The World's Toughest Row

OCEAN ROWING – Essential Guide

The below document has been produced by Atlantic Campaigns at the request of the MAIB and it is intended to be used as a guide to the absolute minimum standards people should consider before attempting an ocean row.

The AC rules and procedures is being recognised to be the gold standard within the sport by the Spanish Authorities

Ocean rowing is a rapidly growing ultra endurance sport combining elements of rowing, physical, mental and emotional endurance and technical expertise in a very demanding environment.

The sport of ocean rowing started in 1896 when a pair of Norwegian fishermen made a grueling row in an open boat from New York to Europe – a 2500-mile journey that took them 92 days and 22 hours.  It was not until 70 years later that the feat was repeated by Sir Chay Blyth and John Ridgeway.

Since the first modern races in the 1990’s the sport has flourished though it sees fewer people attempting it than any other similar challenge such as polar expeditions and climbing Everest – to date only around 600 crossings have been made.

The prospective ocean rower has two means of approaching the challenge:

  • as an independent rower who purchase the boat, assembles a crew and decides on when and where they travel from and to
  • as part of an organized event where training and safety inspections are in place and rowers compete in a race with other crews. Though termed a race many crews in this group are not truly racing but use the structure of an event to increase the chances of success in an expedition style crossing

Any prospective rower should consider each option at length and speak to those involved, the organizers and those who have completed a row.  It is recommended that before making a decision the rower should consider:

  • Rowing an ocean carries an inherent risk.  Look at the organization and your own plans.  See what safety measures are in place including preparation.
  • See what is offered as part of the lead up to your row.  If rowing independently see what can be done to improve your safety
  • Crew size and dynamic. Solo, pair, three, four, five or more?  How will you get on with your crewmates in tired, cramped, stressful situations?  Do they share the same goals as you?
  • Ocean rowing has a number of costs.  There is an enormous amount to consider and the cheapest way forward is not always the best value or safest so again talk with organizers and other rowers before making a decision.
  • Other factors. There are many other factors to consider including:
    • Media and sponsorship will be greater in an organized event
    • Support structure. Pre race, during the race and post event support is larger in an organized event
    • Group dynamic and camaraderie in a race

Rowing as part of an organized event means there will be duty officers on call 24hours a day, support yachts and race doctor coverage.

Fundamental points for an ocean row

Most people take at least 2 years to put a rowing project together.  It is an absorbing and challenging task but the time in preparation is vital for safety and enjoyment.  The following points are absolute essentials for an ocean row:

    1. Must be designed for an ocean row and fit for purpose
    2. Must self right
    3. Must be suitable for the size of crew
    4. Must contain all equipment and supplies necessary for the crossing
    5. Must have had a survey carried out within 6 months prior to crossing.
  1. The physical act of rowing and physical fitness is not the major part of rowing an ocean.  Mental and psychological preparation, seamanship, boat and equipment knowledge are vital.  All rowers should as a minimum:
  1. Be physically fit (It is recommended to obtain a sign off from your doctor)
  2. Have spent a minimum of 72 hours rowing their boat including 24 hours in darkness
  3. Have trained together
  4. Have drilled and rehearsed all on board procedures
  5. Understand the operation of all equipment on board
  6. Have knowledge of how to fix basic items of equipment on board
  7. Understand the risks and likely problems arising and what can be done to prevent them or how to act should they occur
  1. It is recommended that all rowers, regardless of crew size have the following training as a minimum:
  1. RYA First Aid at Sea
  2. RYA Sea Survival
  3. RYA Essential Seamanship and Navigation
  4. VHF/SRC Radio License
  5. For those entering the Atlantic Challenge organized by Atlantic Campaigns, a bespoke Ocean Rowing Course is mandatory. This is recognized by the Spanish Authorities as a safety essential along with the RYA courses and is a pre-requisite for rowers leaving from Tenerife, La Gomera, La Palma and El Hierro.  Other events may also have specific requirements to meet safety requirements and ensure port authorities allow clearance
  1. An outline minimum equipment list is given below however particular attention should be paid to:
    1. Life raft
    2. Life Jacket
    3. EPIRB
    4. PLB per crew member
    5. Safety harness and line
    6. Satellite telephone
    7. AiS
    8. A jackstay both on deck level and at shoulder level should run the length of the cockpit and be securely fastened.
  1. Conduct on Board. At sea there is constant risk and tiredness and complacency can increase this. As a minimum:
    1. Rowers must always be tied on with a rated safety line and harness
    2. Hatches must always be closed to maintain self righting
    3. Life jackets are recommended at all times

Minimum Equipment (not including many boat design features).  Those rowers entering races will get detailed equipment lists and checks of that equipment but key items include:

  • Life raft
  • Grab Bag
  • Life jacket
  • Rated safety harness and line
  • Safety clothing
  • PLB
  • Flares
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Medical kit
  • Signal mirror
  • Safety knife
  • AIS Radar transponder
  • Satellite telephone
  • VHF radio
  • GPS
  • Water maker
  • Navigation light
  • Suitable power supply
  • Deck and shoulder height jackstays
  • External grab lines
  • Compass
  • Suitable food stores
  • Suitable cooking device
  • Para anchor
  • Drogues
  • Bilge pump
  • Anchor
  • Tool kit
  • Spares

By adopting these basic and minimal safety procedures and requirements, this does not guarantee you a safe or successful crossing. The safest way to row an ocean is to take part in an organized, supported event within a structure of Crisis Operations Plans, Support Yachts and 24 hour on call support.

The Port Authority of Santa cruz de Tenerife, the port authority governing the Provence of Tenerife which includes Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Santa Cruz de La Palma, Los Cristianos, San Sebastián de La Gomera, EL Hiero and La Estaca do not allow any ocean rowing boat to leave the shores of their province unless they are part of an Atlantic Campaigns event.

Supported By

Antigua and Barbuda Puertos de Tenerife Islas Canarias La Gomera Antigua & BarBuda National Park Antigua and Barbuda Search and Rescue
Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge