The Role & Responsibilities of the Sweep/Helm

In Australia we use the word sweep, but internationally a more common term is helm.  The sweep is the person who stands at the back of the boat and steers. Looks like a really cushy job, after all there is little energy expended when you’re just standing there. Right? WRONG!

The job of a sweep is a lot more complex that it appears. This is the person who has the legal responsibility for the safety of everyone in the boat. The sweep carries the ultimate authority for the simple reason that they bear the ultimate responsibility. If there is an accident, it is the sweep who is held responsible, and can be called before the court to answer charges. Yep, this is not scare mongering, it’s just a fact.

Statement from “the International Waters Rules and Regulations”
“The person who is in charge of a recreational boat that is used for sport in competition and/or training and has a tiller action (an apparatus that can determine boat direction) and has cast away from any fixed land structure (nothing attached to the sporting boat whatsoever) and is moving on water in any direction, then this person is deem the “captain of the boat” and they have ultimate responsibility to the safety of their boat, boats around them and safety of all of its crew, being one person or more, then this person is deemed in charge of the boat”.

What makes a good sweep?

Premier Womens Crew
Premier Womens Crew

To be good sweep you need to have a strong sense of responsibility, plenty of self-confidence in your own judgement, be physically strong enough to control the boat in tough conditions, have good balance and a nice clear voice to issue commands with. The sweep and their attitude is crucial to an environment of confidence within the boat.

It is important to understand that sweeping is an ongoing learning process. Conditions vary from venue to venue, crew to crew and day-to-day. It is not predictable and a sweep must never become complacent or overconfident. A good sweep is one who is always prepared to listen and learn from those with more experience, and by experience we don’t mean someone whose been doing the job for years. We mean someone who has swept in many different conditions and locations both within Australian waters and overseas.

A good sweep knows their own capabilities and may refuse to take the dragon boat out in certain conditions. It is within the sweeps rights to refuse to accept a paddler into their boat if they feel they present a risk to the safety of the crew.

Does the sweep coach the crew?

It’s important to mention that a sweep is not the coach. That’s another separate position, but sometimes the same person can fulfil dual roles. However, when you’re first learning to sweep many people struggle to simultaneously give commands and steer the boat straight. It’s always best to start off concentrating on one role at a time. We’ll all about coaching in a future post.

So how do you become a sweep?

A novice sweep wears a yellow vest so they are easy to spot.
A novice sweep wears a yellow vest so they are easy to spot when out on the water in training.

Anyone interested in learning to sweep is encouraged to have a shot at this role. At the Waterfront Warriors we usually begin with a classroom style, land based presentation where the sweep trainer will explain the theoretical elements. You will also be given a sweeps manual and have lots of opportunity to ask questions. If at the end of the theory, you’re still keen – and we hope you will be – it’s onto the water and into the boats for practice. Sweeps in training will be under the supervision of a sweep mentor who will guide you through the practice side of steering the boat.

The Sweep Accreditation Process used by DBNT is modelled on that provided by AusDBF and consists of two parts:

  • Accreditation
  • Registration

Gaining Accreditation consists of:

  • Education
  • Training with an experienced sweep
  • A written exam
  • An initial practical test
  • Issuing of Provisional Accreditation
  • Sweeping crews in four (4) races at two (2) separate events
  • Issuing of Full Accreditation

How long does it take to learn to sweep?

It really depends on the individual. People who come from a sailing background, or have been on the water for much of their lives and know how to read wind and water conditions, tend to take to sweeping like a duck to water. For others it can take longer. There is no magic formula except lots of practice.

Who are the club sweep accreditors and what are their credentials?

Mel Hazard - Sweep Accreditor.
Mel Hazard – Sweep Accreditor

Our current club accreditors are Michelle Hanton & Mel Hazard. Both Mel and Michelle have many years experience

Michelle Hanton - Sweep Accreditor
Michelle Hanton – Sweep Accreditor

at National and International IDBF championships, including World Club Crews and World Championships as well as sweeping at some of the worlds most difficult venues including Wellington Harbour, New Zealand and Hong Kong Harbour, Hong Kong. They can both sweep both left and right hand boats with many different styles of sweep oars.

Why are they so strict about signing off a Level 3 Sweep?

To hold a Level 3 means a sweep is considered fully competent, can compete in national and international events in any conditions. Basically we are issuing the equivalent of a licence to drive anywhere. Sweep accreditors take their responsibilities seriously for the simple reason that lives are at stake.

Got further question about sweeping? Mel and Michelle are always happy to answer questions. You are welcome to email in your queries or have a chat down at training.




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