Safety – Water Level

This will be first of a series Rower Safety and Boat Loss Prevention notes to inform or remind our members of the actions we should be taking to keep ourselves safe and protect our equipment.

The first topic will be Water Level.

As you all know we row in a river with an ever and quickly changing water level. We row in extremes of high and swift to low and “Rocky” waters. But we have limits and precautions to be taken when rowing between the “banks” of the these extremes.

High and Swift

The official water level that we use to judge whether it is safe to row is from the NOAA River Stage (ft) and Forecast as gauged in Trenton. The reason we use the Trenton level and not our New Hope/Lambertville level is because our gauge does not accurately report the level at the lower levels and it does not forecast the level. The NOAA site can be found on the SCRC webpage in the upper right hand corner. It is tagged “river forecast”. The link is also below.,1,1,1,1,1

We have calibrated the Trenton level to what we have determined to be safe levels to row. Here is a bit of club history: The safe rowing level was told to us by Fred Lewis back when our club was on Lewis Island. There was a marker on the wall as you crossed the footbridge that was our indication to row or not.

No one rows if the level is greater then or equal to 12 feet. There should be a red flag at the desk. There are no exceptions to this rule. If indications are that the river may be high due to recent rain, you should check the river forecast before going to the site. Remember sometimes it can be deceptive as the level is determined by how much it rains north of us and not necessarily in our area.

Between 11 feet and 12 feet no Novice Rowers are allowed to row. There should a yellow flag at the desk. If you have less then two years of rowing experience you are considered a novice. The only exception to this rule would be if you are in a four/quad or eight boat with experienced rowers or you are out with a coach in the launch. Absolutely no novice single rowers should row if the level is above 11 feet.

At these high levels there may also be a lot of debris. Even if it is officially ok to row, you should check often for debris that maybe coming your way. It may take several days for the river clear of debris after a big storm.

Low and Rocky (less than 10 feet)

During the summer we are usually rowing in these conditions. The biggest concern for us is scraping the boats along the bottom and/or knocking the skegs off. To avoid this happening we have to be consistent in always rowing the deep/safe channels of the river. Based on the type of boat we should always (no matter what the level) row through the following bridge arches and channels.

Free Bridge

Team boats (doubles, pairs, fours, quads, eights):

Rowing Up River: 3rd Arch from Pennsylvania

Rowing Down River: 2nd Arch from Pennsylvania

Note: In a pinch, if there are too many other rowing or power boats in the 2nd arch coming down to safely row through, you can use the first arch.


Rowing Up River: 3rd, 4th, or 5th Arch from Pennsylvania

Rowing Down River: 1st or 2nd Arch from Pennsylvania

Toll Bridge

All boats:

Rowing Up River: 3rd Arch from Pennsylvania

Rowing Down River: 2nd Arch from Pennsylvania


All boats stay to the middle towards New Jersey. Yield to other boat that are already coming through the shoals. Team boats can only go through one at a time. Coming down river approximately 30 feet below the Toll bridge you will need to move quickly over towards New Jersey to avoid the low water.

North Boundary

When above the Toll Bridge do not row north of the third house with the flag pole on the Pennsylvania side.

Famous Rocks to Avoid

Refrigerator Rock is located between 10 to 20 feet just south of the Toll Bridge abutment between the middle arches. This where you need to not cut too soon over towards channel between the shoals.

Sewer Rocks are located south of the Water Treatment Plant and just out from the stone wall approximately a third of the way from New Jersey. People tend to come up this way when heading back to the ramp. But this area should be avoided at all times.

Rowing to Stockton (10 to 12 feet)

People do enjoy rowing to Stockton when the river is high enough. The safe level is at 10 feet. The river is still swift at that level so only experienced rowers should row to Stockton. There are still rocks to avoid in the middle of the river. The path to take is the channel along the Pennsylvania side of the river.

I know this has been a lot of information. The best practice is to try to become familiar with the river and where you are on it with respect to the water level. You will most likely gain a natural sense of the safe areas to row. Again just be consistent with safe channels/arches no matter what the level and you should be fine. If you do have questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me.


Your SCARCE Safety Committee

est. 1992