders to clubs?
- has SARA provided clubs with resource material such as lists of boatbuilders providing retrofit services, technical advice etc?
-has SARA provided practical and/or moral support for club safety officers as they push through the changes at ground level?

We are informed that the circulated EGM agenda is to completely change the original resolution so that new boats will not need to be compliant with the FISA Minimum Buoyancy Standard (as per the FISA Minimum Guidelines for the Safe Practice of Rowing) but must merely carry a plate stating whether the standard is reached (as per FISA's bye-law to Rule 31 of their Rules of Racing). The requirement for existing boats to be retrofitted is to be dropped. There seems to be some confusion here. Let us make clear the distinction between FISA's plating requirement and their minimum recommended safety guidelines:

The FISA plating requirement in the bye-law to Rule 31 of their Rules of Racing only applies to FISA controlled competition, which takes place in highly controlled circumstances, with a lot of safety provision.

On the other hand the FISA Minimum Guidelines for the Safe Practice of Rowing:


are intended for the rest of rowing, which is largely carried out in less or even uncontrolled circumstances i.e. training or recreation, where there may be no safety cover. FISA recommends these guidelines as a basic MINIMUM to all NGBs. There is rightly no equivocation here:

II. A. Safe Rowing Equipment. "Boats should meet minimum flotation requirements...(then quotes their buoyancy standard). Older boats not designed to meet this requirement may use inflatable buoyancy bags, foam blocks or other materials."

FISA took over two and a half years to carefully research the buoyancy aspect of their minimum safety guidelines, and consulted widely amongst boatbuilders and safety experts. We know this because we were involved to a degree, and they kept us informed throughout. They circulated the finalised recommendations to all NGBs on 15th December 2005 (FISA Circular No. 6, 2005).

FISA has no jurisdiction at internal national level, so it cannot require compliance. However such a clear, specific and strong recommendation on buoyancy of boats outside of FISA controlled events bears much weight when brought into evidence. FISA happily supplied relevant signed documentation to the second Inquest into the death of our son, which was admitted to the court as evidence with great effect, even though the recommendations were only in draft form at that time.

It is clear beyond doubt that FISA's intention is that NGBs will adopt their minimum recommended safety guidelines, and that the bye-law to Rule 31 is only applicable to FISA controlled events.

We ask ourselves why SARA Executive has taken this step. We hear many reports that the (English) ARA has played some part, perhaps prompted by the need to improve their own position for the impending rowing safety review.
We trust that these reports are untrue.

We ask all Executive members to ensure that SARA continues to lead by example, by implementing the original buoyancy ruling of March 2005 in its entirety. To do otherwise will be a disaster for SARA, and more importantly a potential disaster for Scottish rowers.

We urge all member clubs to vote at the EGM, to protect the safety of their members.

Jane and Stephen Blockley
22/09/2006 - New safety document (Stephen Blockley)
Our new document "Hypothermia and Cold Water Immersion - Information for Rowing Coaches and Clubs" is now available.

Click on the button "Hypothermia Guidelines" or Click here

We hope you find it useful.
22/09/2006 - Rowing Safety Inquiry - update (Jane Blockley)
The wheels of government move slowly forward. Here is an update on the rowing safety inquiry.

RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) has agreed to conduct the inquiry/review. They are about to send their proposals regarding cost, timing and the actual process to DCMS.

Once the Ministry has approved, which shouldn't take too long, work will begin on setting the terms of reference - which we will be involved in.

At Richard Caborn's request FISA has agreed to assist with the inquiry.
14/07/2006 - Another question in the House (Jane Blockley)
It is very encouraging to note that our MP is not battling alone in his efforts to promote the cause of buoyancy and rowing safety via parliamentary means.

The Shadow Minister for Sport and the Olympics, Hugh Robertson MP, recently tabled a question to the Department of Culture Media and Sports. See:


Mr Robertson is also a member of the All Party Parliamentary Rowing Group.

We understand that things of this nature take a long time in government circles, but momentum for action is growing all the time.
09/06/2006 - Yesterday at the Ministry (Jane Blockley)
At the meeting yesterday Mr Caborn informed us he has decided to order an independent and wide ranging inquiry into rowing safety and its administration. It is planned that this would be under the auspices of the National Water Safety Forum:


There is an issue over the fact that the ARA is a member organisation of this forum, but Mr Caborn seemed confident that this could be circumvented so that the inquiry is truly independent.

We will have input into the establishment of the terms of reference for the inquiry.

The discussion

Given the ARA’s past history of ignoring safety recommendations, we expressed concern to the Minister that the ARA may not act upon the recommendations of the inquiry. Mr Caborn reassured us that this would not be an issue this time.

Mr Caborn emphatically stated that for rowers’ safety the buck most definitely stops with the ARA. He acknowledged that the changes we were pressing for would not interfere with the sport's enjoyment or performance in any way. Whilst we all accept that nothing in life is risk free, he agreed totally that every effort should be made to avoid avoidable risk in sport.

We all acknowledged the achievements of the ARA in promoting wider participation in the sport through Project Oarsome etc.

The Minister is justly proud of his department's success in promoting training for volunteer coaches in all sport, including rowing. There was discussion about the various demands that volunteers have placed on them, including the legal requirements of child protection, police checks and so on. He expressed concern that coach training involves such costs. It follows that the quality and content of coach training is crucial.

We made the point that all coaches must have the back up of a set of clear, unequivocal, sensible and practical safety rules, which are underpinned by logical explanation and accurate facts. These core rules should be enforced at NGB level, and any hint that the basic minimum rules of safety are "advisory" must be removed.

He paid tribute to the way we have conducted our efforts towards improved rowing safety, and to our contribution to the development of safety recommendations by FISA.

Our view

We feel this is an excellent way forward and that the Minister has helped free the "log jam" which had developed in the safety debate. The ARA officially severed direct communication with us in March 2003, in a letter to us which we found quite threatening. While some very reasonable individuals within the organisation have maintained productive but "unofficial" dialogue with us throughout, it seems that specific personality difficulties and dogma have stood in the way of sensible discussion at any "official" level.

It is a great shame, and surely an embarrassment for the sport and the ARA that things have come to this. Rowing is a wonderful sport, and we want to see it continue to flourish, but we also want to see an end to rowers’ lives being put at unnecessary and avoidable risk. The latter can be achieved without any negative impact on the former, at little or no cost.

We hope that the Inquiry will provide a basis for all those with an interest in rowing safety to work together for the benefit of the sport.
05/06/2006 - Meeting with Sports Minister to discuss rowing safety (Stephen Blockley)
We are meeting with Richard Caborn (Minister for Sport) this Thursday (8th June) to discuss rowing safety and the ARA. This meeting was promised in Parliament during the adjournment debate on 15th March. We are informed those present will be: ourselves, our MP David Heyes, the Minister and one of his advisers.

David Heyes has shown remarkable understanding of the issues at stake, and has done everything he can to ensure our voice is heard via the democratic process. We consider ourselves lucky to have such an effective and motivated MP who works hard for all his constituents.

We are determined to make the most of the allotted 45 minutes and we will, of course, report back!

Jane and Stephen
13/05/2006 - Coroner's Letters on ARA site (Stephen Blockley)

Earlier news posts (26/01/2006 and 7/02/2006 - see News Archive) give our reaction to the ARA's response to the two Coroner's Rule 43 letters. These Rule 43 letters and the ARA letters of response had been published on the ARA website, and we included the link in our news post.

The ARA has recently produced a new website and the letters were removed. After being missing for several weeks they have at last been restored. Perhaps this was in response to criticism from rowing circles. In case they disappear again we publish the text of the four letters here. We feel it is essential that these important documents remain accessible to the public.

The ARA letters demonstrate very well what this campaign continues to be up against as we push for life saving improvements in rowing safety.

The four documents are:

The new link to the relevant part of the ARA website is:


21/04/2006 - New ARA Safety Documents (Stephen Blockley)
The ARA has published two new draft documents and have asked for comments. The links are:
"Immersion and Hypothermia" and "Guidance for Beginners". These can be seen at:


Here are our comments on the two new documents which we have submitted to the ARA.

There has been some attempt to make the document style readable, though we did struggle to follow the 'flow' of information. However they do contain a fair amount of good advice. Unfortunately, the content is confused and inaccurate in places, and important information and advice is missing. This is very disappointing.

A) "Cold Water Immersion" document

1) What is missing?

Any practical advice on how to conserve body heat when immersed! This is a glaring omission which limits the usefulness of the document. Bizarrely the document seems to assume that no one will be in the water long enough to suffer from core hypothermia, so does not address this situation at all. There is no mention of the need to keep as still as possible to conserve heat, no mention of the standard life preserving techniques of HELP (if wearing a pfd) and Huddle.

The document advises "have an emergency plan in place for when immersion occurs". We take this as a reference to advice on forward planning/risk assessment, which is good - but it doesn't go far enough. Having successfully coped with the Cold Shock stage, the immersed victim needs to then make a survival decision which will depend on their particular circumstances at the time. This decision requires ALL survival information, including how to best cope with relatively prolonged immersion, as circumstances may not turn out as planned. For example, many immersion incidents occur in conditions which also put safety launches out of action.

Using the information from our Cold Water Survival document
a victim can follow this decision ladder:
In descending order of preference:

I) If rescue by others seems possible in reasonable time, before any other hazards take over (e.g. a nearby sluice, or weir):

a) Get out of the water onto something and wait. (Best option)
b) Hold onto something and keep as still as possible
c) If nothing to hold onto, then tread water with your back to the waves to protect the nose and mouth.
(NB Options b) and c) easier if wearing a pfd)

II) If no chance of rescue by others, or other hazards imminent:

a) If can climb out of the water onto something, paddle it to the shore,
b) If can't climb out of the water, hold onto something and swim it to the shore,
c) If nothing to hold onto, swim to the shore (Worst option).

The ARA document seems to assume everyone will be able to climb onto or into their boat. There is no warning that if you have been forced into the water because your perfectly 'legal'/ARA compliant (constructed before April 2003) non-buoyant eight has swamped and sunk, then your resurfacing waterlogged boat will not provide any support if you try and climb onto it. Neither does it warn that when you hold onto the partially submerged hull, it will not offer enough support to reduce the need to swim to keep afloat.

Participants are not warned that illness, injury, drugs and alcohol may be detrimental to survival, or why this is so e.g. alcohol significantly increases susceptibility to hypothermia. Coaches are warned to look out for signs of these conditions in participants, but only in the context of whether they might affect their ability to participate effectively in the session.

2) What is wrong or confused?

The "four stages of drowning risk" section:

There is no mention of the almost instantaneous possibility of dry drowning and how to minimise that risk.

