Rowing Terminology

Throughout the season you will be hearing some new terms.  If you would like to understand a little more and maybe impress your son with the breadth of your understanding the following glossary will get you started. 



The boats (or shells) are basically of two types and reflect the two forms of rowing, sweep rowing and sculling.  In sweep rowing each rower handles a single oar (about 12.5 ft or 3.9 m long).  In sculling each rower uses two shorter oars, or sculls, (each about 9.5 ft or 3 m long). The word shell is often used in reference to the boats used because the hull is only about 1/8" to 1/4" thick to make it as light as possible. Most shells today are made of composite materials such as carbon fiber, fiberglass, or kevlar.

Each rower faces the stern and power is generated using a blended sequence of the rower's legs, back and arms. The rower sits on a sliding seat with wheels on a track called the slide.  Each oar is held in a U-shaped swivel (oarlock) mounted on a metal pin at the end of a rigger. The rigger is an assembly of tubes that is tightly bolted to the body of the shell.

Sweep Boats (each rower has one oar):  These shells can have a coxswain---a person who steers the shell (using a rudder) and urges the rowers on. There can be divided into the following categories:

Coxed Pair (2+): Two sweep rowers with a coxswain.  Sometimes referred to as a “pair with”.

Coxless Pair (2-): Two sweep rowers without a coxswain.  Sometimes referred to as a “straight pair”. 

Eight sweep rowers with a coxswain.

Eight sweep rowers with a coxswain.

Coxed Four (4+): Four sweep rowers with a coxswain.  (aka Four with.)

Coxless Four (4-): Four sweep rowers without a coxswain.  (aka Straight four.) Steering in a coxless boat is usually accomplished via a rudder that is attached to a cable that is connected to one of the rower's foot stretchers.

Eight (8+): Eight sweep rowers with a coxswain. Eights are 60+ ft (~18.5 m) long and weigh about 250 pounds (~114 kg).  This is the boat most of your athletes will be racing.  It is by far the most popular boat raced by colleges and will represent the “main event” at most of the regattas you attend this spring. 

Sculling Boats (each rower has two oars):  There is not a lot of college sculling but you may see some of the following boats and it may interest you to know what they are.  Only in rare cases do these boats have a coxswain.  Steering is generally accomplished by applying more power or pressure to the oar(s) on one side of the shell. They fall into the following categories: 

This single is on display hanging from the ceiling of UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame.

This single is on display hanging from the ceiling of UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame.

Single (1X): One rower or sculler. Singles are about 26 ft (8 m) long and less than a foot (0.3 m) wide. Racing singles can weigh as little as 30 pounds (~13.5 kg).

Double (2X): Two scullers.  Most racing doubles can be also used as a pair with a different set of riggers designed for sweep oars. When used as a pair a rudder is usually added.

Quad (4X): Four scullers. Often referred to as a 'quad' and usually has a rudder attached to one of the sculler's foot stretchers as in the straight four. Most quads can also be rigged as a straight four using a different set of riggers.



Blades:  The wide flat section of the oar at the head of the shaft, also known as the spoon. This term is often used when referring to the entire oar.

Hatchets:  A relatively new design of oar blades (although the idea has been around for some time). These were introduced by Concept II (Spring 1992) and are what the names indicate---oar blades that have a bigger surface area than the `standard' (Macon) blades and have a hatchet or meat cleaver shape. The hatchets are a bit shorter (by about 7 cm) than the standard blades.

Scull: This term is used interchangeably when referring to one of the oars used in a sculling shell, the shell itself or to the act of rowing a sculling shell.

A look into our newer boat, The Richard A. Baca. Each seat is rested on the tracks behind a pair of Italian-Red Nike Shoes.

A look into our newer boat, The Richard A. Baca. Each seat is rested on the tracks behind a pair of Italian-Red Nike Shoes.

Foot Stretcher:  An adjustable bracket in a shell to which the rower's feet are secured in some sort of shoe or clog.

Seat:  The sliding seat that the rower sits on. The term "seat" also refers to the rowers place in the boat; the convention is to number the seats from bow to stern, i.e. the rower closest to the bow of the boat is "1-seat" the next, "2-seat", etc. The 1-seat is also commonly referred to as "bowseat" or just "bow" while the stern most (rear) seat is referred to as "stroke seat" or just "stroke".

Rigger:  The device that connects the oarlock to the shell and is bolted to the body of the shell.  On sweep boats, riggers are typically alternating from side to the other on adjacent seats, but it is not uncommon to see two adjacent riggers on the same side. This is referred to as "tandem rigging". Varieties include "bucket rigging", "German Rigging" and "Italian Rigging".

