About Rowing

What is Rowing?

Rowing (often known as crew) is a sport in which athletes race against each other in boats, on rivers, on lakes or on the ocean, depending upon the type of race and the discipline. The boats are propelled by oarsmen that use a full body motion and the oar as a lever to transfer forces to the oar blades as they are pushed against the water propelling the boat forward.  The sport can be both recreational and competitive where physical size and overall fitness plays a large role. Rowing is one of the oldest sports in the modern Olympics.

In competitive rowing, the rowers sit on moving seats in a line with their backs to the direction the boat is moving.  Their feet are strapped into shoes attached to foot boards which they push off of moving their seats backwards and pulling the oar with them.  The oars are attached to a fulcrum on the outriggers known as the oarlock.  This gives them a mechanical advantage and propels them through the water at speeds up to 15mph.  An eight man competition rowing shell is considered to by the faster human powered watercraft.

Often, the boat will have a coxswain.  The coxswain is typically a smaller, lighter person who traditionally sits in the stern of the boat instructing and motivating the rowers.  It is the coxswains job to steer the boat and give the necessary commands to guide the boat safely but competitively through the course.  In more resent years, the coxswain’s position in four man boat has been moved to the bow where they sit in a more laid-down position.  This gives them a better view of what is ahead of the boat and lowers the center of gravity of the boat making it slightly easy to keep balanced.

Each stroke has four main parts: the catch, the drive, the finish, and the recovery.  The stroke begins at the catch where the rower’s legs are compressed, the torso is bent slightly forward, and arms are stretched out in front.  The second phase of the stroke is the drive.  The rower then raises their hands slightly dropping the oar blade into the water and pushes off from the foot stretchers moving the seat backwards and propelling the boat forward.  The rower then leans slightly back and pulls their hands into their chest.  This position is known as the finish.  From there, the rower will slightly lower their hands raising the oar blade out of the water.  The last phase of the the stroke is called the recovery.  This is where the rower extends their hands out in front of them, brings the torso back up and moves up the slide resetting them to take the next stroke.

The sport of rowing involves all of the major muscle groups in the body.  Rowing requires a large amount of strength but also requires endurance.  Rowers will often train both by lifting weights and preforming cardiovascular workouts such as running, swimming, cycling, and rowing on simulated rowing machines called ergs.  Rowing will challenge both muscle strength and cardiovascular endurance.  Because the resistance in rowing is nothing more than water, rowing is a low-impact sport and has one of the lowest injury rates.

Rowing Terminology 


Coxed eight (8+): a boat with eight sweep rowers and a coxswain
Coxed four (4+): a boat with four sweep rowers and a coxswain
Coxless fours (4-): a boat with four sweep rowers and no coxswain
Quad (4x): a boat with four sculling rowers and no coxswain
Pair (2-): a boat with two sweep rowers and no coxswain
Double (2x): a boat rowed by 2 people each with 2 oars
Single (1x): a boat rowed (or sculled) by one person with 2 oars


M: men
W: women
Lwt: lightweight
HW: heavyweight
N: novice – someone new to rowing
V: varsity – after a year of rowing, a rower is considered a varsity rower
8: an eight man boat
4: a four man boat
2: a two man boat
1: a one man boat
x: a sculling boat – a boat in which every rower has two oars
+: denotes a boat with a coxswain
-: denotes a boat without a coxswain
Sweep boats: boats in which every rower has 1 oar and only rows on 1 side of the boat
Sculling Boats: boats in which every rower has 2 oars, one on each side of the boat

Parts of the Boats:

Bow: front of the boat
Stern: the rear of the boat
Port: the left side of the boat as one faces the front of the boat
Starboard: the right side of the boat as one faces the front of the boat
Gunwale: the top portion of the sides of the boat
Shell: a competitive rowing boat or the boat hull
Rigger (outrigger): the arms that project from the gunwale of the boat that support the oarlock and provide a fulcrum for the oar.
Backstay: a brace that runs from the top of the oarlock pin to the gunwale of the shell
Oarlock: the rectangular mechanism at the end of the rigger that holds the oar in place
Oarlock Gate: the latch on top of the oarlock that locks the oar into place
Oarlock Pin: the large pin at the end of the rigger that the oarlock rotates around.  This transfers the force of the stroke from the oar to the rigger.
Foot stretcher: an adjustable plate with shoes that hold the rower’s feet.  The rower pushes off of this to take a stroke.
Slides: the tracks that the rower’s seat moves along
Blade: the spoon or hatchet shaped end of the oar that is placed into the water
Collar: an adjustable disc-like plate near the middle of the oar that keeps the oar from sliding through the oarlock
Cox box: an electronic box that displays the stroke rate and elapsed time and allows the coxswain to talk through a speaker system to the rowers
Skeg: the fin the protrudes from the bottom of the hull and helps stabilize the boat
Rudder: the small fin behind the skeg or near the stern of the boat that rotates to turn the boat
Toggles: the handles of the rudder system that the coxswain uses to steer the boat
Stroke seat: the stern-most rower; sets the stroke rate for the boat
Bow seat: the bow-most rower


Head race: a distance race, held like a time trial over a set course, anywhere from 3k to 12k, usually 5k or 6k for college races
Sprint race: a 2,000m race in which 6 to 8 boats race in lanes next to each other, usually on a straight course
Bumps race: European-style race where boats chase each other and attempt to physically touch the next boat, eliminating it from the race
Stake race:
a race to a point (such as a buoy) where the crew must turn the boat around and then race back
a set of boat races, usually an event held over a weekend

Parts of the Stroke:

Catch: the beginning of a stroke where the rower is completely compressed forward and the oar blade is dropped into the water.
Drive: the propulsive part of the stroke where power is applied; the part of the stroke from the time the blade is dropped in the water until it is removed from the water
Finish: the end of the stroke where the rower’s legs are pushed straight out, torso is swung back, arms are compressed, and the oar handle is just in front of the rower’s chest, also where the oar is removed from the water
Recovery: the stage of the stroke beginning right at the finish in which the rower extends arms, straightens torso, and moves forward on the slides.  This sets the rower up to take another stroke.
Feathering: the technique of turning an oar so the blade is parallel with the water during the recovery; minimizes risk of catching the water
Crab: known as “catching a crab”: when a rower’s blade hits the water during recovery and is “stuck” in the water.  Often the rower will lose control of the oar and the oar will quickly turn parallel to the boat.  This slows boat and can cause damage to the shell.