Rowing Fundamentals

Here on USRowing's web page you will find all the basic information about rowing (sweep rowing and sculling) to help you get more familiar with the terms, equipment,  and techniques.

Click the links below for basic information about the sport of rowing. This section includes a viewer's guide, quick facts, a glossary of terms, and much more.

Please Note:  Unfortunately, many of the links to USRowing are currently unavailable while USRowing revises their website. 

NVRC's Women's 8+ racing on the Thames River in London, 2017

A brief video describing of our sport on the Olympic Channel

Links to other good info:

  Rules of Rowing

  Technique & Training


  Masters Rowing

  Rigging Tools for Newbies


Master's Rowing Factoid:

Sprint Race:  Most races that are held in the spring and early summer feature side by side racing, or sprint racing. All the boats start at the same time from a stationary position and the winner is the boat that crosses the finish line first. The number of boats in a race typically varies between two (which is sometimes referred to as a dual race) to six, but any number of boats can start together if the course is wide enough. The standard length races for the Olympics and the World Rowing Championships is 2 kilometers (1.24 mi) long; 1.5 kilometers (0.93 mi) - 2 kilometers (1.24 mi) for US high school races on the east coast; and 1,000 meters for masters rowers (rowers older than 27).  That translates for us to .62 miles and approximately 4 minutes of all out rowing.

Head races :  are typically held in the fall, winter and sometimes spring seasons. In this form of racing, boats race against the clock where the crew or rower completing the course in the shortest time in their age, ability and boat-class category is deemed the winner.  Boats begin with a rolling start at intervals of 10 – 20 seconds, and are timed over a set distance.  Faster boats often pass slower boats that started before them - called "walking" another boat.  Head race courses usually vary in length from 2,000 meters (1.24 mi) to 12,000 meters (7.46 mi).  Most Master's head race regattas are 5,000 meters. Again for us, approximately 3.11 miles and 20-25 minutes of non-stop rowing.

Please Note:  Unfortunately, many of the links to USRowing are currently unavailable while USRowing revises their website. 

Rowing Jargon

Rowing, like so many other sports that has been in existence for generations, has it's own unique, and extensive, vocabulary. Below, is fairly comprehensive list of the rowing jargon you will encounter on an almost daily basis when you start rowing.

This is the oar "blade"

Glossary of Rowing Terms:

-Backsplash: The splash produced by the blade entering the water at the catch while the blade is moving toward the bow.

-Body Angle: The amount of forward pivot of a rower's torso stemming from the hips during the recovery for a proper catch position.

-Bow: The bow is the front end of the boat and it is also the name given to the rower who sits in the bow. Bow is also referred to as 'number one' and this is the rower who will cross the finishing line first.

-Bow Ball: The rubber ball at the tip of the bow that helps prevent damage to people or shells if they hit something.

-Bow coxed boat: A shell in which the coxswain is near the bow instead of the stern. It’s hard to see the coxswain in this type of boat, because only his or her head is visible. Having the coxswain virtually lying down in the bow reduces wind resistance, and the weight distribution is better.

-Button/Collar: A wide collar on the oar that keeps it from slipping through the oarlock.

-Catch: The point, at the end of the recovery, when the blade is placed into the water for the beginning of the next stroke.

-Coxbox: This is a small device that looks like an over-sized stopwatch with two speakers connected to it that the coxswain uses to measure stroke rate and speed of the rowers. It also serves as an amplification device so that all of the rowers can hear commands.

-Coxswain: Person who steers the shell and is the on-the-water coach for the crew.

-Crab: Action caused by turning of the oar blade so that it is trapped under water and cannot be removed at the release.

-Down-on-port or Down-on-Starboard: Means that the boat is leaning to one side. Rowers that the side is down on must raise their hands and the other side must lower their hands.

-Drive: The part of the stroke when the blade is in the water and the rower is pulling on the handle/pressing with the legs.

-Ergometer: Rowers call it an "erg." It’s a rowing machine that closely approximates the actual rowing motion. The rowers’ choice is the Concept II, which utilizes a flywheel and a digital readout so that the rower can measure his "strokes per minute" and the distance covered. 

-Feather: To gradually turn the blade so that it goes from parallel to the water to perpendicular (square) with the water just before the catch. The reverse action happens at the release. The blade comes out square and is made flat again. The feathering hand is the hand closest to the rigger; it turns the oar and is also called the inside hand.

