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Who can row?

If you or someone you know is interested in being on the water and can get in and out of the boat (with or without tools), they can probably row. Some people will need adaptive equipment. Bring your ideas and find a rowing club near you.  

You can reach out to Lisa Tschannen, Rowing BC’s Manager of Education, Innovation, and Inclusion, for more information.

Why rowing?

Being on the water, being active, being around other people… these are things that are good for everyone! Plus, rowing is low-impact and a great workout.

Racing for para rowers!

Not every rower wants to race, but if you do, there are opportunities! More and more regattas are including para events and creating opportunities for para rowers within existing events. 

If you have high performance aspirations, you will need to gain race experience before attending selection events and national and international regattas. Part of the process for racing at an elite level is becoming classified. See below for more information about para rowing classifications and how they happen.

Para Rowing Resources

What Are The Para-Rowing Classifications?

There are three Para-Rowing classes recognized by FISA (Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Aviron). These classifications are for competition. If you simply would like to explore rowing and enjoy being out on the water, then you don’t need to worry about ‘fitting in’ to the classifications below.

1. PR1 (athlete uses primarily arms and shoulders, minimal or no trunk function, uses a fixed seat)

2. PR2 (athlete also able to use trunk, but minimal or no leg function, uses a fixed seat)

3. PR3 (athlete able to use whole body to some effect, uses a sliding seat)

Impairment types that can be classified for Para rowing include: impaired muscle power, impaired range of movement, limb deficiency, hypertonia, athetosis, ataxia, and vision impairment.

FISA has an online Classification Eligibility Guide to help individuals assess their eligibility as a Para rower. Please note that this tool is a guide only, and has no bearing on the classification process.

More information on para rowing classifications here.

Starting A Para Rowing Program

Many coaches who have never worked with athletes with a disability feel that to be effective, they need highly specialized skills, knowledge, or training. But that’s a misconception. In fact, most coaches who work with rowers with a disability soon discover that there is fundamentally no difference at all compared to coaching an able-body rower. The challenge, as with all coaching, is to truly understand the individual, to focus on their abilities and to explore what they can achieve. The safety, comfort, and enjoyment of the participant is paramount.

Key Messages

The sense of freedom of being out on the water and in control of a rowing shell is exciting and empowering for new para rowers.

Ask and listen if you don’t know how the equipment will work for the new rower. They usually have a pretty fair idea of what’s going to work and how to achieve the most successful set-up. Take some time to have a conversation with your para rowers to find out what they are comfortable with. Their input into problem solving will be a valuable aid.

Be prepared to improvise. No two athletes will be alike, so each athlete you coach will require a unique solution to ensure injury free and efficient rowing. Various forms of strapping, foam padding and other modifications may be crucial in setting up a para athlete for success.

Wind and current will also be a factor in planning a new PR1 (Arms and Shoulders) session. If the rower is not using their legs to propel the boat, less force is available for them to combat weather conditions that may arise. Plan accordingly, especially in the early stages of their development.

Just like any prospective rower, starting everyone on the ergometer is a good start. It also enables you to offer this option to rowers who need a fixed seat for support, even if you don’t have the boat yet. The fixed seat attaches with a pair of simple clamps to the erg rail. It’s a great way to see just how much control your rower has over their body in a safe environment. This better enables you to work out some initial plans for getting the athlete on the water.

When you are unsure of what an athlete can do, ask them.

Organizing a “Come and Try Day”

Looking to host a para rowing Come and Try event? It’s not hard to do!

Hosting a para rowing Come and Try event is a great way to start or develop a para rowing program.

Rowing BC will support your event with an onsite visit, and assist with providing equipment, connecting you with relevant organizations, event promotion and more.

Please connect with the Lisa Tschannen, Rowing BC Manager of Education, Innovation, and Inclusion, to discuss your needs.

Check out the link below for an outline and some good hints for starting a ‘Come and Try Day’:

Below is an example form that your participants can download, fill out, and send back to you:

Para Rowing Partners

Rowing BC’s para rowing program has developed some great partnerships in the para sport community. These organizations are all leaders in the para sport world, and work hard to promote and develop opportunities for persons with a disability to engage in sport.

Please feel free to connect with these organizations listed here if you are developing or promoting a para rowing program.

There are videos for everything out there.

Here are some helpful videos for using an erg with a fixed seat:

If you have suggestions of other good videos, please send them to Lisa Tschannen, Rowing BC’s Manager of Education, Innovation, and Inclusion.

If you are hosting a regatta and want to be inclusive, here are some ideas for including para rowers in your event:

  • Para rowers can go in para events, or in your usual events. Staggering start times and adding time handicaps based on standards are ways to make racing meaningful for everyone.
  • Your event does not need to include formal classification for athletes to enjoy the experience. Rowing BC has written an exception to the Rules of Racing that can be used in your sanction documents:
    • Para Rowing ExceptionFor this regatta athletes may enter events as PR1, PR2 or PR3 even if they do not meet the FISA definition for these classifications, or have not yet been formally classified.

      However all para athletes must comply with strapping rules for their respective classification, as set out in the FISA regulations.

    • Other exceptions can be included if your regatta would like to use World Rowing rules instead of Rowing Canada Aviron’s rules. Reach out to Lisa Tschannen for more information. This would allow para rowers to use similar equipment set-ups to what they would use in a national or international competition.

Coaching Para Rowers

General – Coaching an athlete with a disability

First Reactions

  • Fear, worry about speaking inappropriately to the athletes
  • Doubting your own ability to provide adequate support

Making Assumptions 

  • It is important to ask any person what they can do and what they would like help with
  • There are no increased liability risks when working with athletes with a disability

Adapting the situation

  • There are few differences from the basic skills and techniques used to coach able bodied athletes
  • Focus on the athletes’ abilities

First contact 

  • Focus on the athletes capabilities 
  • Everyone has the right to participate  
  • Sport is for All

Finding out more about the disability 

  • Different types of disability are grouped into broad categories such as mobility, sensory, and intellectual impairment
  • Disabilities are either congenital or acquired
  • Coaches should aim to develop a good understanding of the disability or disabilities of the athletes they coach
  • The athlete is the best judge of what he or she can or cannot do
  • Coaches should focus on the potential not the limitations
  • It is important for the coach to discuss with the athlete their goals and expectations, and how such goals will be established and realized

Assessing fitness, coordination and skill 

  • An assessment of the physical, cognitive and social skills of the athlete is essential in order to provide them with adequate support and sound programming
  • Use a process similar to that used with able-bodied rowers, however you may need to be creative

Communication and Interaction 

  • Open communication is vital
  • The best questions are those that would normally be asked of an able-bodied rower
  • Honesty is key to successful communication with an athlete with a disability

Inclusion and Integration 

  • Rowing can open a whole new world of access for a person with a disability; they become stronger, gain more endurance, and are generally healthier and more confident as a result.
  • These benefits are not limited to the participant athletes; ultimately everyone gains from the inclusion of athletes with a disability in rowing programs
  • Rowing technique and equipment should be the only things being adapted, NOT the athlete
  • Discuss with the athlete and your club what program would be the best fit

Coaching Vision Impaired Rowers

General

Vision impaired athletes do not need any specialized coaching equipment to be included in a club program.  The following tips might assist coaches who are working with vision-impaired athletes.

Getting Started

Consult with your athlete regarding their level of vision. For Example:

  • Is there some peripheral vision but no central vision?
  • Is there some central vision but no peripheral vision?
  • Do they have a sensitivity to light and need to wear dark glasses or avoid glare reflecting from the water?

In and Around the Boathouse

Take some time to guide the athlete around the boat-bay so they can understand the layout of the bay.

  • Allow the person time to touch things and familiarize themselves with the place and equipment.
  • Take time to let the person feel the different parts of the boat and to understand how they move.
  • Make sure you point out obstacles including wet areas that could be slippery
  • Work with other crews to make sure that the environment is as obstacle-free as possible. Shoes, oars etc. should always be placed in a predictable place like the centre of the dock or inside wall of the boathouse
  • Provide club information in a format that is useable
  • If appropriate, mark edges of stairs and docks for high visual contrast
  • Use bright or tactile markings on oars and other equipment so an athlete can identify them

General Address

  • Address the person by name, especially if they are part of a crew boat.
  • Address the person as you approach and introduce yourself – they might not recognize your voice. Ex: “Hi John, it is Maria here.”
  • Introduce the person to a group. Let them know if someone has left the room or the group or has come into the room or the group.
  • Treat the person as an individual and talk to them, not to a third party!
  • Describe what is happening and explain what you are planning to do. For Ex: “Juan and Sarah are putting the boat on the water,” “Peter, I am going to pass the handle of the erg to you,” or “Abdul, we will be going upstairs to the meeting room to discuss the plans for the training camp.”