The "short term immersion risk (3-15 minutes)" is described as swim failure, which can actually occur well after the 15 minutes quoted. The time taken for swim failure to kick in is very variable from person to person: some may be affected within a few minutes, but others may be able to swim for a significant length of time. They quite rightly state this is largely unrelated to ability to swim in warm water.

In fact, the most important 'short term immersion risk (3-15 minutes)' is that of local cooling of the limbs leading to loss of dexterity and grip strength, an early localised effect of impending hypothermia which hampers self rescue tasks.

Post rescue risk, defined as 'collapse', is in most cases not a drowning risk as stated, but is a consequence of hypothermia (BP drop on leaving the water, and further lowering of core temperature due to return of cold blood from the extremities). Someone dying from this dies of hypothermia, not drowning. You might say this is nit-picking, but it is important to get these simple facts right.

The problem of possible delayed post rescue breathing problems is correctly raised. This may occur if there has been minor water inhalation (even as little as 2.5ml/kg i.e. 2.5ml for each 1kg of body mass) - which may result in a form of respiratory distress syndrome, sometimes after an intervening period of apparent recovery. There may also be the risk of later developing an inhalation pneumonia, depending on the nature of the fluid inhaled. These conditions are usually treatable. More significant water inhalation causes obvious problems from the start, and >22ml/kg is invariably fatal.

3) What may be misleading?

In the Hypothermia section Mild Hypothermia is described as "35 degrees C or below" - should be 32-35 degrees C. (Moderate is 28-32, and severe is 20-28. Below 20 deg C is defined as profound hypothermia).

The 'managing the risk of hypothermia' section is in fact restricted to the risk in air, not in water, which is not made absolutely clear at first sight. This distinction is important, as the advice to 'minimise inactivity' is NOT appropriate to an immersed victim. Once immersed in cold water the body cannot generate additional core body heat by activity - as said before, the opposite is true, activity in the water will promote body core heat loss.

B) Guidance for Clubs, Beginners and Juniors

1) The strategy regarding the wearing of pfds is in confusion:

It appears that the ARA 'strongly recommend' (but do not insist upon) the use of pfds by juniors until they have completed the swim test and capsize and immersion training.

It is suggested that adult novices must be 'offered the use of' a pfd.

It is suggested that the use of pfds should be 'considered' for all juniors (i.e. including swimmers) in adverse weather conditions.

There is no compulsion for anyone to complete the swim test/capsize and immersion training - and the document suggests that this can be achieved by watching a video, rather than by completing the practical session! This is a rather dangerous suggestion. (Both Coroners called for swim/capsize drill to be compulsory).

The Berkshire Coroner criticised the ARA for this confusion over pfds, and matters have not improved. So lets ask the questions... what is the purpose of a pfd, how will it help, and who really needs it? The answers should underpin a more logical and effective pfd strategy. We are here talking about a lifejacket (designed to keep nose and mouth of an unconscious immersed person out of the water to prevent drowning), not a buoyancy aid (useful only to a conscious and competent swimmer, so of little or limited use to preserve life)

What is the purpose of a pfd?
i) To provide buoyancy to an individual.
ii) To make it unnecessary to tread water to stay afloat.
iii) To self-right an unconscious person to keep airways out of the water.

How does that help?
i) It helps prevent drowning by keeping non-swimmers and/or exhausted swimmers afloat and making it easier to keep the mouth and nose out of the water.
ii) It preserves core body heat by reducing the need for physical activity to stay afloat.
iii) Even if the victim succumbs to hypothermia and becomes unconscious it buys added survival time by keeping the airways clear of the water (though not clear of spray).

Who really needs it?
i) Obviously non-swimmers, or poor swimmers, just to stay afloat.
ii) Those who are more prone to the effects of hypothermia i.e. the small, thin, large surface area/mass types. This includes most juniors and lightweight adult rowers.
iii) Anyone going out in very cold conditions, when conscious survival time in water would be significantly limited.

Ideally ALL rowers should also wear a pfd - but we won't go there.

The ARA Cold Water Document spells out that swimming ability in warm water is no indication of how effectively and for how long you can swim in cold water conditions, and that coastal and inland waters of the UK stay cold all year around. Swimming activity, even to just stay afloat promotes core body heat loss, and swim failure may hit anybody, however competent they are in the swimming pool. So....what is the logic in making swimming ability a deciding factor in whether juniors should wear pfds? Even juniors who can swim need to wear pfds by virtue of their build and consequent increased susceptibility to the effects of hypothermia. The ARA Cold Water Document dismisses the risk of core hypothermia, assuming all will be rescued before that happens, but that is not realistic, and is another dangerous assumption!

The ARA has a rule compelling all those out on the water but not rowing (coxes and those in launches) to wear a pfd. Surely there should also be a clear rule that all juniors must wear a suitable pfd at all times - they have the greatest need, and will benefit the most.

2) Personal logs

We can't work out if it is an ARA requirement (i.e. compulsory) or just a recommendation that clubs and individuals keep a log of experience and training. Again, the Coroners called for clarity on this.

3) Throw bags

We can't work out if the carrying of throw-bags is now compulsory for coaches on the towpath, or just a recommendation. The current Water Safety Code has a (compulsory) rule that they must be carried in a launch, but does not mention the towpath scenario at all. Again the Berkshire Coroner criticised this confusion.

In conclusion, we are encouraged that the ARA is attempting to address some of the several safety issues arising from Leo's and Sikander's deaths (and those of all those other victims), but we are disappointed that after so long they haven't come up with something better.

The issue of a workable and effective buoyancy standard has still not been addressed, so rowers will continue to be at unnecessary avoidable risk of immersion, and these latest documents do not yet provide adequate guidance or appropriate regulation to ensure maximum survival once immersed. A double whammy for rowing.
17/03/2006 - Yesterday in parliament (Jane Blockley)
We had quite a day yesterday.

David Heyes presented an excellent speech, which we felt made all the important points. He referred to the 'dismal failure' of the ARA safely to regulate its sport. He called for a 'change in culture that led to the agreement to keep secret events in Amposta and which allows the macho defence of peer pressure on people, including the youngest and most inexperienced participants not to wear buoyancy aids'.

He referred to the ARA current regulation on buoyancy as being confusing and unenforceable, having no measurable minimum performance standard. He called for an effective, workable, measurable buoyancy standard to be adopted for all boats used in the sport of rowing in the UK. He made reference to the legislation which arose from the Lyme Bay tragedy, when the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority was established, and suggested that the time has now come to oblige the ARA to be regulated by this, or a new, appropriate regulatory authority.

Mr David Lammy (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport) deputised for Richard Caborn, who is in Melbourne at the Commonwealth Games. He spoke very well, and paid tribute to the work we have done to promote safety in the sport.

He established that the ARA was responsible for safety in rowing, and that continued public funding of the ARA is dependent on them satisfying certain criteria including safety. He described how the ARA, like other sport NGBs, is responsible for setting rules and standards for its sport, and that clubs meeting those standards can become affiliated to the governing body. He explained that any club which failed to meet those safety standards runs the risk of losing its status as an affiliated club. In other words the ARA is responsible for safety standards in rowing, and it has the power to regulate clubs, with sanctions available to enforce those standards.

He felt it should be recognised that the ARA takes safety very seriously....'however that said, it does mean perhaps that more could and should be done.'

He said the Minister for Sport has agreed to a meeting with Mr Heyes and ourselves. He said he would ask the Minister to write to the ARA to clarify the matter of boat buoyancy and FISA's position, to write to FISA to understand better its position, and to write to Sport England to ask it to identify an appropriate organisation to undertake an independent assessment of the issues that are under dispute, including that of buoyancy.

We are delighted with the outcome - it exceeds our hopes and expectations.

We feel the ARA is now in the 'Last Chance Saloon'. It has had many years and countless opportunities to get safety right, but time is now running out. Mr Lammy rightly said 'I'm sure no-one in the House or in the sport would want the terrible events of 2000 to stop young people enjoying rowing or other water sports'. It is now down to the ARA to act to avert the risk of outside intervention in the sport. It is they who have brought the sport to this point, and only they who can draw it back from the brink.

You can see the full transcript of the debate in Hansard:


The webcast on


is still available for viewing in the Archive section (select 'Westminster Hall' and enter 'Rowing Safety' in the search box. The video clip contains the two previous debates, so move the cursor over to about 2/3rds of the way across to aim for the right start point. The previous speaker is a Minister answering a question on water supplies in Kent.)
We think it will remain on the site for a month.

10/03/2006 - Televised debate (Stephen Blockley)
The debate in parliament will be televised and can be viewed on-line as it happens and as archive material after the event by using this link:


That's next Wednesday 15th March, 4.30pm to 5pm.
10/03/2006 - Buoyancy at Westminster - more details (Jane Blockley)
The adjournment debate will take place Wednesday 15th March at 4.30pm and will last 30 minutes. Our MP David Heyes will open with a speech, and then Richard Caborn will respond, and the debate will continue until time runs out.

It will actually be held in Westminster Hall, but has the same status as debate in the Commons, will be recorded in Hansard, and will be televised (we think the following weekend).

It is open to the public (to observe only).

09/03/2006 - Minister for Sport to be questioned in parliament re ARA, water safety and our campaign (Jane Blockley)
Our MP Mr David Heyes has been successful in getting an adjournment debate in parliament on the ARA, rowing safety and our campaign.

The debate is scheduled for Wednesday 15th March in the House of Commons, and will afford our MP the opportunity to question the Minister for Sport, Richard Caborn.

David Heyes will raise the issue of the ARA's response to the Rule 43 letters from Mr Pollard (Coroner for Greater Manchester South) and Mr Bedford (Coroner for Berkshire).

We will post more details here when they are available.

Jane and Stephen
08/02/2006 - Copy of ARA Letter to Sports Minister (Alex Taylor)
24 December 2002 Letter from ARA to Sports Minister (JPEG format)
07/02/2006 - Circular letter to ARA Council members (Stephen Blockley)
The next ARA Council meeting is on 11th February. This will be the first opportunity for ARA members to have their views on the ARA responses to the Coroners' Rule 43 letters relayed to the ARA Executive via their Divisional Representatives.

We wish to ensure that all present have relevant information so as to promote informed discussion. We have circulated the letter below to as many Council members as we can find contact details for. In addition we have sent it to Di Ellis so that she can circulate it to all members of the Executive.

The letter refers to an analysis of the contents of the ARA responses written by Gary Harris, highlighting the points with which we take issue. This document is the next "news" item below this one.

There is also reference to the ARA letter (again written by Gary Harris)to the Minister for Sport, 24 December 2002. For technical reasons we are unable to upload this at present - but we have sought help, and hopefully it will appear on this website soon.
Dear ARA Divisional Representative,

We write to you ahead of the ARA Council meeting on 11 February to advise you of certain matters of the greatest concern and to enlist your help.

