Safety & Rowing Rules

A guide to safety on the river.


It is the duty of each member to conduct rowing participation with a care for his/her own safety, to avoid actions likely to endanger others, and to be aware of others in need of assistance. Members are requested to make best efforts to avoid actions which may oblige others to enter the water to save them.

Risk Assessment for City Barge Health and Safety

Review of Risks to those rowing or as passengers in City Barge boats,
including the shallop Royal Thamesis.


The risks when using any boat are as follows:

  1. Falling or being knocked out of the boat into the water.
  2. Trapping of fingers, hands or arms between boats and solid static objects such as pontoons, bridges and tree trunks.
  3. Trapping fingers between the oars and the forcole, rowlocks gates or thole pins.
  4. Particular note must be taken of the heavy weight and therefore momentum of the the larger craft: the Shallop, gondolas, the Balotina, and the larger sandolo Regalo, but also the sudden swings—the longitudinal instability—of the Venetian boats.
  5. Particular note must be made of weight when loading and unloading from trailers.


Most City Barge oarsmen will have experience of being in and propelling man-powered boats. The key to safety is awareness of the dangers e.g. the power of the oar if uncontrolled in any way. The oars are quite heavy and the forward momentum of the boat is powerful enough to knock the oarsmen over or even to throw them out of the boat. Oarsmen need to be aware of their environment to handle the oars carefully and to go with movement rather than fight it when unforeseen events occur.

Coxswain and Whiffler and Poppiere/a

The people undertaking these roles on any voyage will normally be experienced boatmen. The Coxswain and Poppiere needs to be aware of sudden tide rips, windage, movements of the stream especially near locks and weirs and anticipate them. The Whiffler needs to anticipate distance from land and jetties or wherever he may need to jump with a rope to moor the Shallop.



    Download the latest overview of the City Barge Safety on the River Thames here.

    rowing rules


    Whenever necessary, members are allowed to ask suitable passers-by to assist in launching the boats.

    2. LEVEL OF COMPETENCE of the poppiere (pop-pi-é-re): the person in charge of the Venetian boat

    A Poppiere must:

    • be able to physically control the boat, in that they must be able to manoeuvre it alone, in any direction, quickly and effectively.
    • be fully aware of the environmental conditions and the movement of other river traffic.
    • be able to give firm and decisive commands to any other crew.
    • be strong enough both physically and mentally to manage all the abov

    —Tim Williams

    THE EXPERTISE LEVELS are categorised as follows:
      • Trainee Poppiere – is able to round the island safely.
      • Level 1 ( P1) is the ability to control a boat on your own.
      • Level 2 (P2) is the ability to control the boat with one other person in the boat, you can control the boat giving instructions to your Prua.
      • Level 3 (P3) Is the ability to take out a 3 or 4, and control the boat asking the crew to assist.
    Level 1

    The Poppiere/a can take a boat out solo, with another boat in attendance – Or practice with a level 2 or above to further develop techniques.

    Level 2

    The Poppiere/a can row with one other person rowing. When on an organised row, an indivicual at this level can row with 2 or 3 people depending on their own risk assessment of their own abilities, the weather, the stream, and the abilities of the crew. Practice rowing with a 4 is advised only with a level 3 in the boat to support developing technical skills.

    Level 3

    The Poppiere/a can row with a 3 or 4 in relatively calm conditions and depending on their own risk assessment of their own abilities, the weather, the stream, and the abilities of your crew. Develop your skills within an organised row when there are other level 3s around to support as necessary.


    Assessments will continue to be done at Levels 1, 2 and 3 to enable a staged approach to learning the skills to become a competent Poppiere/a, keeping in mind the safety of the crew, the boat and other river users. Members will be made aware of the rules and of easier access levels of assessment.

    Rowing Conditions

    For all learning and newly assessed Poppieri, it is recommended that there are no stream warnings, and that the wind is below force 5 on the Beaufort scale: gusting 24 Mph and under.

    For more experienced Poppieri, it is not recommended rowing on Red boards or over a Force 6—gusting 31 and above—due to dangers of losing control of the boat and dropping debris from trees.

    3. KEYS to the boathouse.

    The keys are limited, as requested by Mark Seale, so these will only be given to level 2s who are prepared to run rows and people who help train or work in the workshop.

    Rules Review 24/07/2022

    Contributions from Poppieri Tim Williams, Ricardo Bailey, Pauline Dobbs, Dek Cordingley,
    Sue Burton, and Piero Bortoli. Pauline Ulijaszek, Judi, Marie and Pru Dickson questions 2/3.
    Completed by email and some telephone calls.
    —Collated by Pauline Dobbs


    Safety is the responsibility of each individual rower. Risk is reduced by avoiding collisions, keeping a good lookout, following correct navigation, performing effective steering, and being able to do emergency stops.

    The committee recommends that you wear a lifejackets if you:

    • are a non-swimmer
    • have a prior medical condition
    • are experiencing anxiety about being in a boat
    • wish to reduce risk factors related to cold water shock, especially in winter when river temperature is lower and the current moving faster, making recovery more difficult. See more cold-water rowing recommendations here.

    In looking at risk within City Barge, where we row stable, flat-bottomed boats on the River Isis or Thames, the incidence of rowers falling into the water is low risk at about one person a year.

    —Feb, 2023


    Download the latest overview of the City Barge Safety and Cold Water Shock.