Common Health Issues Encountered by Ultraendurance Ocean Rowers

Published:January 05, 2022DOI:


      Ocean rowing is an extreme ultraendurance sport in which athletes push themselves to their mental and physical limits while rowing across an ocean. Limited academic attention has meant health issues facing this population are poorly understood. This report provides a descriptive analysis of the injuries and illnesses encountered by ocean rowers at sea and suggests potential preventative measures.


      Retrospective self-reported data were collected from ocean rowers via an online 29-question survey, classified by medical system, and totaled to produce a report of the most frequently encountered symptoms.


      Seventy-one ocean rowers, accounting for 86 ocean rowing attempts, completed the survey. Dermatologic symptoms formed 52% (n=169) of all reported issues, followed by musculoskeletal injuries (14%; n=45), mental health symptoms (11%; n=36), gastrointestinal symptoms (5%; n=16), and neurologic symptoms (2%). Gluteal pressure sores were the most common dermatologic symptoms (24%; n=40), hallucinations the most common mental health symptoms (69%; n=25), hand and finger issues the most reported musculoskeletal problems (36%; n=16); vomiting (38%) and headaches (50%) were the most common gastrointestinal and neurologic issues, respectively. Seasickness was reported in 42% of expeditions (n=33).


      This report presents the physiological, mental, and medical challenges facing ocean rowers. Dermatologic and musculoskeletal issues were most common and varied greatly in severity. Over 90% of reported infections occurred as a dermatologic complaint, demonstrating the importance of preventative measures such as hygiene and wound care. Continued work with a larger population is required to further understand the physiological stress and medical complaints associated with transoceanic rowing.


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