There are two issues regarding the ARA response to the Rule 43 letters which need urgent consideration and action. Firstly, the manner of the response, and secondly the failure of that response to adequately address the important safety issues raised by the two Coroners.

Our main concern has always been for the improvement of rowing safety, and this remains our priority. The ARA must be the instrument of change, and we have remained optimistic that eventually the required changes will be achieved. However the recent conduct of the ARA Executive raises deep concern for the future.

Please consider the following most carefully:

1. In 2005, in the space of just a few months, the ARA received two Rule 43 letters from Coroners following the deaths of two ARA members. Short of passing the case files to the Crown Prosecution Service, a Rule 43 letter is the strongest sanction available to Coroners in England and Wales.

2. The ARA has accepted a statutory duty, under Act of Parliament of 1995, to provide an effective safety regime for the sport.

3. The Coroners' letters identified no fewer than seventeen safety deficiencies in the ARA's safety code and administration, on which urgent action is required.

4. While there is no formal legal sanction against those who ignore a Coroner's Rule 43 recommendation, the legal liability and culpability consequences of such inaction are considered compelling enough. As Mr Pollard said, in words directed to Mr Harris in the courtroom, "It would be
a brave body which ignores a Rule 43 letter".

5. On behalf of the ARA, but without consulting you, Mr Harris responded in writing to the 2 Coroners by refusing to implement 13 of the 17 safety deficiencies they had noted. He wrote that only one recommendation would be accepted, with just three others to be considered further.

6. To thus rebuff the Coroners' demands leaves the ARA dangerously exposed and wide open to personal injury litigation.

7. Mr Pollard, the Coroner for Greater Manchester South, conducted both Inquests into our son's death. His lengthy Judgement concluded a 5-year judicial process involving the Attorney General, two High Court Judges, years of investigation, repeated interviewing of many witnesses, and those two Inquests. There is no room to doubt the validity of Mr Pollard's Judgement.

8. Mr Harris's response to Mr Pollard, however, challenges that Judgement and contains inaccuracies, false assumptions, false accusations and, in our opinion, libellous allegations. In all, Harris's two letters to the Coroners contain no fewer than 47 such erroneous statements (see attached).

9. Mr Harris was not in Amposta at any time remotely close to that of our son's death. To our knowledge, in the 5 years since then he has spoken with no one who was either in Amposta at the time of the incident or was actually involved. The version of events given in his letter to Mr Pollard is incorrect. It directly contradicts much of what was so painstakingly established under close legal cross-examination during 5 days of court

10. The Coroner cannot officially enter into discussions or disputes over his Judgements. Thus Mr. Harris's inaccurate and insulting version of events will remain unchallenged by the Coroner.

11. Coroners do not seek to apportion blame, only to establish the truth. We were never interested in blame and have always made this clear. Our concern has been to establish the truth, leading to the development of an effective, practical and sensible approach to safety in the sport which compromises neither the function and performance of the equipment, nor the joy of participation.

12. Mr Harris, in stark contrast, appoints himself as Judge and Jury and apportions blame to various parties for our son's death. His reasoning is unsupported by the evidence. For example, he implies that our son caused his own death, yet this directly contradicts the Judgement. His conclusions are untenable and contradicted by sworn evidence, the truth of which was so carefully established in court and upon which Mr Pollard based his Judgement.

13. We attach a copy of the ARA's response to Richard Caborn's enquiry in 2002, which was also written by Mr Harris. Please note that in that letter Mr Harris made similar false assertions and accusations, claiming that his
version of events was supported by witness evidence: it was not then, and is not now. It appears Mr Harris will not accept the truth of the matter, even when judicially established.

14. Since the second Inquest, Richard Caborn and David Heyes (our MP) have learned the extent to which they were misled by Harris' letter to the Minister on 24 Dec 2002. David Heyes has applied for an adjournment debate on the subject of "Rowing Safety". Mr. Caborn has, we are told, been advised to "investigate" the ARA. We have updated him following publication of ARA letters.

This is no way for an august National Governing Body to conduct itself. It disgraces the ARA that the executive, led by Mr. Harris, has acted thus towards us, the Farooq family, towards witnesses and towards those who have sought a proper response to serious safety issues.

The Coroners' recommendations mean that the ARA is now officially recognised as failing in its duty to provide a safe background to the sport.

ARA safety strategy is dangerously and fatally flawed and requires a complete overhaul.

The safety role of a sport's National Governing Body is to intelligently investigate the causes of accidents, to set technically sound safety standards for equipment, to introduce informed and effective rules of safe practice, to educate members in these disciplines and to devise a reasonable and practical system of enforcement.

The existing structure of UK rowing lends itself easily to all of these tasks. In many non-safety areas the ARA already enforces its regulations effectively, leaving it no excuses for abdication on safety matters. However the ARA seeks to further offload its safety responsibilities onto individual clubs and rowers. This does not deliver the above requirements, nor does it get the ARA off the legal hook.

The actions of the Executive are seen to imply the approval of Council. We believe that if you do nothing this will cost rowing dearly.

For further details please see:

Jane and Stephen Blockley

07/02/2006 - Analysis of ARA responses to Coroners Rule 43 letters (Stephen Blockley)
Gary Harris’s letter to John Pollard, Coroner for Greater Manchester South, 19 December 2005

1. Page 3: Alleges those in charge of OULRC in Amposta had not read the ARA rules and guidance on water safety. Truth: Only one coach said he had not (he was the one from New Zealand). The Head Coach was unsure, but all the other coaches had (as had the President).

2. Page 3: Assumes that there is no point in making any more rules or regulations, apparently because he believes that no one will follow them, and the ARA has no means of enforcing them. Truth: The ARA has no difficulty laying down and enforcing many rules already, both safety and non-safety related. For example, all boats are fitted with bowballs, and they are checked at ARA Regattas so that rules on their condition are enforced. Likewise heel restraints. A regulation must be sensible, precise and clear. The reasons for its existence must be explained. Thus the job of educating rowers, and that of enforcement will be made much easier. Regulation on safety matters is a key function of a sport NGB. Lack of compulsion encourages the belief that safety is a “take it or leave it” affair, and given the choice, most will intend to take it, but in fact will leave it.

3. Page 3: Claims FISA Minimum Guidelines for the Safe Practice of Rowing are inferior to the ARA Water Safety Code. Truth: The FISA document is superior to the ARA Code especially in the sections on heel restraints, hot weather guidelines, cold water guidelines and boat buoyancy. N.B. Mr Pollard does not recommend a wholesale change from the ARA code to that of FISA, as Harris implies. However, later Mr Pollard recommends the adoption specifically of the FISA rule on buoyancy.

4. Page 4: Accuses OULRC President of failing to take action over concern the Head Coach was affected by alcohol on two occasions. Truth: 1) President was not aware of the Trial Eights incident until after Amposta. 2) In Amposta the President’s boat was already on the water rowing downstream by the time Hudson arrived. They were 5km downstream, having stopped to spin, before he was able to see Hudson close enough to realise she was drunk.

5. Page 4: Accuses the President of allowing the session to start, and then to continue under her (Hudson’s) control despite his concerns about her behaviour before and during the training session. Truth: see above. He was not aware of Hudson being drunk while coaching before the training session. By the time he realised, they had already turned to head back to the boathouse.

6. Page 4: Accuses the coaches in the catamaran of not attempting to use the anchor to prevent the boat drifting out of control. Truth: Harris has no evidence for this statement. (He is stretching credibility to suggest that using an anchor would have made any difference in those conditions)

7. Page 4: Suggests the coaches took the launch out without an anchor. Truth: This was not discussed at either Inquest and Harris has no evidence for this.

8. Page 4: Accuses the coaches of deciding to start the outing in the half light. Truth: It was fully light by the time the outing started. They had deliberately started the outing 1 hour later than in previous camps, specifically to avoid rowing in the dark.

9. Page 4: Accuses the coaches of starting the outing before the Fire Brigade were on duty to offer safety cover. Truth: The Fire Brigade are always on duty. There was never any mention of them offering specific safety cover for the rowers. While we were in Amposta we spoke with each and every member of the Fire Brigade, so we know.

10. Page 4: Accuses the coaches of deciding to row downstream as it would be too dark to see the buoy moored upstream. Truth: They boated downstream for the slight shelter afforded from the breeze by the bank, not because of any problem with the light.

11. Page 5: Alleges that the coxswains lost control of the eights when they came around the bend into the strong wind. Truth: There is absolutely no evidence this was the case.

12. Page 5: Suggests the coxswains did not use the crew and oars to complement the rudder to help control the boats. Truth: Both coxswains did use this technique.

13. Page 5: Suggests the coxswains had not been taught said technique. Truth: They had received this training.

14. Page 5: Accuses the coxswains of not using the local procedure for crossing the river in high winds. Truth: Neither cox had been told of this procedure. Even if this procedure had been used it would not have worked. One of the eights sank before rounding the bend and while still on the opposite bank to the boathouse.

15. Page 5: Claims that the President and two coxswains were present at the briefing meeting with Axel Muller. Truth: None of these were present at that meeting.

16. Page 5: Claims the Coroner told Axel Muller he was not needed to attend the Inquest to give evidence. Truth: The Coroner did not tell Muller he wasn’t needed at the Inquest. On the contrary Muller was listed to give evidence on the 4th day, but did not turn up. (The Coroner could not compel him as he is outside Jurisdiction in Spain). Harris was also listed to give evidence that day. The Coroner planned to question them both on the “statement” Muller gave to Harris in 2002, and which Harris did not disclose to the Police or the Coroner until June 2005. Harris had disclosed some of Muller’s “evidence” to Richard Caborn in his letter of 24 December 2002, but failed to mention the statement, or any of the “evidence” which criticised OULRC, only quoting that which purported to lay blame on the rowers. In Muller’s absence his “statement” could not be admitted to the court (hence our use of “”), and Harris could therefore not be questioned on it. This is why Harris was in turn not called to the witness stand.

17. Page 5: Alleges that the coaches were operating outside the scope of their knowledge. Truth: The coaches included one with the IA, one with the IA and the Bronze, and one who, as well as holding various New Zealand and other federations’ coaching certificates, had been in his professional life the Marine Search and Rescue Advisor for the Police in Otago, New Zealand.

18. Page 5: Alleges the coaches had a poor grasp of the basic navigation rule passing “port to port”. Truth: He has no evidence for this.

19. Page 6: Accuses the cox of Leo’s boat of not being able to swim. Truth: The cox could swim well – this was specifically established in court.

20. Page 6: Alleges that the swamping of the boats was avoidable, blaming the coaches and crews. Truth: One of the eights swamped and sank while rowing upstream and still by the far bank, before rounding the bend. At the height of the storm there was no shelter anywhere on the river. Any boat would be swamped in those conditions, but only non-buoyant boats would sink. There was a buoyant pair out in the same conditions which was able to be rowed safely back to the boathouse.

