Safety a Concern in Renewed Boathouse License

Forty people pack the Common Council chambers, waiting for the City Administration meeting to begin. Parents and children pull extra chairs from stacks and make their own rows when the pre-arranged seating fills. Members and supporters of the Cascadilla Boat Club have come to voice their opinion on the club’s licensing agreement, now under scrutiny after nearly 40 years.

A Historical Landmark

The Cascadilla Boat Club began leasing the Cascadilla Boathouse, located in Stewart Park, in the mid-‘80s, but the lease came into question last year when the Board of Public Works began reassessing licenses for public property. The boathouse, built in

The historic Cascadilla boathouse. Image from http://nyslandmarks.com
The historic Cascadilla boathouse. Image from http://nyslandmarks.com

1896, was leased by the club in 1985, and since then, the annual fee to use the building has been $46.17. In the revised version of the license, the club will be asked to pay around $13,000 yearly. The fee is not a problem for the club said Dan Robinson, a founder and current board member of the club, the problem is the people who are using this opportunity to try to remove Cascadilla Boat Club from the boathouse.

Mayor Svante Myrick is in support of keeping the club in their current location. “We need to preserve this resource as an asset for rowing and for getting on the water,” Myrick said at the City Administration meeting on Feb. 18.

The Safety Factor

Those in favor of removing CBC from the boathouse have cited safety as their main concern in keeping the club in a public park.

“The lack of city oversight of the safety protocols of the Cascadilla Boat Club,” Alderperson Brock said was her main concern at the meeting. Oversight is a tricky issue in rowing as there is not a strict licensing procedure set out by USRowing, the national governing body, or strict restrictions in terms of safety protocol. There are also multiple governing bodies in rowing at the state and national levels.

Robinson denied any issues with safety the club might have. “I think the club’s running safe,” said Robinson.

This was not always the case though. Robinson was asked to come back to CBC in the summer of 2013 after nearly twenty-five years away from the organization to help improve safety. “They had some terrific enthusiasm among it’s coaching staff, a young coaching staff,” said Robinson. A coaching staff whom he described as a little bit reckless.

The statistics still stand in favor of the club though. According to a report by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation in 2013, there was only one injury involving a rower in a racing shell in the state last year. No supervised fatalities have been recorded in rowing in the past 25 years according to Robinson.

According to Robinson, the club is doing its best to improve safety as much as possible by holding safety classes for coaches twice a year and constantly informing staff of changes in USRowing safety procedures. After an incident in which a rower was excused from the team after his father expressed concerns for the club’s safety protocol, a document containing the club’s safety information was placed online for easy accessibility. 

The cold is always a factor in Ithaca, especially when dealing with water sports. “Everybody knows how to swim,” said Robinson who explained that there is a mandatory swimming test for all rowers that requires them to, among other things, tread water for ten minutes while wearing a t-shirt and gym shorts. For those who do not pass the swim test a life jacket is required for them to go out on the water.

Hypothermia is of course the main concern when dealing with water that often dips below 60 degrees. The club safety document states that “when the water is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, CBC singles and pairs may not go out without a coaching launch.” This ensures there are boats with the proper safety equipment to recover a rower who has fallen in the water.

The license will go before the Board of Public Works and the City Administration in April and will be brought before the Common Council in May.

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