Oarlock:  A U-shaped swivel which holds the oar in place. It's mounted at the end of the rigger and rotates around a metal pin.  A gate closes across the top to keep the oar in.

Button (or collar):  A plastic or metal fitting tightened on the oar to keep the oar from slipping through the oarlock.

Pitch: The angle between the blade (on the drive when the blade is `squared') and a line perpendicular to the water's surface.

Slide (or track):  The track on which the seat moves.

Gunwale:  Pronounced “gun’ll”.  Top section on the sides of a shell which runs along the sides of the crew section where the rowers are located. The riggers are secured to the gunwale with bolts.

Keel:  Technically, the structural member running the length of the boat at the bottom of the hull. Today, some shells are built without this member so the term often refers to the center-line of the shell.

Rudder:  Steering device at the stern. The rudder in turn is connected to some cables (tiller ropes) that the coxswain can use to steer the shell. Older shells have short wooden handles (knockers) on the tiller ropes. These knockers are used by the coxswain not only to steer the shell, but also to rap on the gunwale to get the crew’s attention.

Skeg (or Fin):  A small fin located along the stern section of the hull. This helps to stabilize the shell in holding a true course when rowing. All racing shells have a skeg. The skeg should not be confused with the rudder.

Rigging:  The adjustment and alteration of accessories (riggers, foot-stretchers, oar, etc.) in and on the shell.  Examples of rigging adjustments that can be made are the height of the rigger, location of the foot-stretchers, location and height of the oarlocks, location of the button (or collar) on the oar and the pitch of the blade of the oar.

Slings:  Collapsible/portable frames with straps upon which a shell can be placed temporarily.


Rowing Cycle

Release:  A smooth, firm downward (and away) motion of the hands which serves to remove the oar blade from the water.

Feathering:  The act of turning the oar blade from a position perpendicular to the surface of the water to a position parallel to the water. This is done in conjunction with the release.

Recovery:  Part of the rowing cycle from the release up to and including where the oar blade enters the water.

Squaring:  A gradual rolling of the oar blade from a position parallel to the water to a position (almost) perpendicular to the surface of the water. This is accomplished during the recovery portion of the rowing cycle and is done in preparation for the catch.

Catch:  The point of the rowing cycle at which the blade enters the water at the end of the recovery and is accomplished by an upward motion of the arms and hands only. The blade of the oar must be fully squared at the catch.

Half way through the drive..."Bend that oar!"

Half way through the drive..."Bend that oar!"

Drive:  That part of the rowing cycle when the rower applies power to the oar. This is a more (or less) blended sequence of applying power primarily with a leg drive, then the back and finally the arms.

Finish:  The last part of the drive before the release where the power is mainly coming from the back and arms.

Layback:  The amount of backward lean of the rower's body at the end of the finish.

Release:  When the blade exits the water at the end of the drive before the recovery


Advanced Rowing 

Ratio:  The ratio of the recovery time to the drive time. The recovery time should always be longer than the drive time (how much longer I won't say ... as someone wrote, the idea is to `move the boat on the pull through (or drive) and take a ride (i.e. relax) on the recovery without sacrificing the very speed that they have generated').

Rating:  The number of strokes per minute. Also known as stroke rating.

Set: Generally balance but more involved.   The definition of this word that I have found that comes closest to what rowers mean by the set of a boat is `form or carriage of the boat and its parts'.  Items that can affect the set of the boat are the rower's posture, hand levels, rigging, timing at the catch and release, and outside conditions such as the wind. It is not unusual for rowers within a shell not to agree on what needs to be done to establish a 'good' set, i.e. a level, stable shell.  If you attend a practice you may hear a frustrated rower yell, “can we set the F*****g boat please?”  The question is rhetorical and the “please” is sarcastic.

Check:  Any abrupt deceleration of the shell caused by some uncontrolled motion within the shell; an interruption in the forward motion of the shell.  Most often caused by a rower stopping in the stern before the catch. 

Crab:  A problem encountered by a rower when his oar gets `stuck' in the water, usually caused by improper squaring.  The momentum of the shell can overcome the rower's control of the oar. In more extreme cases the rower can actually be ejected from the shell by the oar.

Jumping the slide:  Another problem encountered by a rower when the seat becomes derailed from the track during the rowing cycle.  Most often occurs at or near the start of the race when a rowers weight can be suspended between his oar handle and stretchers. 

Missing water:  The rower starts the drive before the catch has been completed.  This is also referred to as rowing into the catch.  Death to boat speed. 

Skying:  The fault of carrying the hands too low during the recovery especially when a rower dips his hands just prior to the catch (i.e. a sort of winding up). This usually results in the blade being too high off the water's surface and is often the root cause of missing water.

Washing out:  Rowing the oar out of the water, i.e. the blade comes out of the water before the drive is finished.