Coaching

  • During the Learn to Row or Novice stage use a physical marker on the handle to identify when the oar is feathered or squared. A piece of tape or Velcro is sufficient. Over time, the athlete will recognize the difference by the feel of the oar in the oarlock.
  • Use balance exercises at the beginning of practice so the athlete can determine when the boat is balanced.
  • Involve the athlete in all crew activities (e.g. carrying the boat, taking to the dock oars, coach boat set-up, etc). Encourage all the crew members to communicate well to make full integration possible.
  • When working with visually impaired (VI) rowers, you might need to rethink your reference points for teaching, as you may not be able to demonstrate the stroke, depending on the individual’s level of visual impairment. Discuss with the athlete what amount of feedback they need.
  • During the first session, go over safety. It is of particular importance that you cover what to do in case of capsize, and emphasize the buddy system.
  • Make sure the rower can hear you from your coach boat over the noise of the motor.
  • Use accurate instructions when giving directions. “The boat is on your left” not “the boat is over there.”
  • Clearly specify the body part/s that are involved in a technique.
  • In a dangerous situation say, “STOP” rather than “LOOK OUT”
  • Give regular audible feedback.
  • Give advance warning as to what is expected next as much as possible. Because people who are visually impaired often won’t see everything going on in their surroundings, they often end up reacting to things as opposed to proactively preparing for them as someone who is sighted can. “There is a wake coming in on the portside. You should feel it in about 10 seconds.”
  • Lighting and glare are often a problem for people with vision impairments. Try to have light coming from behind or beside the person when you are talking to them.
  • Be aware that for rougher water, visually impaired rowers might have difficulty perceiving where the water surface actually is, depending on their level of sight.

Coach Education (for Coaches and Interested Club Members)

Sit with your eyes closed (better yet, blindfold them all so they can’t cheat!). Do you hear the fan? People talking? Boats on the water? Have them sit for a full 2 minutes in silence without talking. Start with a full minute of quiet and then, with them keeping their eyes closed, ask them, could you get back to the change room and get your bag? Up to the club office? Back to your car? Could you get to the boat bay and take a pair of oars to the dock? Ask them to keep their eyes closed a little longer and just feel what is going on around them. During this time, you can start moving around them and make subtle noises – close a door (did he just leave?), drop a book and say “Oh no!” (what just happened?) etc. Then ask them to open their eyes. How did that make them feel? Likely a little uncomfortable!

For people who are visually impaired or blind, activities may have to be planned – how many steps forward is it from the lower entry door before you turn left to go to the boat bay? How many steps to the boat bay door? Where is the fob access pad at? Once inside, how many steps is it before I turn right to get to the ergs? Don’t forget to step around that low beam! What erg is empty?

Blind/visually impaired people may take longer than someone sighted to do a task because of step-by-step planning. Leave extra time for getting ready, etc

Have coaches close their eyes again and ask them to do a specific skill. “Put your hand up please” or “Everybody wave at me!”. Ask them to hold the hand up or keep waving and open their eyes. Has everyone got his or her hand in the exact same position? Likely no. This reinforces the need to be specific on feedback. “Watch your timing!” is not specific. “Swing the bow” is not specific. “Two seat, you are catching late” and then calling out the correct timing of the stroke “And catch!…..And catch!” will be much more helpful.

Have coaches stand up with their eyes closed. Quietly walk among them and bump into them, enough to be a bit of a jolt and knock them off balance. Sighted people proactively adjust their body and what they are doing based on what they see visually. People who are visually impaired or blind generally don’t get that benefit, which is why you have to audibly tell them what is going on so they too can prepare.