21. Page 6: Alleges the cox has not learned anything in the five years since the tragedy. Truth: This is offensive and wrong. Said cox has since won two gold medals at national level.

22. Page 7: Claims the ARA cannot compel rowers, coxswains or coaches to attend training and education courses. Truth: Of course the ARA can do this. OULRC is an ARA affiliated club. The ARA can lay down regulation to insist that all those involved in rowing in such clubs must have undertaken basic education appropriate to their role before undertaking certain tasks – such as attending a training camp abroad, or participating in ARA Regattas.

23. Page 7: Implies the President did not set out the policy on safety or clearly delegate responsibility for safety. Truth: It was established before the camp that the President would attend the camp as “just another rower” and that all responsibility for running the camp was in the hands of the Head Coach.

24. Page 7: Mr Pollard recommends a rule that those responsible for organising safety matters during a training camp should be clearly identified in a document signed off by the appointed safety officer. Harris assumes that such a rule would not work and could not be enforced, as it would encourage the “box-ticking” mentality. Truth: It is self evident that if the Head Coach had been made to sign a document accepting she was the appointed safety officer for the camp, she would have realised that was part of her responsibility.

25. Page 8: Alleges the President did not have safety on his radar screen. Truth: The President had already been working with the University Sport’s Safety Officer to write a new safety policy for the club.

26. Page 9: Alleges Leo’s death was the first death in English rowing where it was suggested Buoyancy was a contributory factor. Truth: What about the death of Manchester, UK, student Robin Sherratt in 1957 following the sinking of his coxed four? Also Harris later mentions another English buoyancy related death. The fact is that the sport does not record or report upon rower deaths and serious accidents, so each is seen as a one-off. There is also a tendency for the victims to be blamed. This situation leads to inaction on pressing and/or recurring safety matters. N.B. Why only take account of English deaths? The ARA should be aware of safety issues in rowing in general. There have been many buoyancy related deaths worldwide over many years. Why wait for an Englishman to die of this known risk before taking action?

27. Page 9: Claims adopting the FISA Guidelines on boat buoyancy would downgrade the ARA advice, as boats would then merely have to carry a plate stating whether or not the boat meets the FISA Guideline for Minimum Flotation. Truth: The FISA Minimum Guidelines for the Safe Practice of Rowing clearly state that boats SHOULD meet their Flotation standard and gives advice on retrofitting older boats. Adopting this guideline would upgrade the ARA’s presently unquantified advice on buoyancy.

28. Page 9: Claims the ARA cannot police a rule on buoyancy, and do not have the means to test swamped boats. Truth: It could easily be done if the ARA set a measurable buoyancy performance standard for all boats used by ARA affiliated clubs, such as the FISA Guideline for Minimum Flotation, which at present they refuse to do. The manufacturers would do the testing, as they would know what standard they have to meet. They cannot test to a standard which is not measurable – which is the current state of affairs. Other water sport NGBs (e.g. the RYA) undertake regular compulsory buoyancy testing of certain craft used in RYA events, stability testing of craft in connection with the boatbuilders and maintain a watch on emergent safety issues within boat classes.

29. Page 9: Claims retrofitting of boats would present clubs with crippling costs. Truth: The Coroner suggested retrofitting should take place over a reasonable lead in time. Indications are that retrofitting by professional boatbuilders will not be very costly at all, and we know that some boatbuilders are interested in supplying DIY kits which will be even cheaper.

30. Page 9: Accuses Leo of causing his own death by swimming away from the boat. Truth: It was established in court that Leo did not voluntarily let go of the boat, and that he succumbed while swimming towards the boat.

31. Page 9: States that in 1954 there was a fatality in English rowing following the swamping of a boat when the victim allegedly swam away from the boat – thus contradicting himself when he claimed Leo’s was the only buoyancy related death in English Rowing history. Truth: there have been at least 3 English buoyancy related deaths, and at least 91 recorded worldwide. Most of those deaths have occurred in rowers clinging to their submerged boat.

32. Page 9: Claims that Leo’s boat did not capsize or sink. Truth: Leo’s boat did sink, it moved vertically downwards in the water until it was well below the surface. It continued to move downwards until the crew got out. It then settled just below the surface of the river, but sank again when any pressure was applied.

33. Page 10: Claims that even if the boat had been fully buoyant the crew would not have been able to have control of the boat to allow them to row the boat safely ashore. Truth: There are many documented accounts and even videos of fully buoyant boats being safely rowed, under control of the crew, even when fully swamped in very windy conditions – even going on to complete races.

34. Page 10: Claims that the crew was safer in the water than they would have been if their boat had been buoyant enabling them to stay inside the boat. Truth: It is hardly ever safer to be in the water than it is to be out of it. The crew would have been able to control the boat, just as they had prior to it sinking. Mr Harris does not seem to acknowledge the risks of cold water immersion, and that many rowers have died while in the water clinging to their boat.

35. Page 10: Alleges that none involved in the fatal incident acknowledge the importance of the chain of events leading up to the swamping of the boats. Truth: He has no evidence of this and it is completely untrue. This is an unwarranted slur on all involved.

36. Page 10: Alleges Leo had previously successfully swum ashore following a boat swamping incident while a student at Cambridge. Truth: This was discussed in court. The incident referred to did not involve swimming ashore, the crew could stand on the river bottom and merely had to wade ashore.

37. Page 10: Alleges again that Leo was responsible for his own death by allegedly attempting to swim ashore. Truth: See previous comments – Leo drowned while swimming towards the boat.

38. Page 10: Alleges again that Leo was responsible for his own death by swimming towards the bank, but contradicts himself by saying those who stayed with the boat and those who returned to it after initially attempting to swim to the bank were able to use the boat as a life raft (implying they were therefore safer), while of those who swam away from the boat one reached the bank without mishap, and one reached the bank after nearly being swept away (NB This was the one who tried to swim to save Leo). Truth: He seems to include Leo in the latter category, while, as was established in court, several were separated from the boat and initially thought to swim to the shore, but attempted to swim back to the boat.

39. Page 11: Assumes (disingenuously) the Coroner expects the club Safety Advisor in person to check launch safety equipment in all circumstances, and this would therefore be impractical as launches may be used in several sites at once. Truth: The Coroner recommends this task to be the responsibility of the appointed safety officer i.e. the Club Safety Adviser needs to appoint someone to carry out that task, not that he has to literally carry out every check him/herself. E.g. The club Safety Adviser may make it a club rule that it will be the launch driver who checks the safety equipment in the launch before going out; and the Adviser should then ensure everyone knows that rule.

40. Page 11: Claims no one appeared to apply their minds to the levels of experience of those attending the camp. Truth: He has no evidence to support this claim.

41. Page 11: States that extending the practice of keeping a log of competence/experience of adult rowers, coxes and coaches would be sensible. But (by reference to point 8 in his letter to Mr Bedford) he contradicts this by arguing that there is not a general consensus that logs are a useful measure. He also states that Oxford University authorities would be better placed to encourage students to adopt the practice of keeping such a log. Truth: The ARA do not have a regulation on maintaining logs for anyone other than juniors involved in Project Oarsome. There is only “advice” for other juniors to have written logs. Extending regulation to include all active ARA members would satisfy the two Coroners’ recommendation on this issue, but the ARA have no intention of doing this. The ARA attempt to shift the onus onto Oxford University would obviously not help reduce risk for anyone who happens to be rowing elsewhere (most of the rowing public).

42. Page 11: Alleges again that those involved in the fatal incident do not appreciate the chain of events that led to the tragedy. Truth: As above – he has no evidence of this, and there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

43. Page 11: Claims there could have been some consolation that Leo’s death had not been in vain if those involved in the incident could demonstrate that they had learned the lessons to be drawn from this tragic waste of life. Truth: We know for sure that everyone involved has learned lessons. We have spoken to them all many times. Harris has not spoken (to our knowledge) to a single one of them. Most of those who gave evidence expressed that they realised what mistakes had been made. Truth: There would be consolation that Leo had not died in vain if the ARA would act effectively on the lessons to be learned, so that all rowers can benefit from improved safety.

44. Page 11: Alleges that most of the participants (in the incident) would not know what to do differently if they were in the same situation again, other than to rely on the Titanic (his disparagingly inappropriate word) option of the unsinkable boat. Truth: The Titanic was easily sinkable, that is why it is (in)famous. Those involved do know what they would do differently in the many aspects of the incident – checking weather forecasts, etc. They also understand the true value of full buoyancy, unlike Mr Harris.

Gary Harris’s letter to Mr Peter Bedford, HM Coroner for Berkshire, 19th August 2005

45. Page 2: Assumes that a rule introducing compulsory swimming tests and capsize drills for novice juniors would be ignored as impractical, or would mean beginners would be turned away from clubs. Truth: He admits most clubs are able to conduct capsize drills at least twice a year. What is impractical about the use of local swimming pools for swim tests at any time? Undoubtedly clubs would find a way, as do the clubs where the swim test and capsize drills are already compulsory for Project Oarsome participants. Note that Mr Harris ignores Mr Bedford’s comments that the key benefit of the capsize drill is to train rowers to respond appropriately when suddenly immersed, particularly in cold water.

46. Page 3: Claims the Stay-with-the-boat (SWTB) rule is a common place in the sport and one of the cardinal rules of basic watermanship. Truth: Prior to 1998 reference was made to this piece of advice in the Coach’s leaflet for the ARA Capsize drill, which would be seen only by coaches. It was not mentioned in the ARA Water Safety Code. In 1998 the reference was removed from the Capsize Drill leaflet. After Leo’s death, the SWTB rule was introduced in the draft version of the new Water Safety Code third edition and given a prominent position on its own in Section 2.2.4, with a subsidiary mention in, which is primarily a paragraph about something else. However, by the time this third edition was published in April 2003, section 2.2.4 had been removed. Leaving only the subsidiary (and easily missed) mention.

47. Page 4: States that the ARA will look again at how to communicate the cardinal SWTB rule, but are not sure how they could make it plainer than it is now. Truth: It would be hard to make it less plain than it is now. It is still only mentioned once in the code, at the end of a section swimming ability. If the rule is “Cardinal”, why is it only mentioned in passing in subtext?

06/02/2006 - FISA Safety Guidelines (Stephen Blockley)
FISA Minimum Guidelines for the Safe Practice of Rowing - now finalised

FISA has finalised their safety guidelines and last month sent a copy to all NGBs worldwide.

We have updated the link from our Cold Water Survival document (bottom page 2) which previously led to the FISA draft version.

The full FISA document can be seen at:


As well as the recommendation for all boats to meet the FISA minimum flotation requirements, there is a performance standard for heel restraints and a detailed section on hot weather rowing.

