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Revive your rowing fleet with these budget tips

David Blackham, Director of Rowing at The King’s School, Chester, suggests some budget-busting ways of revitalising your rowing fleet in time for the racing season

Cold days, flooding, limited water time and hard gym sessions can make this time of year pretty bleak. But it’s a very busy time down at the boathouse – boats and blades need to be prepared now for the summer crews.

At the top end a stiff shell can make all the difference. Yet for a younger or less competitive crew, a shell with some give is much more accommodating for the variation in technique you’ll find in the boat.

If you’re prepared to think outside the box, you can make your money go a long way. A new eight is expensive but for a lot less you can have new slides, shoes, riggers and handles. Well-maintained points of contact will make any crew believe in the boat they are in.

Here’s how…

1 – Seats and runners

Both seats and runners are often poorly maintained and I frequently see crews pulling up due to problems with them. New slides will make a huge difference and they won’t break the bank. Seats are expensive, yet new wheels are not. They should be replaced every few seasons depending on use, before they go wrong.

2 – Shoes

Shoes are one of the three points of contact in the boat – and, arguably, the most important. There’s no reason that, once a crew order is set, the plates can’t be swapped so everyone has the right size. Plates in the same boat should be able to fit all foot stretchers. If the back has gone soft on the shoe, it needs replacing. Not all shoes fit all plates so make sure you get a trial pair sent over before committing to a set of eight.

If you’re prepared to think outside the box, you can make your money go a long way

3 – Riggers and shoulders

Effectively the head gasket of all boats, the shoulders are vital and if they go then the boat is on its way out. However, consider re-rigging the boat from bow-side. If the shoulders are now soft on the traditional rig, try reversing the rig – the shoulders for a bow-rigged boat may still have a few years left in them. If the riggers are on their way out then order a new set.

4 – Blades

Blades, too, are key: but rowers’ complaints tend to refer to the handle and grip. You can replace the grips on a set of eight sweep blades for a fraction of the cost of a new set.

Though less durable than the green rubber grips, handles with black suede offer an alternative for smaller hands as the thinner material reduces the diameter of the blade handle.

By far the easiest material on the hands is the blue foam, but this will need replacing every season or two, plus it can also be a bit thick for athletes with smaller hands. Wooden handles are great, but out of fashion. The standard rubber handles are common, but are probably the hardest on the hands.

Find more boathouse tips here.

This article originally appeared in Rowing & Regatta magazine in March 2014.