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The Clean and Neat Boathouse: Hoarders Begone!

As clubs start to reopen their doors, scullers and rowers around the world are gradually starting to work their way back onto the water. Most boathouses are still running at less than 100% capacity however, with varying rules that tend to limit water access and time.

Now is the perfect time for a little boathouse purge, cleanup and re-organization!

A little bit of subjective disclosure (and preemptive apology for tone) before getting started. I have very negative feelings about a messy or even simply cluttered boathouse. A good portion of my coaching career has been spent trying to remove the detritus of years-accumulated boat parts and neglected hulls left behind. I fully acknowledge however, that there are different philosophical perspectives on this. After all, if I am hauling 20 years of rodent-urine stained Dirigo boat parts off to the metal recycler, someone had to be hoarding it there to begin with. Some people see the value in every spare nut and bolt, every seat wheel and piece of rudder cable. I lean towards a more pragmatic approach.

The following is a perspective and argument for the uncluttered boathouse, an unapologetically pejorative criticism of the boathouse hoarder camp, and an explanation why Executive Directors, Rowing Directors, and boathouse managers are well-advised to keep these folks out of the bay.

Rule #1 for keeping a tidy boathouse:

Everything has a place, and everything should be in its place. If it doesn’t have a place, then it’s place is in the recycling/garbage bin.

Your boathouse needs to have a way to organize parts and equipment. Boathouse plot-twist: Cabinets and storage bins are just as critical to the boathouse architecture as the boat racks themselves. Here is a suggestion: Every seat in the boat house needs a relative square foot of storage space. So if you have 6 eights, you need at least an additional 54 cubic feet of storage (shelving, cabinetry, or bins) for those 54 seats. Of course coxswain seats count too! Your storage system can be agreed on by all relevant boathouse management parties, and access to spare parts must be limited (optimally kept under lock and key). Significant headaches can be avoided when access to replacement parts is limited to a few knowledgeable professionals.

Once you have a designated storage, diligence in managing that storage is critical, otherwise parts can accumulate, and accumulated parts eventually become junk if ignored for too long. Ultimately, your goal is a regular, useful turnover of parts and equipment without accumulation; keeping spares at the ready, and replacing worn parts when the time is right.

Rule #2 for keeping a tidy boathouse:

Use every part within one year of purchase. If it doesn’t get used in 12 months or less, you don’t need it. If it is a “pre-loved” part, then that shelf life is 9 months. Most importantly, don’t bring it into the boathouse if it isn’t going to be used within that time frame.

This is where people really disagree. The one year shelf life may seem absurd at first, but consider it in the context of inventory management. Space is cost, and if you have a lot of unused parts lying around, then that is costing the organization in some way. Either you wasted money purchasing parts you don’t need, or the parts you don’t need are taking storage space away from the parts that you do need. The shelf life rule is not a requirement to throw away parts, it is a mandate to only order parts that will be used. If you don’t have a specific purpose for it, or don’t know if you will need it in the next 12 months, don’t bring it into the boathouse.

Many in the hoarding camp will acquire bits and pieces that they deem useful, shove it in a corner, and forget about it. 2 years later you have a pile of junk that no one knows what to do with. Beware of the “We’ll figure out a use for it.” philosophy.

Rule #3 for keeping a tidy boathouse:

Create a maintenance schedule for all of your club boats. Every moving part in every boat needs to be checked every 6 months, and there should be an established procedure/checklist for this, so nothing is overlooked.

Row2K published this insightful article about maintaining your fleet. All the manufacturer reps agree, constant and regular maintenance of your rowing shells extends their competitive life. In the context of keeping a tidy boathouse, regular maintenance ensures your spare parts are rotated in and out, and do not accumulate. Again, much like a retailer or warehouse manager, you need to consider inventory and space as a cost to your organization. After a few years of operating with an established maintenance program, you gain a greater sense of what your spare parts needs are, and can even make adjustments to boat handling procedures in order to create greater efficiencies.

Rule #4 for keeping a tidy boathouse:

Create boundaries for coaches and members in regards to what can be stored at the boathouse. Boathouses are for storing boats, riggers, oars, sculls, spare parts, and other specific equipment related to rowing and sculling as designated by boathouse senior staff. The more clearly and frequently communicated this is, the better.

Frequently individuals see open spaces at the boathouse as open opportunities for personal use. Here are some more egregious anecdotes: one coach decided that the back of the boat bay was a great place to start a furniture restoration project, brought in numerous pieces of furniture, and then left it there to sit untouched for an interminable amount of time (about 6 months) until she was told it had to be removed. Another instance saw a coach, believing that no one was going to be taking boats out since the spring competitive season was over, decided to park his pickup truck in the bay while he went away for the weekend. Hilarity ensued when a visiting crew was invited by another coach to use the boats but couldn't get them out.

I also knew of a boat club with an undiagnosed hoarder as the boatman/boathouse maintenance guy. Because he basically did all the boat and boathouse maintenance for free, the management let him get away with piling up huge amounts or old parts, equipment and useless junk. Not only was the sizable workshop completely inaccessible with every bit of level surface taken up, they had two full-sized storage containers full of his “special restoration project stuff.”

From private boat owners, there can also be concerns about “creep”; much like an European war strategy, private boat owners engage in the slow occupation of storage space. Often the perspective from private boat owners is that the rack fee includes additional storage in the boat bay for the car rack, additional sets of oars, old tires, surfboards, and whatever else doesn’t fit in their garage at home.

A cluttered boathouse can also be unsanitary. I have yet to see a boathouse that doesn’t have critters living in, on or around it. This can vary in severity from simple household insects that everyone has experienced, to full on colonies of rodents and scavenger animals (Opossums, raccoons, reptiles, birds etc). Some might regard these as a non-issue, live and let live etc. This assumption can let a small problem blow up into a big one. Keeping pests out of the boathouse is a never-ending battle, and piles of seats, shoes, riggers and old t-shirts become nesting and breeding areas. Even when “stored,” spare parts left untouched for long enough will become covered in rodent urine. Wild animals at best are simple disease carriers, don’t touch them and no problem. At worst their droppings and urine can be breeding grounds for pathogen-toting bacteria. Especially these days we need greater avoidance protocols to animal induced diseases.

Boathouse clutter is hazardous to people and equipment. How many times have you had to step around a pile of riggers, or foot stretchers, to put your boat away or take it out? I’ve watched athletes trip, stumble and even fall flat on their face because piles of riggers and oars, designated to be “refurbished,” were left in the way. Occasionally boats get damaged because of a stumble, or something falls or gets dropped on a boat. Walkways and access points need to be kept clear.

Finally, as our community is in a constant state of outreach, we want to present the best possible aesthetic to newcomers in the boathouse. Imagine showing up to your first golf lesson at the country club, and the driving range and/or practice green is covered in old tees, torn up score cards, and golf cart tires? It seems absurd, but the first thing many novices notice on the first day is the old socks, broken ergs, and piles of cobweb covered riggers. It can be a huge turn off. Don’t let the hoarders in your boathouse determine the look of your club.

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