Apologies for being slow to post this news.
26/01/2006 - Re: ARA response to Rule 43 Letters (Stephen Blockley)
After the second Inquest the Coroner, Mr Pollard, wrote a Rule 43 letter to the ARA. Rule 43 of the Coroner's Act allows the Coroner to write to responsible bodies to recommend changes in safety provision or practice which would help prevent further similar tragedies. Mr Peter Beford, Coroner for Berkshire, who conducted the Inquest into the death of Sikander Farooq in January 2005, also wrote a Rule 43 letter to the ARA.

These letters are relatively unsusual, and it is rare for a body to receive two such letters in the space of a few months. One would hope that the ARA would have understood the serious nature of this situation. Two of their members have died, and two Coroners have identified safety deficiencies which must be remedied.

Earlier this week the ARA published on their website their official responses to the two Coroners:


We had hoped that the ARA responses would reveal a willingness to accept the need for change and a commitment to do so in an informed, open and constructive manner.

No such thing! Gary Harris, Deputy Chair, has used the letters to a different end. His letters are defiant, dismissive and arrogant. It is clear the ARA do not intend to make any significant changes. They have dismissed most recommendations out of hand, and have promised to "consider" the remaining few.

Harris's letter to Mr Pollard contains many factual inaccuracies which he uses to lambast and accuse several individuals, OULRC and Leo - once again wickedly implying Leo was responsible for his own death, when he knows the court found to the contrary. He even criticises FISA's actions on safety.

The letters represent the written equivalent of 2 fingers to the Coroners, the judicial process, OULRC, FISA, to ourselves and the Farooq family.

This is not how a sport governing body should behave. They have disgraced themselves. They are now isolated: they have been "officially" severely criticised by the courts and the Salvage Association, and it is clear the ARA are no longer "friends" with OU or FISA.

We consider Mr Harris is not fit for office.

We have written to Mr Pollard with our reaction to Harris's letter, and the bulk of the text is given below

Dear Mr Pollard,

Re: Leo Blockley Inquest - ARA response to your Rule 43 letter dated 19th December 2005

The ARA have just published on their website all correspondence regarding your Rule 43 letter, and that of Mr Bedford. Thus we have at last seen their letters of response.

We write to convey our comments on these letters, and to update you on our correspondence with the Minister for Sport and our MP, Mr David Heyes.

First of all we would like to say that we have received or read many comments on the subject from members of the rowing public and all those who expressed opinions praise your Rule 43 letter as being considered, balanced and eminently reasonable. This echoes our own view.

Comments from the rowing public regarding the ARA responses, however, have been universally damning.

We find Mr Harris’s letter to you contains several factual inaccuracies and self-contradictions. He is quick to apportion blame on every party but the ARA. He demonstrates technical and scientific ignorance. He refuses on behalf of the ARA to make effective changes which could help avoid a similar tragedy in the future. It is interesting that the ARA preface the letters on their website by explaining that “the recipient is not required to take any action in response to Rule 43 letters”. This may be true, but it sets the tone of their response.

Harris has misused the letter to promulgate his own interpretation of the events in Amposta. What he writes is inconsistent with what was found at the Inquest. Mr Harris attended the Inquest throughout, so he should not be ignorant of the facts established in court.

It is our understanding that the ARA response was supposed to address the safety issues which you identified as requiring change or improvement. As you explained in your opening remarks the purpose of the Inquest was not to apportion blame, but to establish how, where and when Leo died. Mr Harris has taken it upon himself to act as judge on the issue of blame, and yet vehemently denies the ARA had any part to play.

Personally, we have never been interested in blame, which is a pointless exercise. At first we accepted that bad things happen, and decided to concentrate on supporting the surviving victims of the tragedy. Once we became aware there were safety lessons to learn which were not being addressed, we put our energies into raising those issues. Then we realised that the full facts of the incident had not been disclosed, and thus we concentrated on efforts for the truth to be established. We did this not only as part of our role as Leo parents to bear witness for him, but also to ensure all of the safety issues were established, in the hope that they would then be addressed. Ultimately, the best memorial to Leo would be the elimination of the safety deficiencies which contributed to his death, so as to avoid any further tragedy as far as is practically possible.

Our concerns about the contents of Harris’ letter include (though this is not an exhaustive list):

1. Mr Harris lists documents they have issued in the 5 years since Leo’s death. The list is considerably longer than the one predating Leo’s death, but quantity is a misleading parameter. You may remember that Mr Bedford criticised the “Water Safety – You and Your Club” leaflet because it merely states that the club will give safety guidance. We don’t see how such a leaflet is useful as it is, but it could be improved by the addition of some actual safety information. For example, nowhere in all this paperwork is there any useful safety information regarding cold water immersion or how the essential life saving heel restraints should be adjusted (it just says they should be adjusted, but not how) etc. The ARA are correct that they need to concentrate on improving delivery of the message, but the message must be correct and complete to start with.

2. Harris’s comments on the FISA Minimum Guidelines for the Safe Practice of Rowing (now ratified) are factually wrong. He quotes the wrong document resulting in incorrect comparison between the ARA Water Safety Code and the FISA Guidelines. In fact the latter is superior to the former in several crucially important safety areas. Adoption of some aspects of the FISA document (e.g. the sections on heel restraints, cold water rowing, hot weather guidelines and on boat buoyancy) would greatly enhance the ARA Code, and would not, as Harris claims be a retrograde step.

3. In particular, the FISA document clearly states that “Boats should meet minimum flotation requirements: When full of water a boat with the crew seated in the rowing position should float such as the top of the seat is a maximum of 5 cm below the static water line”. There is no mention of Harris’s assertion that boats ”merely have to carry a plate stating whether or not it met the standard”. The FISA buoyancy standard is effective, practical, simple and easily measurable, whereas the ARA buoyancy recommendations are ineffective, confused, and not measurable.

4. Harris states the ARA have questioned FISA about why they have defined their buoyancy performance standard (minimum flotation requirements) in such a way. Here is the answer – FISA took note of our evidence and accident data, examined the issue in its Sports Medicine, Materials and Umpiring Commissions, and consulted with all NGBs and boatbuilders worldwide. This process took two years, and eventually the FISA Executive Committee ratified the standard last year. In contrast, by using his one time observation of a swamped four in the sea at Dartmouth Harbour as “evidence” Harris demonstrates a lack of technical scientific knowledge and methodology. To model the ARA policy on buoyancy on such a misinformed basis is dangerous. There are many examples of how swamped but buoyant boats have been rowed to safety under full control of the crew in stormy conditions – perhaps the most prominent being crews at the Junior World Championship at Schinias in 2003, when boats with inbuilt buoyancy completed the course, while those without sank, leaving their crews to be rescued.

5. Harris’s general comments on buoyancy are simply wrong. His comments on buoyancy and swamping specific to the Amposta incident are wrong. He claims the swamping of both boats was avoidable – he is wrong. He says it is possible the crews and coxes had not been taught the basic skill of using the oars to enhance steering – he is wrong. He ignores the fact that many rowers have died from the early or late effects of hypothermia while clinging to, and staying with their submerged boat. It is evidently much better to be in the boat than swimming next to it.

6. There was never any mention of the Amposta Fire Brigade offering “safety cover” for the rowers. We met with all members of the Fire Brigade when we were there, and not one mentioned this. Surely the Fire Brigade is on duty 24 hours a day?

7. He states that Caroline Smith, the cox of Leo’s crew, could not swim. This is untrue. It was established in your Court that she could swim well. He suggests that she was dangerously incompetent and inexperienced. In fact, she went on to cox for England and won two gold medals while competing at National level.

8. He has misrepresented the statutory safety role held by the ARA. We respectfully suggest that the safety role of a sport’s National Governing Body is to set technically sound safety standards for equipment, to introduce informed and effective rules of safe practice, to educate members in these disciplines and to devise a reasonable and practical system of enforcement. The structure of the sport of rowing is such that it easily lends itself to all of these tasks.

9. However Mr Harris repeatedly declares that the ARA will not set rules, apparently as he believes no one will follow them. It is the case already that the ARA does set rules and does enforce them e.g. the rule that every boat shall have a bowball of a certain colour and size. Every boat in the land complies with this. Some may be perished, or not attached properly, and this is picked up during routine boat inspections at regattas – the deficiency has to be put right or the boat is not allowed to compete. Thus there is already a system in place for regulation, checking and enforcement.

10. Mr Harris states that the requirement to sign a document “would focus the minds on the issue of safety…” but “there is a danger that such a requirement would foster just the unthinking box ticking mentality...” We contend that the ARA present condition of refusing to set sensible safety rules but expecting rowers to manage safety by (literally) ticking the boxes on the risk assessment form leaves everyone to “re-invent the wheel”, and already fosters the box-ticking mentality. The lack of compulsion in safety matters gives the impression they are not important and “you can take it or leave it”. Given the choice most will “leave it”.

11. Mr Harris also noted that clubs involved in Project Oarsome have a higher level of coaching standards and safety regulation. We suspect this is because this is a Lottery funded project, and is therefore subject to stringent safety and probity requirements by the Lottery Fund. Why could this level not be applied to all clubs?

12. We would like to use the history of the “Stay with the boat rule (SWTB rule)” as an example of the ARA’s inconsistency on safety matters: Prior to 1998 reference was made to this piece of advice in the Coach’s leaflet for the ARA Capsize drill, which would be seen only by coaches. It was not mentioned in the ARA Water Safety Code. In 1998 the reference was removed from the Capsize Drill leaflet. After Leo’s death, the SWTB rule was introduced in the draft version of the new Water Safety Code third edition and given a prominent position on its own in Section 2.2.4, with a subsidiary mention in, which is primarily a paragraph about something else. However, by the time this third edition was published in April 2003, section 2.2.4 had been removed. Leaving only the subsidiary (and easily missed) mention. In Harris’s letter to Mr Bedford he states “We will look again at how we communicate this cardinal rule to clubs, coaches and athletes, but we are not sure we can make it any plainer than it is now.” This does not make sense.

13. Although at the time of Leo’s death the SWTB rule was nowhere in ARA literature, Mr Harris once again blames Leo for becoming separated from the boat and states that he “swam away from the boat” implying that he caused his own death. He ignores the fact that there is no evidence either that Leo knew the SWTB rule, or that he deliberately let go of the boat. It was also established in court that Leo succumbed while swimming towards the boat, not away from it.

14. Mr Harris criticises OULRC and the coaches for not being fully aware of the ARA Water Safety Code, but does not mention that Oxford University Rowing has its own ARA Divisional Representative and ARA Safety Representative. (By contrast the North West of England only has one Div Rep to cover the whole region). Surely these ARA officers were ideally placed to ensure that all OU clubs had the correct information and education in safety matters?

