Swim Tests

Swim test rules & guidelines

OURCs Rules

It is the responsibility of clubs to ensure that their club has safe practices including requiring all rowers and coxes to be sufficiently proficient at swimming. The rules laid down by OURCs and COUR are designed to assist clubs in best practice but will be enforced. OURCs insists on all event participants having passed an OURCs swim test.

The rules are summarised as follows (see 2.4.1a for full details):

  • Before going on the water AT ALL, athletes should sign a declaration form of their swimming ability; see below for more details
  • Everyone must be tested at the first available opportunity
  • After an athlete's 5th session on the water, they must pass a swim test before conducting further water outings
  • Upon failure of a swim test, that athlete is prohibited from water outings until they subsequently pass a swim test.

Any breach of the latter two rules will be treated as a Major Transgression, and it is the responsibility of the clubs to check the pass/fail lists published by the RowSab after each swim test session. If you have any queries about the above rules, contact the Rowing Sabbatical Officer at sabbatical@ourcs.co.uk

Declaration Form

A declaration form based upon RowSafe guidance should include the following question:


Are you competent and confident in and under the water and able to do the following?:


  • Swim at least 50 metres in light clothing (rowing kit)
  • Tread water for at least two minutes
  • Swim under water for at least 5 metres (you must remain fully submerged)

COUR advice to university and college rowing clubs

  • Advice received by members of COUR from British Rowing’s Water Safety Advisor and the University’s Legal Services department, makes it clear that clubs are responsible for developing a culture of safety in all activities associated with rowing and that they should consider and take into account the guidance produced by RowSafe for British Rowing (see http://www.britishrowing.org/row-safe).
  • Best practice requires clubs to obtain some form of evidence as to swimming competence prior to allowing individuals onto the open water in rowing boats. However, both advisers also recognise that obliging individuals to undertake a swimming test prior to any taster sessions is impractical and not necessary. Nevertheless, clubs should carefully consider what evidence of swimming competence they ought to obtain before tests can be carried out and what safety provisions they can put in place during that period.
  • The recommendation of COUR is that clubs undertake the following:
    • Clubs should obtain written declarations from individual members that they can swim to the standards set out in the RowSafe guidelines.
    • Individuals should be encouraged to undertake such swim tests as soon as possible.
    • Life-jackets, ideally those designed specifically for rowing, should be available to those who are not sure about their swimming ability.
    • Clubs should consider special safety measures for those who have not yet been swim-tested, for example, that they should only go out in eights, in green flag conditions, with an experienced cox and with a bank-rider carrying a throw-line. This should be part of the Club Safety Plan.
    • A special risk-assessment be carried out relating to the safety of those who have not yet been swim-tested.
  • You may send anyone, irrespective of their declaration, to a swim test; but if it is obvious that they cannot swim, please don't send them.
  • Club officers must keep a record of anyone who fails a swim test, and forbid them from rowing.
  • Separate guidelines apply for under 18s - please email the OURCs committee for special precautions in this situation.

COUR is the Council for Oxford University Rowing, and comprises representatives of the University Sports Department, the University Squads, the College Clubs, and OURCs. It exists to oversee the safe practice of rowing within the University, and therefore has the authority to change the OURCs Rules in the interests of safety.

Swim test booking & procedure


These are taking place at the Rosenblatt Pool, Iffley Road Sports Centre.


Club captains who want to book swim tests for novices at their club should go to https://www.supersaas.com/dashboard/login. Please indicate the number of people you wish to book. If this number changes after you make the booking, or if you want to make any cancellations, please contact the Rowsab (sabbatical@ourcs.co.uk).


Swim tests are charged directly to the boat club. The price is determined by the cost of pool hire multiplied by the proportion of the total tests in a given period which were taken by a the club. I.e. if pool hire is £1000 and 500 tests are taken, the unit cost will be £2. If St Digworth's College BC take 50 tests, they will be charged £100 (1000 * 50 / 500).

The Test

You will need to turn up in clothing which is suitable for the test, as changing rooms will not be availiable beforehand. 

  • That is shorts and a t-shirt with sleeves (must be loose fitting, no vests or sleeveless tops!).

You will need to bring with you:

  • Valid Bod card if a current student (any photo-ID if not a current student).
  • Plastic bag for the wet clothes after the test.
  • Towel and a dry change of clothes.

You may wear a swimming costume underneath the shorts and t-shirt. White clothes tend to go semi-transparent.
You may not wear goggles of any kind for the test.

At present the test consists of :

  • Wearing a t-shirt and shorts (as a minimum)
  • 50m swimming (any stroke excluding backstroke!)
  • Surface dive and swim for 5m fully submerged under water .
  • Tread water for 2 minutes. When treading water you are expected to have your full head above the water and have your airways open.

This is in-line with the requirements of British Rowing and all have real-world practical reasons for their inclusion. All testing is carried out by qualified personnel.

Failing a swim test

  • If a rower/cox fails, then from that moment onwards they are not permitted to be on the water. This means that any further usage of their 5 session allowance before being tested is not permitted. They are NOT permitted to be on the water even with lifejackets or buoyancy aids.
  • Someone will fail if they fail to complete any part of the test above to the satisfaction of a swimming instructor qualified tester. The two most common causes of failure are not being completely submerged when performing the 5m surface dive and failing to tread water for 2 minutes with their airways clear.
  • Please remember that a surface dive does not allow for pushing off a wall and is conducted in the middle of the pool. Many fail to submerge themselves properly.
  • Treading water, people tend to keep far too little of their head above water to be confident of them doing so on a river. Fatigue is a common factor and people may wish to regain some fitness prior to the test.

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