-Fin: Thin piece of flat metal or plastic that helps stabilize the shell in the water. Also called the skeg.

-Frontstops: The stops at the stern end of the tracks. You should not hit these as you row.

-Gate: The bar across the oarlock that keeps the oar in place.

-Head Race: A long race in which rowers race a twisting course of 5 kilometers - approximately 3 miles long.

-Lay-back: What a rower has when they sit with their legs flat, and they lean back toward the bow of the boat.

-Oar: Used to drive the boat forward: also known as blades.  Rowers do not use paddles.

-Oar lock: Piece of hardware on the end of the rigger that the oar goes into. Kind of "u" shaped with a locking bar to keep the oar from coming out.

-Port: From the coxswain's point of view, the left side of the boat. The even numbered rowers have their oars on this side. Stroke side (UK)

-Power 10: A call for rowers to do 10 of their best, most powerful strokes. It’s a strategy used to pull ahead of a competitor.

-Puddle: The swirl of water left by each stroke of an oar.

-Ratio: This is the relationship between how fast the rowers pull the oars through the water (the drive) versus how fast they move on their slides between the release and the catch (the recovery). The average ration is 3:1 (Three times slower on the recovery than on the drive). The ration will vary with stroke rating and speed. At a 36 or higher the ratio is close to even.

-Recovery: The portion of the stroke after the rower releases the oar from the water and returns to the catch position.

-Release: The point at the beginning of a stroke when the blade comes out of the water.

-Rigger: Triangular metal supports that are on the side of a shell. They hold the oar.

-Run:  This is how far the shell travels between strokes. You can figure it by looking for the distance between the puddles made by the same oar.  It is also a feeling the rowers and coxswain get in the shell. The shell feels like it's gliding along without any effort.

-Sculls: One of the two disciplines of rowing – the one where scullers use two oars or sculls. 

-Set (of a boat): Shell sitting on an even keel.

-Shell: Name given to boats powered by rowers. Can be used interchangeably with boat.

-Shooting the Slide: Movement of the seat toward the bow without moving the oar handle at the same rate.

-Slides (or tracks): Rails upon which a rower or sculler's sliding seat will roll.

-Slings: These are what you put a boat in to work on it when it is not on the rack. Never leave a shell sitting on slings without anyone watching it when it is windy!

-Sprint: The section near the end of a race, where boats make a final push in power and stroke rate to cross the finish line. Usually done in the last 250-500 meters.

-Sprint Race: Races in which boats row a set distance in side-by-side competition. High school sprint races are 1500 meters (2000 in Canada); College sprint races are 2000 meters; Masters race 1000 meters. 

-Starboard: From the coxswain's point of view, the right side of the shell. The odd numbered seats have their oars on this side of the boat.  Bow side (UK)

-Start: The beginning of the race. Also the term for the first four strokes, and subsequent tens' taken at the start of a race.

-Stern: The rear of the boat; the direction the rowers are facing.

-Stretcher or Footstretcher: Where the rower’s feet go. The stretcher consists of two inclined footrests that hold the rower’s shoes. The rower’s shoes are bolted onto the footrests.

-Stroke: The person at the back or the stern of the boat is called 'stroke' - in an eight he or she is 'number eight'. All the other rowers in the boat aim to follow the rhythm and rate set by the stroke.

-Stroke rate: The number of strokes a crew takes in one minute.

-Sweep: One of the two disciplines of rowing – the one where rowers use only one oar. Pairs (for two people), fours (for four people) and the eight are sweep boats. Pairs and fours may or may not have a coxswain. Eights always have a coxswain.

-Swing: The hard-to-define feeling when near-perfect synchronization of motion occurs in the shell, enhancing the performance and speed.

 Taken from,, The,,

Rowing shells (boats) are designed to be light weight to go faster.  A single scull, on average is about 27 feet long and weighs only around 31 pounds. This weight per rower ratio, in general, continues even up to the largest boats. An 8+ is around 60 feet long and weights 240-250 pounds. That means that every rower in the boat, needs to be able to lift over-head, then carry on their shoulders, their fair share - at least 30 pounds.

When rowing, a rower need to be able to "pull their weight" (this is often measured on an erg - indoor rowing machine) plus the weight of their share of the boat (30+ pounds). This helps ensure the health and safety of the rower and their teammates. 

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