Another US Death

Skip to first unread message

Marc Messing

Oct 18, 2021, 8:46:57 PM10/18/21
Leo Lehner, age 15, drowned on October 11th while rowing with his high school team in Dayton, Ohio. His death is the fourth this year in the US. Leo reportedly loved rowing and was allowed to row despite a long history of epileptic seizures. He suffered a seizure last Monday while rowing and fell overboard. His coach reportedly jumped in after him but he wasn't wearing a lifejacket or PFD and drowned.

How many more young rowers will have to die before USRowing and FISA accept that lifejackets and PFDs are appropriate safety gear for rowers? They can and should be worn under many different conditions.



Oct 19, 2021, 12:11:49 PM10/19/21

I see you run an organization called " so you can, perhaps answer some questions.

1. Are you advocating PFDs for all rowers or just at risk rowers like the unfortunate kid in the most recent drowning?
Do you expect them to wear the bulkier floatation devices or the compact ones with the gas driven inflators? Some of
these also sense water and self-inflate which might make sense in cold water where one can become incapacitated quickly.
2. If you aren't advocating PFDs for all rowers, under what conditions, such as air and water temps. would you recommend them?
3. Most people I know carry them in their smaller boats in the early spring and late fall. Is this a reasonable compromise for adults?
4. How do the statistics for youth rowing fatalities compare to other youth sports like US football, track and field, etc?
5.Do you know of any country in the world in which wearing a life vest is required for rowing? I'm curious about
the extent of safety concerns in other countries.

I glanced at your website and it seems to contain a load of information.

I suppose there is the endless argument about personal vs mandated responsibility. Most adults prefer personal
responsibility so a realistic goal might be education to allow individuals to set their level of risk.

Still, youth sports are a different dynamic as the adults need to ensure the safety of the children. I suspect safety weighs
heavily on most youth rowing coaches.

My pet peeve is a coach in a launch with the lifejackets trying to coach boats that are separated by a considerable distance. In a venue such as ours near
the Rocky Mountains, on a reservoir, the winds occasionally come down to the surface and create havoc in a very short time. It doesn't do much good to
have life jackets in a launch if the coach can't see if a shell has flipped or swamped.



Marc Messing

Oct 19, 2021, 1:46:44 PM10/19/21
The RowSafeUSA website was created initially just to collect and discuss rowing safety information, aimed primarily at scholastic rowers. Over the years it has increasingly looked like an advocacy platform for PFDs, but that is not really the intent. It's intended to be a database for rowing accidents and discussion forum for rowing safety issues.

1 & 2) My personal opinion is that lifejackets and PFDs can and should be worn when appropriate and that there should be minimum safety standards for underage minors, including the wearing of lifejackets or PFDs on water temps below 50f/10c. I dislike and distrust unnecessary regulatory standards but believe that adults and institutions have a role to play in the protection of minors. In this regard I believe USRowing has been disingenuous in denying it's authority to set minimum safety standards for young rowers, negligent in its refusal to collect and analyze accident data, and irresponsible in its attitudes towards lifejackets and PFDs.

2) Having spent decades in foam lifejackets for whitewater canoeing, I'm perfectly comfortable rowing in one. I have several I like and tried several I don't. My personal favorite is the Mustang Khimera hybrid.

2a) Air Temp v Water Temp? Air temperature is a matter of personal comfort. Water temperature is what matters. The colder the water, the less time you have to survive if you capsize. Gordon Giesbrecht's research and videos on cold water shock should be taken very seriously by all rowers.

3) As an adult I don't like being told what I have to do "for my own good" and don't tell others. Having spent as much time as I have in recent years studying cold water accidents, I now stick my hand in the water before going out in a small boat; if the water feels cold I put on my lifejacket. In my 17' dory, cedar on oak, I may just put the lifejacket next to me.

4) Because there are so few scholastic rowers in comparison with other scholastic sports (approximately 10,000 in the US vs almost a million in high school sports such as baseball and basketball, and a half-million in several others, it's impossible to draw valid statistical comparisons. But when was the last time you heard of a fatality in baseball, football (beyond heat stroke), cycling, or hockey? In each of those sports it only two one or two -- at most, very few -- deaths before the mandatory adoption of helmets. And I don't think there have been any on-field deaths in those sports since them.

5) As I understand the situation, there are states/provinces in Canada and Europe that explicitly address the issue of PFDs for rowers. More importantly, in the US, I feel strongly that the USCG pre-emption of state authority in regard to PFDs is an excellent example of stupid regulatory overreach. Several states have enacted PFD requirements for small boaters during the winter months and there is no legitimate federal interest to justify the USCG pre-emption of these state laws.

6) Regarding coaches' attitudes toward safety. Much, if not most, rowing in the United States is done in small clubs, with high turnover rates and no professional standards for coaches. Many I have dealt with are nice, well-intended, rowed in college, and have no very little about water safety. Others are arrogant fools who have told me "I never wore one and I'm still here," or "I'd rather quit rowing than wear a PFD." Those people, in my opinion, are dangerously unqualified to coach high school and junior high school rowers. More importantly, USRowing has deliberately edited out the language from NyGaard and Moore's foundational work on Law for Physical Educators and Coaches that refers to a coach's legal responsibility to inform the parents of underage minors of risk and to provide appropriate safety equipment.

The idea that rowing is too safety for safety equipment is like the idea that nuclear energy was going to be too cheap to meter. It's a dangerous myth that should be corrected now. Before the end of this year.


ps: I agree completely with your pet peeve. There is simply no way a single coach in a 16' skiff can control a boat while throwing five-dollar lifejackets into the wind for an overturned eight in cold water. I regard advocating that approach to cold water safety in lieu of lifejackets as dangerous nonsense.

Marc Messing

Oct 19, 2021, 3:23:30 PM10/19/21
Let me apologize for several typos in my previous email.

under 4) "In each of those sports it only two one or two" should read "it only TOOK one or two..." "...since them" should read "...since THEN."

under 6) I wrote that "USRowing has deliberately edited out the language..." It might be more accurate to say that "USRowing has deliberately OMITTED the language."

Because some people might understandably wonder if my criticisms of USRowing are overstated, or too strongly worded, I should add that they are based on several years of correspondence with USRowing. I've spoken with most of the Board of Directors over the past several years, addressed the Board meetings on more than one occasion, served on the Safety Committee, and discussed all of these points repeatedly with staff and Directors. This past year, after Amanda Kraus became the new CEO of USRowing, I was told that Board meetings were no longer open to members of USRowing (or the Safety Committee). In April I resigned from the Safety Committee and have had no recent discussions with them.

Reply all
Reply to author
0 new messages