In conclusion it appears that the ARA do not intend to make any significant changes to their safety policy as a result of the Rule 43 letters.

Also, it is a great disappointment to have put so much effort into ensuring the truth about Leo’s death was established at the second Inquest, only to face more published lies.

On a different note, you may remember that after the Inquest we obtained your permission, and that of Mr Bedford to disclose the Rule 43 letters to our MP and to Richard Caborn, the Minister for Sport. We are now told by our constituency office that Mr Caborn has been advised to investigate the ARA regarding these matters. Also Mr David Heyes MP is applying for an adjournment debate in parliament.

Meanwhile we have produced a safety document entitled “Cold Water – How to Increase Your Chances of Survival” and we posted it on our website just prior to the Inquest. This document has been well received worldwide and to date has been translated into German and Japanese. It is recommended by the German Rowing Federation, is being used in coaching seminars in Japan, and is linked to many rowing club websites in this country and abroad e.g. Australia, South Africa, Hong Kong etc.

Our document contains the sort of life saving information which should be available to all rowers via their NGB, we saw that it wasn’t so decided to do something about it. It is unacceptable that private individuals have to intervene in this way. We enclose a copy for your interest.

Jane and Stephen Blockley
01/12/2005 - ...and now in Japanese (Stephen Blockley)
The Cold Water Survival document is now available in Japanese, PDF and Word versions. Many thanks to Japanese rowing coach Tetsushi Ozawa for the translation.
Tetsushi has been working for improved rowing safety for some years, and also produced the table of rowing accident data for Japan which is linked from our Accident Database.
29/11/2005 - Correction (Jane Blockley)
The last item should have read:

.....Thanks to both Eberhard Nabel and Henning Lippke for the translation.

Sorry, we misunderstood!
28/11/2005 - Cold Water Survival Document - auf deutsch (Jane Blockley)
Click on the Cold Water Survival button and go to the bottom of the page to find links to Word and PDF versions of the document in German. Many thanks to Eberhard Nabel who translated, and Henning Lippke who proof read.
06/11/2005 - What happens now? (Jane Blockley)
We want to give an update on our continued efforts, and to ask for your help. We also feel compelled to comment on recent additions to the ARA website.

It has come to our notice that misleading, untrue and hurtful reports are still being published about the outcome of Leo's Inquest.

We had to fight long and hard at considerable personal expense (in every sense of the word) to make the truth known, while there was considerable concerted effort (which the Coroner described as a "conspiracy") by members of the Oxford University rowing establishment and others to keep the truth hidden from the Spanish Police, the Oxford Police, from us and from the Coroner.

In spite of all that, Mr Pollard established the truth in Court as far as possible 5 years after the event, even though certain witnesses gave evidence so lacking that he singled them out for criticism e.g. in his Judgement he described Leila Hudson's evidence as leaving "a great deal to be desired in terms of its veracity and accuracy".

After all this the ARA website contains reference to the verdict still being "Accidental Death" and the ARA receiving "comments" from the Inquest. [See:
paragraph 11]

We are, to say the least, rather disappointed.

The possible verdict of accidental death was rejected by Mr Pollard in his Judgement (see below) as "leaving something of a lacuna and is unsatisfactory bearing in mind all the evidence that I have heard and I therefore propose to give the conclusion of this Inquest by way of a Narrative verdict in the following terms."

The Judgement is a 35 page legal document written by the Coroner as summing up of the evidence, his Findings of Fact, the legal arguments and the Verdict. The Judgement also contains the following, referring to his Rule 43 letter:

"I am satisfied that this is a case where I should properly make representation to the appropriate authorities pursuant to Rule 43 of the Coroners’ Rules. I therefore intend to write to the Amateur Rowing Association setting forth views relating to the rules and regulations etc which should apply with regard to basic safety training for coxswains, the same for rowing crew members and in particular the safety responsibilities of coaches, be they in Great Britain or indeed anywhere else in the world with a British team.

I also intend to raise with the ARA the question of buoyancy on boats having heard that it is possible to build in a high level of buoyancy within racing boats. In this regard I accept that there are contrary views which have been expressed as to the desirability of buoyancy, but I am persuaded by the evidence, not only of Mrs Blockley, but of various other witnesses who have indicated that had full buoyancy been available in the boat in which Leo was rowing then it would be fair to assume that the boat would not have capsized and more importantly the crew would not have found themselves in the water where the effects of very cold water are rapid and catastrophic.

I shall also raise with the ARA the question of personal buoyancy wear, life jacket type garments which have been extensively and eloquently raised by my brother Coroner, Peter Bedford, Her Majesty’s Coroner for Berkshire in his letter of the 5th July 2005 to Mr Stuart Ward, Water Safety Adviser for the ARA.

Having said that I shall address these matters in a Rule 43 letter I give due regard to the point properly raised with me by Mr Watt-Pringle on behalf of the University (of Oxford) that it would be unfair to seek to impose on one organisation, rules and regulations which did not equally apply to all other similar clubs and organisations. I shall address my letter to the Amateur Rowing Association for this reason, but will specifically copy it to the Council for Oxford University Rowing."

Note the words "to seek to impose rules and regulations.."

The Rule 43 system is not about just making "comments". It is about recommendations for action which should be taken to prevent similar deaths. Although there is no statutory punishment for non-compliance, any "body" which ignored such recommendations puts itself in a very precarious position regarding insurance and legal liability. A barrister has commented that it would be a surprise if Oxford University was still able to obtain insurance for the continued use of non-buoyant boats.

In October 2002 the Minister for Sport, Richard Caborn, made enquiries of the ARA regarding the buoyancy issue. This was on our behalf, via our MP. On 24th December 2002 Gary Harris, Deputy Chairman of the ARA, wrote a letter of reply to Mr Caborn, in which he accused us of having widely propounded a version of events leading to the death of our son "which does not seem to be consistent with the written evidence we (the ARA) have seen.".

Mr Harris also stated that Leo's boat did not sink, that buoyancy was not an issue in his death, and suggested that Leo had caused his own death by breaking the "fundamental principle" to stay with the boat. This letter, and Harris's subsequent personal letter to us, made us suspicious, and sent us along the path of wider investigation to eventually discover the conspiracies.

All these assertions in Harris's letter have been shown to be inaccurate and/or unreliable in the court of law.

We were not prepared to tolerate inaccuracies or untruths about our son's death then, and are not prepared to tolerate them now.

Meanwhile, we are not sitting back waiting for things to happen. After 5 years exposure to the workings of the ARA and sections of the rowing establishment we have become disillusioned, but yet more determined to see this through. We are currently pursuing a new course of action to try and ensure the ARA act upon the two Coroners' recommendations. Amongst other things, once again we are taking up the case with the Minister for Sport.

It is time for a "sea change" in rowing safety, and we will do our utmost to contribute to that process.

We want to thank all those who continue to support and offer encouragement - including all those who have signed up on this website. We couldn't have got this far without you all.

We wonder whether we can call upon your help once again. Please make representations to your ARA Div Rep, if possible ahead of the ARA Council meeting later this month. Please also write to your own MPs, asking them to lobby Richard Caborn, who is already aware of the issues, and press him to intervene.

Our very real concern is that the ARA will discuss but not act. The ARA has still not introduced a quantifiable buoyancy standard, made any recommendation for retro-fitting older boats, or yet remedied the many other safety deficiencies noted by the two Coroners in their Rule 43 letters.

Heartfelt thanks,

Jane and Stephen
10/10/2005 - Full Text of Narrative Verdict (Stephen Blockley)

· I find that Leo John Blockley was born on the 4th January 1979 at Ashton-under-Lyne, whose address at the time of his death was ..., died on the 29th December 2000 at the River Ebro, Amposta, Spain.

· The medical cause of death was asphyxia due to drowning.

· Leo Blockley died whilst a crew-member of the "David Hardy" boat belonging to the Oxford University Lightweight Rowing Club, which was participating in a training exercise on the River Ebro.

· In December 2000 the OULRC did not have a safety officer in place and had not done since November 2000.

· There was little or no safety training given to either crews or coxes at the OULRC.

· There existed at that time a degree of confusion within the club as to the exact terms of responsibility as between the president and head coach.

· On the 28th December a number of the coaches went out to a bar/café for the evening and were taking alcoholic drinks.

· On the 29th December whilst the crews were out on the river the weather worsened suddenly and dramatically.

· No local weather forecast had been obtained. Reliance was placed on the guidance as to weather conditions supplied by local rowing coach.

· One of coaching launches got into difficulty when its propeller shaft was fouled by a mooring rope.

· The second coaching launch went to assist leaving the two "eights" boats unattended on a rough river in appalling weather conditions.

· The "David Hardy" boat had to make its way back to the boat club with a very inexperienced coxswain and no coaching launch.

· By the time the boat was level with the club house, having already taken in water, a decision was taken to cross the river. As it did so it was hit by wind and waves turning it broadside and causing it to take on more water leading to a capsize.

· The crew of the "David Hardy" got out of the boat; some held on to it, others tried to swim to the bank.

· It is unclear whether Leo Blockley deliberately let go of the boat or whether he was dislodged by the combined forces of water and wind.

· Leo Blockley was unable to reach either the shore or the back to the boat and was lost.

· Although there is evidence that some or all of the coaches may have partaken of alcohol on the evening of 28th December 2000, there is insufficient evidence to prove, even on a balance of probabilities, that the after effects thereof so affected the judgement of any of the coaches such that it could be said to have materially affected the outcome of an accidental event.

John Pollard, South Manchester Coroner, 7 October 2005

This is a very damning document, which makes it clear how lack of safety training and lack of safety preparation contributed to the accident. (There had been no risk assessment.) He also highlights the decision on the part of the coaches to send the eights back upstream alone.

He uses the term "insufficient evidence" when referring to whether the after effects of drinking contributed. The court heard that all of the three coaches, who made crucial decisions and undertook crucial actions as the incident unfolded, had been out drinking the night before. The coaches all said they could not remember how much alcohol they had consumed, but Mr Pollard said in summing up that there was clear evidence that the coaches had stayed in the cafe/bar for a considerable time.

Mr Pollard then announced that he is going to use his power to write a Rule 43 letter to the appropriate body - the ARA, which must take action to prevent a recurrence, with a copy going to the Committee for Oxford University Rowing.

He said he will address the rules and regulations relating to basic safety training for coxes and rowers, and the training of coaches. He will also make a recommendation on buoyancy.

In his summing up he acknowledged that if Leo had been in a buoyant boat, the boat would not have sunk, he would not have been forced into the water, would have been able to stay in the boat and would have survived.

Hearing evidence in court Mr Pollard understood the need for a quantified buoyancy performance standard.