Balance is a big issue – stand on one foot is easy with eyes open. Not so easy with eyes closed!

Have coaches get on an erg blindfolded. Ask them to row at a specific SPM rate, but have the screens covered so they have no feedback.

Guiding

  • Introduce yourself by name. Find out if assistance is required.
  • To guide, say “Here’s my left (or right) arm” and permit her to take your arm. The rower will then hold your elbow and walk slightly behind you with her shoulders parallel to yours.
  • When guiding a blind or visually impaired person, walk at a normal pace. Hesitate slightly before stepping up or down, or when the terrain changes (e.g. grass to gravel, or cement to wood).
  • Never distract or feed a dog guiding a blind or visually impaired person. Speak only and directly to the person. Ask the rower how the guide dog should be cared for during the training session.

Athlete and Coaching Aids

Radio headsets can provide direct communication between a coach and a vision-impaired rower. The equipment will generally include a handset for the coach and a helmet or headpiece with a built in speaker for the athlete.

Concept 2 has software called Erg Data, which provides verbal feedback on erg outputs. feedback on erg data. Information on Erg Data is available here.

Vision-impaired athletes might benefit from having tactile aids to assist with technique, such as electrical tape on the erg rail to indicate where to take the catch.

Coaching Rowers with Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)

Remember seating for SCI rowers is both for comfort and support. Athletes with a spinal cord injury will require an assessment of the seating used to ensure it meets their postural support requirements. The standard fixed seat with back support is adequate for beginner rowers, but athletes may choose to add strapping or padding to increase performance or stability. As the athlete progresses in rowing, the seating and postural support provided should be re-examined to ensure it is assisting the athlete to achieve optimal stroke mechanics.

Pressure sores are a concern for some people with a spinal cord injury, both in rowing and in daily life. Due to loss of sensation, sores can develop at points of high pressure, and decreased cushioning (sit bones, etc.), or at areas of friction. Discuss with your rower if they have areas of concern while in the boat. Ask them to identify points on the boat where there is risk of sores and make sure that any sharp objects (damaged gunwales, foot stretcher, slides etc.) are identified. These areas can be addressed with appropriate padding.

Remember that rowers with SCI may not be able to feel below the level of injury to their spine. Once pressure sores begin, they can be slow to heal. Rowers should be encouraged to do skin checks when they get out of the boat.

Ensure that all strapping of the trunk, legs and hands on the oars, will allow for quick release in the event of an emergency. The athlete should practice the release procedure to ensure that it is effective and quick. A planned and appropriate safety protocol should be in place when athletes with SCI are training. This protocol should be developed with the athletes and should consider the type of rowing shell being used, the athletes’ swimming abilities, range of mobility and experience level with water sports. The precise procedures to be followed in the event of capsize or other difficulty being experienced should be reviewed and agreed in advance of the training session.

Consider the rower’s response to cold and heat. Rowers with SCI likely have an impaired capacity to control body temperature in very hot or cold weather. Discuss this with them to see if they have any concerns.

You may need to create a plan for how your rower will get from their wheelchair to the dock and then into the boat. For wheelchair users transferring from their chair to the boat can be very individual. Discuss whether the athlete uses a transfer box, or similar device. A yoga mat (or similar) is useful to protect the rower from abrasions while on the dock. Remember that SCI athletes may have no core function, so the boat must be kept completely stable while the rower is transferring to and from the boat.

Coaching Rowers with amputations

For rowers with an amputation consider whether or not to row with a prosthetic. Rowers with a single leg amputation can row full slide with one leg. This decision will vary by individual based on:

  • The ease of putting on or taking off the prosthetic;
  • The impact of the prosthetic limb in the rowing stroke;
  • Comfort using the prosthetic limb around water; and/or
  • The impact of the prosthetic limb in positioning or balance within the boat.

Athletes who row with a prosthesis could require modifications to the prosthesis to accommodate the demands of the rowing stroke. For example, a PR3 athlete with a prosthetic leg requires a flexible ankle joint to allow full range of motion during the rowing stroke. With a hand or arm prosthesis or grip aid, the decision needs to be made whether the athlete should row on the port or starboard side. The prosthesis on the inside hand will react differently than when it is on the outside hand. Modifications to the prosthesis or the oar handle may be needed to allow the handle to pivot in the prosthesis, or to feather the oar.

