Where We Row

Before you go anywhere, look at the maps available in the boathouse. These
include a map of Union Bay with all major features and directions of traffic
marked, and a great coloured map of the entire rowing area with basic rules
and good markings of traffic patterns. This was designed by the rowing community, so is well worth looking at carefully.

Here are some major points to look out for – please read these carefully and
make sure you understand where and what they are referring to. If in doubt,
ask the coach.

Union Bay

Union Bay is directly in front of the WAC, from the end of the cut up to the starting line.

  • The channel is marked on each side by the green and red buoys.
    Bigger boats travel down the centre of the channel; you MUST stay outside of
    it. When going from the WAC out to Fox Point, stay as far over to the right
    as possible, to avoid getting in the way of other boats. When coming back
    down to the WAC, stay outside the channel, but not too far outside (always
    looking out for blind scullers behind you).

  • The obvious addition to the above is that you should not stop in or very
    near the channel. If you are drifting into it, move your boat out of the way
    (even if it means interrupting the coach). When finishing the warm up loop,
    gather OUTSIDE the channel at least 25m BEFORE you reach the green buoy
    (preferably opposite the 1000m dock) – too
    near the buoy and you are in danger from Huskies zipping round the corner.

  • When going out to the starting line, go around both buoys and gather on
    the far side of the green buoy, facing towards the WAC. Look out for other

  • When we do long pieces around Union Bay, from the starting line, stay to
    the outside of the Bay near the shoreline, at the very least outside the 7
    knot buoys (white with orange
    stripes). This becomes particularly important in the summer when the
    waterskiers start competing with us.

The Montlake Cut

The Cut (where the coach always yells something about staying to the right)

  • The only thing to say about the cut is STAY TO THE RIGHT AT ALL TIMES.
    Boats race down the cut 5 or 6 abreast, so there is plenty of room to
    manoeuver without hitting the bank. When you enter the cut and approach the
    bridge, look up at it and judge where you are in relation to the centermost
    (highest) point. If you are directly below it, you are too far over to the
    center, and need to move to your right. Don’t be afraid of the wall – you
    can be a foot away and in no danger of hitting it. Experiment with how close
    you can steer (don’t forget the wall juts out half way down though).

Portage Bay

Portage Bay is at the other end of the cut.

  • Once you enter the Bay, you will almost always gather together outside
    Fisheries, at the big white ship (Alaskan) almost immediately on the right
    (if the ship isn’t there, like is the case now, there will be a big gap :-)).
    Stay together and watch you don’t drift too far either side. The coaching
    launch has to stay at a very low speed through the cut, so will be slower
    than you.

  • When rowing loops round Portage Bay, stick to the outside. HOWEVER,
    during the summer people like to swim in Portage Bay in front of their
    houseboats, so be very careful when passing in front of the houseboats. Stay
    at least 2 boat widths (oars and all) away from the houseboats.

  • Look carefully down the cut before you cut across the entrance to it.
  • When passing through Portage Bay to get to Lake Union, stay to the
    outside, but make sure you steer wide enough when approaching the bridge to
    be able to see what is coming through it. When passing under University
    Bridge and I5 bridge, however, stay as far to the right as possible.

  • When returning through Portage Bay to the cut, you don’t have to hug
    the outside, but steer wide enough to be on the right side of the cut by the
    time you are approaching it. This is wider than most people seem to steer at
    the moment – a good sight line is the gap in the row of Poplar trees that
    mark SYC.

Lake Union

Lake Union towards Downtown, Gasworks etc.

  • Common gathering place is outside Ivar’s (directly to right under I5
    bridge). Go to the far end of Ivar’s as it is very noisy under the bridge.
    Stay well to right to avoid traffic, and wait for slow moving coach.

  • Lake Union is big, and you must look out for big ships and seaplanes.
    When going from Ivar’s to Gasworks, keep a very careful eye on the big
    container ships you are passing on your right. Give them a wide berth, for
    it is difficult to spot when a tug boat is moving them – they move extremely
    slowly. We have been warned about this by a tug boat captain, so take
    special care here – a tug boat has a big prop and can drag a shell under.

  • Another gathering place is by Gasworks – look for the green buoy (#13)
    your left opposite Gasworks, and stop on the right before you reach it.
    Don’t go too far towards the entrance to the Ship Canal, or you will be in
    the way of other traffic. Don’t go too near the shore as the water gets very

  • From Gasworks, you may be asked to loop back around that green buoy and
    cross the lake to the other side. Do this carefully. If you are going all
    the way round Lake Union, aim initially for the middle radio tower until you
    approach the shore, then steer left around the bottom (going south now)
    towards a red buoy (#2) in front of the Naval Reserve. Look out here as you
    are crossing the sea-plane landing strip (!). Pass on the outside of the red
    buoy and then head back north towards the bridges.
    Again, you will pass lots of houseboats and big container ships on your
    right, so take care.

  • If you get too far ahead of the other boats in Lake Union, you may be
    asked to loop around to join the stragglers. Do this with care.

  • As you leave Lake Union, under I5 bridge there is a red buoy (#16). ALWAYS go outside this (keep it on your right) to avoid submerged objects
    (very nasty huge wood pilings just under the surface).

Lake Washington

Lake Washington has Madrona Park, Magnuson Park, the 520 bridge, Kirkland, Hunts Point, Medina, and Bill Gate’s house.

  • Big stretch of water, so we stick to the outside. If you are
    told to go to ‘Bill’s house’, pass under the bridge carefully (you can fit
    through most of the gaps easily, but go for the main one if you are not
    comfortable), then steer along the south side of the bridge as far as the end
    of the Lake. Near the end, turn right and then follow the shore until you
    see the big ugly building site. This is Bill’s house, so stop here.

  • The other common route in Lake Washington is to pass under the bridge
    then keep going in that southern direction. Stay inside the 7 knot buoys.
    Look for the tall buildings on the right, which is where we often stop (around the Madison Park area).

  • If in the middle of Lake Washington and hit by a big wake, you may want
    to stop rowing and try and turn the boat broadside to the waves to avoid
    getting soaked. If rowing through waves, turn the boat at a 45 degree angle
    to the waves.

  • Sometimes instead of going under the bridge we row along its North side – stick relatively close to the bridge and stop 50m or so from the shore at the other end.