Nothing will bring Leo back to us. However, we now expect that the ARA will make the necessary changes to prevent a recurrence. In spite of the lack of safety training and preparation, and the coaches having been out drinking, and in spite of the sudden severe weather - IF LEO HAD BEEN IN A FULLY BUOYANT BOAT (SUCH AS DEFINED ON THIS WEBSITE) HE WOULD STILL BE HERE TODAY.

The ARA will soon have received two Rule 43 letters from Coroners within the space of a few months - which must be something of a record. Realistically they have no choice but to act as instructed. As Mr Pollard said, "If Coroners make recommendations, it is a brave authority that ignores it."
07/10/2005 - verdict (Stephen Blockley)
The Coroner delivered a Narrative Verdict. This is a very uncommon verdict which allows more comment on the circumstances leading to death. Here is a précis from our hastily written notes (we will post the full narrative once
we have a copy):

The Oxford University Lightweight Rowing Club was severely criticised for having no safety officer, little or no safety training, and confusion as to the terms of responsibility of the Head Coach and President.

He describes the events, including that there is no evidence to suggest that Leo deliberately swam away from the boat.

He states that there is insufficient evidence (see below - none of the 4 coaches who were out drinking the night before could recall how much they had drunk) to prove the after effects of alcohol (in the coaches) caused the outcome.

He went on to say that he would be writing a Rule 43 letter to the ARA, as it has become evident that there is much that needs to change. He specified that he would be covering the following points:

Rules and regulations relating to:
1) basic safety training for coxswains
2) basic safety training for rowers
3) the duties of a coach
4) personal flotation devices
5) buoyancy... he stated that he believed that had Leo been in a fully buoyant boat he would not have ended in the water and would not have died.
(He had accepted evidence given by Jane and others in court about the need for a quantified buoyancy performance standard).

He will be sending a copy of this letter to the Committee for Oxford University Rowing.

Prior to the verdict, Mr Pollard summed up the evidence which had been given in court, witness by witness. Some witnesses (for OU) were severely criticised. For Leila Hudson he noted her disjointed and unsatisfactory
recollection of events. He listed 12 issues about which she had denied any recollection - to include how many vodkas she had drunk the night before.

He discussed the suppression of evidence prior to this Inquest, and said evidence in court shows there was a conspiracy by officers of OULRC (all named in court) not to make the condition of Leila Hudson known.

He described as totally unsatisfactory that Leila Hudson had signed her original statement which contained information which was "patently untrue", in spite of having been given the usual statutory warning verbally and in writing. He commented this had led to the original Oxford Police investigation being limited.

We are also very pleased that the Coroner is going to advise the ARA on a wide range of matters of safety, including buoyancy and safety education.
Previously in the court he confirmed that it would be a "brave" body that did not act on recommendations in a Rule 43 letter.

Evidence given in court showed that, in practice, the ARA had marginal or no influence on rowing safety at Oxford.

We feel completely vindicated.

Jane and Stephen
06/10/2005 - Inquest verdict due tomorrow (Jane Blockley)
After an exhausting four days, all the evidence has been heard and the Coroner has retired to considered his verdict.

The court will reconvene at 1400hrs tomorrow (7th October) to hear the verdict.
02/10/2005 - Cold Water Survival (Alex Taylor)
Jane has written an excellent guide to the dangers of cold water, and how to increase your chances of surviving. Read it here: (88KB MS Word document) or (101KB Adobe PDF document).
18/09/2005 - Another buoyancy related death (Jane Blockley)
It is with great sadness that we learn of another needless loss of a rower's life. Last week, on 12th September, a coxed four was swamped by the wash of a passing boat on the Rhine in Germany. The four was of open construction, had no buoyancy compartments and therefore sank. Four crew were rescued from the river by another passing boat, but the fifth man is still missing.

Another needless death, which could have been so easily prevented.

In February this year, FISA introduced its international by-law for buoyancy in all new boats used in FISA regulated events.

Older boats can have life saving buoyancy added, easily and cheaply, with no detriment to performance. Most of the racing shells used at the Athens Olympics had full buoyancy - completely dispelling the myth that safer boats are necessarily slower boats.

When will NGBs respond?

It is disturbing to hear that certain organisations in Germany have been trying to argue over FISA's buoyancy action, on misleading and unfounded so called "legal" grounds. Shame on them.
18/09/2005 - Second Inquest - more detail (Jane Blockley)
The dates for the second Inquest are now definite. Witnesses have been listed and notified for the first 4 days (3rd - 6th October) and the 7th is kept free for "overspill" and legal deliberation.

The venue is: The Magistrates Court, Edward Street, Stockport
Multimap reference: http://tinyurl.co.uk/7z5u

This is a difficult time for us and our daughter, our extended family and for Leo's friends. However we have every expectation that the full story will be told this time. Leo deserves nothing less, and the sport of rowing must face up to and learn from the full facts.
13/07/2005 - Second Inquest date (Jane Blockley)
We now have a date for the new Inquest into Leo's death. It will start on Monday 3 October 2005, and is listed for 4 to 5 days.

It will take place at Stockport Magistrate's Court, and will be conducted by Mr John Pollard.

As with any court case, dates may be subject to change. We will of course update information here, as and when necessary.
03/04/2005 - SARA votes for buoyancy (Jane Blockley)
(From postings on RSR 15 March 2005)

At the Half-Yearly meeting the Scottish ARA (SARA)accepted a proposal to incorporate a boat bouyancy requirement into the Water Safety Code.

"Boats constructed or delivered after 1st January 2007 shall meet the FISA Guideline for Minimum Flotation: "A boat when full of water with a crew of average weight equal to the design weight stated on the boat's production plaque, seated in the rowing position should float such that the top of the seat is a maximum of 5cm below the static waterline." All other shells shall be required to have similar buoyancy below each seat by 1st January 2007".

They will now be deliberating on how to regulate and monitor the new regulations.

Note that SARA goes further than the FISA regulation in that the buoyancy standard will apply to all rowing shells, not just new ones. This is obvious common sense and entirely achievable.

This is excellent news. When will the ARA south of the border follow suit? We had been told the ARA was waiting for FISA to regulate before they did anything... so what is the excuse now?
03/03/2005 - Second Inquest confirmed (Stephen Blockley)
Two High Court judges yesterday upheld the Coroner's application for a second Inquest into Leo's death.

Lord Justice Maurice Kay announced the decision, saying that all parties had "quite properly" consented to the application, which was made after credible new evidence was discovered. The judge made no mention in his statement about the nature of the new evidence, which we cannot discuss ahead of the Inquest.

It is, we believe, very rare for a Coroner to make such an application.

We are now waiting for the Inquest to be held. It is a relief that the full story will be told. We have every confidence in the Coroner, Mr John Pollard.

We expect that safety issues will be examined, and hope that lessons will be learned and changes will be made.
28/02/2005 - A second Inquest for Leo? (Stephen Blockley)
The Coroner has applied to the High Court (Administrative Court) to quash the verdict of the first Inquest into Leo’s death. This will allow him to open a second Inquest in due course. Subject to confirmation, the Court is due to make a Pronouncement on Wednesday 2 March 2005 at 10.30 a.m.

This is happening since significant new evidence has been brought forward, which may result in a change of verdict (originally “accidental death”).

This process has taken over a year to reach this far, and this has been a particularly difficult time for us. We do not relish the idea of going through another Inquest, and no doubt neither does anyone else involved. However as Leo’s family, we must bear witness for him, and ensure he receives the justice he is entitled to. We also firmly believe that the sport of rowing will benefit from the Coroner’s examination of the many safety issues involved.
07/02/2005 - FISA Buoyancy Performance Standard ratified (Jane Blockley)
The FISA Extraordinary Congress 2005 have voted unanimously to ratify their "Boat Minimum Flotation" standard. This is a performance standard and goes some way towards that which we have proposed (see Documents no.50).

FISA's standard states "Boats should meet minimum flotation requirements as follows:
When full of water a boat with the crew seated in the rowing position should float such that the top of the seat is a maximum of 50mm below the static waterline".

This standard forms part of the FISA "Guidelines for Safety Standards" which can be seen on the FISA website at: http://dps.twiihosting.net/fisa/doc/content/doc_7_648.pdf

The flotation standard is only mandatory for FISA events - but it is to be hoped it will be adopted by NGBs worldwide. There will obviously be legal implications for NGBs which ignore the standard in the event of further buoyancy related death or injury within their jurisdiction.

This is definitely a significant step in the right direction, and we are pleased that FISA have taken action on this important issue which we raised with them. They listened to us and considered the evidence we provided to them.

We do feel that that the performance standard needs to go further - wrt the need for level trim and for the buoyancy to be in several compartments. We are hopeful that such things will come in time.
19/10/2004 - Rowing News article about the campaign (Jane Blockley)
The american magazine "Rowing News" have published a 10 page article about the Leo Blockley buoyancy campaign, entitled "In the Name of the Son" - August 2004 edition, p52.

The article by Neil Wu Becker, with photos by Gerard Jefferson-Lewis gives a good overview of events following lengthy interviews with ourselves.

The technical aspects of buoyancy are covered by Carl Douglas, and include photographs of how a non-buoyant shell can easily be adapted to become fully buoyant by enclosing the under-seat spaces.

There are quotes from FISA director Matt Smith about FISA's plans to implement new safety guidelines early next year, and a personal view from Jeremy Fagan, who survived the Amposta tragedy.

We hope that the article promotes discussion on the buoyancy issue in the USA. Surprisingly up until now the subject has not exactly been headline news, in spite of several recent serious swamping incidents. For example a total of 23 rowers had to be rescued from the Potomac river(Alexandria, Virginia) in two separate incidents in April and May 2004.

The magazine is available worldwide by mail order (including back copies) at www.RowingNews.com

Jane and Stephen
19/10/2004 - New website launch (Alex Taylor)
The Leo Blockley Memorial Campaign are very grateful to Downing College Boat Club for their support in hosting the website for the last few years. Now we are moved to our own dedicated server, and this coincides with a major update to the website design and back-end to make it more reliable.

Please update your links with our new web address http://www.leoblockley.org.uk. Many new updates soon!
07/10/2004 - RNLI Report on Veterans' Head (Stephen Blockley)
The Autumn edition of The Lifeboat (supporters' magazine) landed on our doorstep this morning. There is a full page report on this year's Vets HORR rescue on 21 March. There does not appear to be any online transcript - so here's a few details.

The headline is "Thames race disaster averted". There were 2 lifeboats involved: and E class and an Atlantic 75. "They were in action for over an hour and a half as more and more of the rowing boats were swamped."

The Atlantic 75 was initially involved with helping rescue a crew near Fulham football ground, and the E class "was called to assist a safety boat helping an eight in difficulties" at Hammersmith Bridge.

