Safe Boat Lifting Techniques

Rowing on the Square had the pleasure of working with Rochester Boat Club June 20th and 29th to problem solve safe boat lifting techniques for their boathouse.  We know rowing has a culture of if you can’t carry it, you shouldn’t row it.  The reality is that many clubs have boats that are difficult for rowers to carry with just the crew of that shell.  This is where using smart lifting techniques can save rowers from boat lifting injuries.  A bruised ego from asking for help, heals much faster than herniated discs!

Lets start with good lifting basics as they pertain to rowing:

  1. Keep objects close to your body, the further away the object the heavier it will feel.
    1. Think about rolling the boat in and out of the water, how often do we lose contact with the far gunnel on the way in and out of the water because it becomes heavy and far away from us.
  2. Lift with your legs, when possible, contract your core, stabilize and prepare yourself for the lift.
    1. Think about using a deep squat position or deadlift style position for completing in and out of water carrying.
  3. Keep your head, back and hips in alignment.
    1. Think about when walking with the boat at shoulders, position yourself like a suitcase carry.  Stand tall, don’t lean into or away from the load.  Keep the boat in contact with the muscular space on your shoulder, if not cup your hands to support the boat with elbows tight to your body so the boat does not bounce.
  4. Turn your feet, try not to twist.
    1. Before you do toes to the edge, as the boat starts to roll move the back leg even to the edge of the dock and prepare to deep squat or hinge like a deadlift.
    1. Speak up, communicate with your coach or coxin if you need help.  Most crews only need 1-2 more people to help to make the boat more manageable to carry.

Special Boat Carrying Considerations

When loading high overhead racks, coordinate and communicate the lift prior to the crew having hands on the boat.  Everyone has experienced loading a high rack, boat in hand, crew members yelling directions and too few hands in contact with the load, don’t let this happen to you.  Plan the lift, position stairs, make sure everyone knows their job, and then a coach or coxin gives clear coordinated instructions.

When rolling in and out of the water, crew members should set their bodies, chose their preferred position either deadlift style with a soft flexed knee and hinged hip or a deep squat.  When rolling out of the water stopping at waist needs to be a coordinated move so that if momentum is stopped the coxin calls for a swinging motion to finish the lift.

Rowers should stay as close to the far ends as possible when carrying the boat as the boat will feel lighter.  This does create a problem for the non coxin seat end of the boat, depending on how you roll your boat the bow seat rigger might make it difficult to stay close to the end and effectively lower the boat into the water.  Remember when carrying coxed boats the end with the coxin seat will be the easier end to carry because of the extra gunnel space without riggers.  Coaches may want to consider putting shorter or weaker rowers on this end to carry.   This will give them the greatest opportunity to not drop the boat into the water those last 2-3 inches.

Carrying the boat overheads is a difficult position for most rowers.  Most people do not have full shoulder flexion range of motion because of your technology-based posture habits.  Think about how often you raise your arms overhead during the day with a significant amount of weight overhead.  When you lack full shoulder flexion range of motion, you will be tempted to extend your upper or low back to get the boat fully overhead.  This position with weight overhead puts the stress directly into the low back.  If overheads is not needed to walk down the ramp to the dock, keep the boat at shoulders.  When the boat is overhead encourage rowers to not look up into the boat but straight ahead to keep their spines in alignment.  Also encourage rowers to not extend their low backs in this position, but to use as much shoulder flexion as they have, lock their elbows, engage their core and look straight ahead.  If walking in this position the rowers should be thinking of this position as they would an overhead carry with a kettlebell in the gym, coordinated controlled purposeful movement.

Key take aways

Ask for help if the load is too heavy, consider launching heavier boats first so additional rowers can help. 

Have your crew practice a deep squat verses a deadlift style lift when lowering and raising the boat out of the water.

Always lift and carry the boat with coordinated, controlled purposeful movement.

If you do have an injury or are not reaching your rowing goals, now is the time to get the help you need with Rowing on the Square Physical Therapy and Rowing coaching!  Rowing help by rowers for rowers.

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