Athletes who choose to row with a prosthetic limb will need to inspect their skin to assess its reaction to increased activity and the repetitive friction and increased sweating that will occur with rowing. You may need to discuss issues with prosthetic slipping off in workouts due to sweating. Numerous products are available to assist athletes with an amputation to meet their activity level and excel in sport. Specialists in the design and construction of prosthetic limbs should be consulted for advice where necessary.

Coaching rowers who are deaf or hard of hearing

Establishing communication based on the athlete’s needs is crucial when working with rowers who are deaf or hard of hearing. It is essential that coaches take the time to find out from the athlete what needs they may have in order to fully enjoy the sport of rowing and pursue their goals.

Coaches Resource Guide

Deaf Friendly Resource

Equipment for Para Rowers

Rigging for Para Rowers

PR3 (Leg, Trunk, and Arms Rowers)

Rigging for PR3 rowers is similar to regular sweep or sculling rigging with modifications suitable for these rowers. Use conventional club boats, rigging and oars. Visually impaired athletes who wish to row in a para program are classified as PR3 athletes. Naturally these athletes are welcome to row in regular club programs.

Amputees – if you are working with athletes who are single leg amputees, you may need to think about lateral boat balance, due to the missing weight of the leg. For arm amputees consider how their terminal device will both be able to stay in place on the oar handle, and be able to be released for safety.

Athletes with various impairments like drop foot or hand impairment will need to have specific solutions considered, depending on functional ability.

PR1 (Arms & Shoulders) and PR2 (Trunk & Arms Rowers)

The boats used for PR1 and PR2 rowers are wider to accommodate the fixed seat. These stable boats also make great additions to any club for new and recreational rowers.

Both PR1 and PR2 rowers use a fixed seat, so seat placement is crucial for effective stroke length. Take the time to adjust this correctly.

Strapping is an integral part of rigging for PR1 rowers, as it often provides core stability for athletes with no trunk function. It is important for the athlete to be aware of the value of strapping, and have the athlete provide feedback as to effectiveness and possible improvements as they become familiar with being strapped in. Typically strapping for PR1 rowers is used around the top rib, at the pelvis, and just behind the knee cap. However when PR1 athletes are learning, simply discuss what strapping they would like to use to start with.

A seat pad is essential to protect PR1 rowers from skin sores, and individual needs for athletes must be discussed prior to the first water session.

In a racing situation, PR2 rowers will need their legs strapped down to aid in functional stability. Keep in mind, however, that strapping is a safety concern for a new rower in case of a capsize. Think ahead to a strategy for escaping the strapping underwater for both PR1 and PR2 rowers.

If you have a PR2 rower who can use a conventional club boat, you simply need to immobilize the sliding seat.

Pontoons needed for PR1 and PR2 rowers are reasonably priced and can be fitted to all rowing shells. They are a simple way to get people of all types of ability rowing, and they’re a great asset for any new club program. Pontoons should be adjusted so they just touch the water surface, this ensures maximum stabilisation. Attach the water side pontoon before the boat is in the water, and the dock side pontoon prior to pushing off.

Rigging for PR1 and PR2 boats requires no overlap with the oars due to the fixed seat. Span, if your club has ordered the tighter-spanned riggers, is considerably narrower than regular measurements. Typical para-rowing measurements are as follows: (keep in mind that these are just guidelines; you’ll want to tailor measurements to each individual rower)

  • PR1 span 125-130 cm; oar length 250-255 cm; inboard 56-61 cm
  • PR2 span 137-142 cm; oar length 260-265 cm; inboard 65-67 cm

There is a simple formula for finding the inboard to create no overlap. This works with any span: measure the span, divide by two and subtract four centimeters. This will give no overlap.

Para Rowing Equipment Loan Program

Looking to start or enhance a Para Rowing program?

Rowing BC has para-specific equipment available to loan to clubs on a long-term basis to assist your para programming needs. This can include rowing shell, oars, fixed seat, strapping and pontoons.

To find out more please contact Lisa Tschannen, Rowing BC’s Manager of Education, Innovation, and Inclusion.

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