Then the Atlantic 75 "came around a bend in the river... and were faced with the sight of three sinking eights and one capsized with people clinging to the upturned hull." Martin Blaker the helmsman said "The picture of the sinking boats, with about 35 people in the water, is one I will never forget".

"At this point Martin took on the role of co-coordinating and controlling all the rescue efforts of the lifeboats, the race safety boats and launches. His first priority was to get all the people in the water or in sinking boats to the shore. When everyone was safely ashore and accounted for, the rescue team began to clear damaged boats and debris out of the water. He was then notified of yet another boat sinking at Barnes Bridge. The E class went to deal with the situation and found 9 women clinging to their submerged boat. They were then taken back to their rowing club aboard the E class.

Martin then arranged for all the rowing crews left on the water to be told to go to the nearest club....... Two people were taken to hospital suffering from hypothermia.

In this remarkable and complex service more than 40 rowers were pulled from the water as their boats capsized, took on water, sunk, or were badly damaged. If it were not for the RNLI lifeboats, serious injuries or worse could have occurred."

This was indeed a SHAMEFUL episode for British rowing..... there is no excuse. No-one can plead ignorance, given the publicity that the buoyancy issue has received here over the years - especially since the death of our son.

This report by the RNLI is diplomatic, yet paints a picture of disorganisation and ineptness on the part of the rowing authorities involved. It also highlights that you cannot depend on the race safety boats to get you out of trouble.

We're told that the present position of the ARA on buoyancy is this: "We are waiting for FISA to make a ruling and it is out of our hands". (They haven't told us directly because at their February 2003 meeting the ARA Council decided not to speak to us any more.)

Could this be yet another excuse to do nothing? They know as well as you or us that FISA can only advise, they cannot make compulsory rulings on domestic rowing. It is the duty of each NGB to regulate and set safety standards.

So how many more episodes like the Vets Head will it take? Do we have to wait for someone else to die?.......but then apparently they didn't take much notice last time that happened did they?
07/10/2004 - Pinsent chooses buoyancy (Stephen Blockley)
Article in Rowing News Nov 04 edition:

Question: with the wind and weather threatening to make things uncomfortable in Athens, what measures did you take to ensure peak performance?

"We saw the photos and heard the stories about the Junior Worlds where eights were sinking.."

"We were offered a four that had a self baler....but dropped that idea...it seemed an unnecessary addition and really more of a tactical burden to our three seat who operated it with a steering foot assembly.....How soon do you open the sluice? If you are leading do you risk it? If you open it and start slowing down because of the drag, do you close it again? All this while you are rowing along trying to win".

"What we preferred was to try and stop water coming in in the first place. We moved to wing riggers, which we felt had fewer disadvantages in the rough water..."

"We were also thinking of a pump, which weighs about 4 pounds but can pump out more than 10 pounds of water per minute. It has the advantage of being removable...we could ditch it at the last minute if we decide we don't need it"

We have also looked at ways of cutting down the areas that water can sit in the shell. For our Athens boat, all the below deck areas were sealed, leaving the footwells as the only possible basins."

Well, it seems they got there in the end! Full underseat buoyancy compartments....but are we allowed to call them that...you know, use that 'b' word?
18/04/2004 - Website problems (Alex Taylor)
Many apologies. The a swamping database was down for a while and was not alerting us to any new entries. If you submitted an entry before, pleae retry now as it has been fixed.

We still are seeing reports of new swampings all the time, and each time a boat goes down there is the serious potential for loss of life. Please continue to sign up to register your support.

Some good news - Kiwi International Racing Skiffs now build their boats with built-in buoyancy tanks and access tubes to allow easy cabling of cox-box systems and even distribution of water
21/06/2003 - Accident reporting system (Alex Taylor)
We have added a Swamping/Sinking Accident Reporting System to the website, containing some of the accidents that we know about that have happened over the last few years. This depends on your input to keep it current, and anything you add will go to helping the campaign to make boats safer. Currently, the database holds the details of 92 people who have died through their rowing boat becoming swamped.
16/03/2003 - Leo Blockley Memorial Campaign buoyancy standard (Alex Taylor)
We are releasing a copy of our proposed buoyancy standard that we would like to be adopted by the ARA.
07/08/2002 - ARA Farce (Stephen Blockley)
Some of you may be wondering what ever happened to the buoyancy campaign. Well here's the sorry story.

Next month the new Water Safety Code, which according to Tommy Thomson is now set in stone, will be published along with the changes included "to take account of recent expressed concerns". This code will be mandatory, and there is a "sanctions policy for breaches of the rules". You will be particularly interested in the following extracts:

1.10 It is the responsibility of the individual and the club to ensure that all equipment is safe to be used for the purpose for which it is intended and that it meets the standard set out in the code... Particular attention is to be paid to the following-. 1.10.4 Underseat or other buoyancy compartments, bow and stern canvasses etc, must be watertight to ensure effective operation and be adequate, in the event of swamping, to support all crew members while still seated.

2.6. 1 ...Particular attention should be paid to the buoyancy of all craft to ensure that, properly maintained, it will be such as to provide sufficient buoyancy, along the length of the boat, to support a seated crew in the event of being swamped. Attention must also be paid to the following:... Where the inbuilt buoyancy of a boat is not clear, manufacturers advice must be sought and additional buoyancy added, if shewn to be necessary in respect to the activity contemplated.

That is what the code says. Here is what it doesn't say:

There is no mention anywhere of the need to keep the crew out of the water (and out of danger). So the whole point of the buoyancy campaign has been missed. There is no definition of what is "adequate" or "sufficient" buoyancy. You could interpret "support crew members while seated" as 'support crew members while seated - but up to their necks in water' (indeed we hear whispers that one manufacturer thinks just that). Without this precise definition from the ARA individuals and individual clubs are on their own, and therefore subject to legal scrutiny, in complying with this unclear requirement regarding buoyancy. There is no mention of some of the dangers of cold water immersion, so the opportunity to inform members regarding atypical drowning has been missed. You've probably heard of cases of this in the media in the last week or so. This is one circumstance where ignorance is highly dangerous.

We, and others, have been working over the last few weeks to try to persuade the ARA to modify the code. We asked them to make it clear, and to give a precise definition of what buoyancy is required. We asked them to be prepared to co-operate with the boat builders, and to acknowledge when a particular model had reached the required standard. This would give essential guidance to individual rowers and clubs to enable them to ensure the boats they buy are "buoyancy safe". It would then be the responsibility of rowers and clubs to maintain the boats to keep the buoyancy intact.

On 20th July there was a meeting at Nottingham between the ARA and all UK boat manufacturers (except Ray Sims, who was at the venue but didn't attend the meeting). The purpose was to discuss buoyancy and the new code. We weren't invited by the ARA, nevertheless we attended.

Time and again the manufacturers asked the ARA to define what buoyancy was required, so that they could go away and alter their designs if needed. Time and again the ARA refused to give any definition. The ARA also refused to co-operate with any testing of boats (to ensure any such standard was met) or to recognise that any model reached those standards. The meeting ended with the ARA asking the manufacturers to go away and test their existing boats, and then to come up with their own idea of what might be "adequate". We don't think any of them were happy with this outcome.

We ask ourselves, and indeed we have also asked the question of the ARA - why do the ARA refuse to define "adequate" buoyancy? Why do they thus refuse to fulfil their public duty and take responsibility for the safety of their members?

The ARA now appear to be ignoring us, and no longer respond to our contacts. In the absence of any reply from them we can only make our own suppositions. Could it be that they are more interested in covering their own backs, than protecting their members from a known and avoidable risk? Could it be that they wish to offload their responsibility onto individuals, individual clubs, and the boatbuilders?

This leads us to another point. We now have in our possession a copy of a document sent to them by one of their own officials in May 1996. This official's involvement in the subject followed the BCU President's "unexplained" drowning at the NWSC at Nottingham in 1992. We're told this victim was an accomplished swimmer, whose boat sank beneath him. He decided, since he was not far from the shore, that he would swim for it - a swim he could easily manage in normal circumstances. He disappeared under the water after a short distance and never reappeared. The aforementioned document points out the problem of insufficient inbuilt buoyancy in rowing eights and fours, and suggests the solution - along the lines we have been promoting in our campaign. The ARA did nothing.


This weighs heavily on our minds and hearts.

We remain determined to continue to push for sensible, workable solutions. It appears that the ARA will not move any further on this issue. Therefore we have now enlisted the help of our MP, David Heyes. He has offered his full support, and if needs be he will take this case to parliament. It does not escape our attention that the ARA receives most of its income from public funds - so they are accountable.

The current situation is confusing and unworkable, putting clubs and individuals in an impossible position, while not achieving the aims of our campaign. If anyone out there in the UK feels strongly enough please consider contacting your own MP.

Jane and Stephen
28/04/2002 - Meeting with ARA (Stephen Blockley)
We had a very constructive meeting with Tommy Thomson, Rosemary Napp. Simon Darnbrough, our NW Div. Rep, also very kindly agreed to be there at our request (thanks Simon). We achieved agreement on all our points. Our stated aim was to substantially reduce the risk of rowers becoming unexpectedly immersed in water, and so to avoid the subsequent risk of serious injury or death. Here is what was agreed: 1) The ARA are to give all boat manufacturers 6 months notice that all new rowing shells to be used by their members must have sufficient in-built buoyancy to float with their seated crew when full of water (so that the crew are not significantly immersed). It will be up to individual manufacturers to meet this standard in their own way. 2) The new ARA water safety code which will be published in September will include advice to affiliated clubs and members that all their boats should meet the above standards at all times. 3) To facilitate this the ARA are in negotiations with boat manufacturers to supply retro-fit kits, and progress is being made. 4) The new water safety code will include advice on the dangers of water immersion. 5) The ARA will take the matter to FISA, and expect that they will be able to promote similar action worldwide. The new water safety code sounds to be quite a radical change. There is to be an emphasis on safety being the responsibility of all involved in rowing, and the promotion of the use of 'risk assessment'. This will apply to all rowing activity at all times, to clubs and individuals alike. The aim is to heighten safety awareness at every level. Training will incorporate this approach, from juniors upwards. These measures should give the best combination of making the equipment as safe as possible, while encouraging individuals and clubs to use it as responsibly as they can. The ARA have kindly agreed to let us see a draft of the new code for comment, and have promised to keep us informed of progress. Well done, and HEARTFELT THANKS to everybody who has contributed to the campaign. We've all shown what can be done when we work together. Special thanks to Carl, who has given us amazing support, and kept us going. (We think he should be hitherto known as Sir Carl). Also to Caroline for the website and her enthusiasm (which often cheered us in bleak moments). And a special mention for Alex Taylor for his networking, and determined promotion of the cause. BUT we must keep on our toes and ensure that the agreement is translated into action. We will of course continue to keep this group informed. Jane and Stephen.

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