Course Protection

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There are several objectives for course protection and safety barriers, including;

  1. To keep the carties from coming into contact with the spectators.
  2. To protect the carties and drivers from trackside hazards such as sign posts, kerbs, steep drops, etc.
  3. Course delineation.

There are several different barrier types, including;

  • Traffic barriers
Soapbox Race Barriers
Water Filled Barriers in use at Cairngorm Soapbox Extreme 2011

Red & White interlocking water filled traffic barriers are the best form of barrier for course protection. They are light and stackable so can be transported and handled with ease, and when in position they can be made into an effective barrier simply by putting water in them.

When water filled, they have a small amount of "give" so they do not bring the carties to an abrupt stop. Their use was pioneered at Cairngorm Soapbox Extreme in 2011, and since then they have been used at serious soapbox races across the UK.

They can usually be hired at a very reasonable rate from traffic management companies, and some councils may have a stock as well.

  • Small bales

Small bales are the often the instinctive first choice when laying out a cartie course. In small numbers they are relatively easy to handle and can be very effective in some cirmcumstances. However, there are some serious drawbacks too and their use as  primary course protection is not advised.

They are only effective as safety barriers at relatively low speeds and can be used in small numbers to cushion specific hazards such as lamp posts etc,, but single lines of bales are simply not adequate except for very low speed events. A cartie will simply knock a single bale out if the way without any noticeable effect on its speed, so a great many will be needed to stack in a wall that is high enough and thick enough to be effective. The number of bales required to produce an effective barrier makes them impractical to use as the cost of sourcing and handling is prohibitive.

They can be very hard to source, since they are not commonly produced. In early summer they can be especially hard to find. Also, small bales are also easily damaged, either by collisions or by heavy rain, so there is a risk that the owner will need to be compensated of they are rendered unusable.

Finally, spectators find it almost impossible not to treat them as general purpose seating, picnic tables, etc, so if you are using them as safety barriers you will need to spend a lot of time asking people not to sit on them.They are also irresistable to anyone under the age of 12, and two dozen unattended bales will very rapidly become a large pile of loose straw in the presence of even a small group of children.

  • Large bales
 Large and small bales
A line of large bales with small bales on the track side to cushion the impact, in use at Cairngorm in 2010. These were replaced with water filled barriers in subsequent years.

Large bales (typically 8'x4'x2' "quads") are ideal for keeping the carties and the spectators apart, or if there is a hazard such as a steep drop that you absolutely have to protect. If you positively, absolutely have to stop a cartie, then a line of large bales will do the job. However, there are some drawbacks. As with small bales, they can be hard to source at certain times of year. They are also too large to be manhandled, so you will need to find some form of machinery to place them and remove them after the event. They are, however, somewhat resistant to damage from rain and so are less likely to be spoiled by bad weather. They are also more robust and less prone to bursting.

Unfortunately, large bales are not very forgiving and will bring a cartie to a very abrupt stop. If hit at speed, this is likely to cause some injury to anyone in the cartie, so if you are using them then some other form of cushioning would be advisable. Small bales can be used for this (subject to the same disadvantages as list above).

The time, effort and cost of handling large numbers of bales is often prohibitive.

  • Tyres

As a barrier, tyres suffer from the same problems as small bales. They are too small and light to stop a cartie travelling at speed and will simply be knocked out of the way unless there are a great many of them. However, they are realtively easy to source since many garages will give them away (although they might not want them back!) They are weather proof and, provided you can find somewhere to store them, can be used for may years.

They can be formed into a much more resilient barrier by bolting them together into "towers" of 4 or 5, which can still be handled relatively easily but are much better at stopping a cartie. To make an even more effective barrier, they can be linked together using (e.g.) eye bolts and shackles to form a single barrier that ha a small amount of "give", similar to the traffic barriers mentioned above.

If you can find somewhere to keep them they could be used for several years. However, you may need a license to handle and store them since they are controlled waste, and you may also find you will be liable to pay for them to be disposed of when they are no longer used.

  • Portable fencing, plastic mesh fencing and barrier tape 

Light weight fencing and barrier tape is clearly no use if providing direct protection to spectators and competitors. It is, however, a quick and effective way to mark off areas where you do not wnt people to be. Barrier tape should not be used on its own, however, and you will still need plenty of clearly worded signs and the physical presence of one or more marshals to keep people out.


Barrier Type
Small Bales
Can be difficult
Easy only in smaller numbers
Ineffective except in large numbers
Large Bales
Difficult in certain seasons
Machine handling only
Very effective
Water Barriers Easy
Very effective
Effective only if linked together


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