Rowing 101

About the Boats
In rowing, boats are divided into two categories, sculls and shells. In a scull, each rower has two oars that are approximately 9.5 feet long. Sculls can be singles, doubles or quads. In a shell, each rower has only one oar that is 12 feet long. Shells come in “pairs” and “fours” with or without a coxswain and “eights” with a coxswain. Winter Park Crew primarily rows shells.

In both kinds of racing boats, rowers are able to take long and powerful strokes with the oars because their feet are tied into shoes. They move back and forth on seats that roll on a track about 2.5 feet long and have swivel oarlocks.

The racing shells themselves are light and streamlined, made out of special cedarwood skin or thin plastic less than 118 of an inch thick. For example, an 8-oared shell is 60 feet long, weighs less than 250 pounds and can carry a crew weighing as much as I ,800 pounds.


Oars not only move the boat through the water but act as balancers as well. Each oar is mounted in a swivel oarlock. The shaft section of the blade varies in length somewhat; sweep rowers’ oars are longer (12-13 ft.) than scullers’ oars (9.5-10 ft.). In addition, sweep blades are larger than sculling blades, but the curved blade shape is the same.


Boat Positions
There are eight rowing positions in a racing shell. Seats 1 and 2 are referred to as the bow pair. This pair especially “sets the boat”. Rowers in these positions must have smooth and fluid technique. Seats 3, 4, 5 and 6 are referred to as the power or engine seats. Rowers in these positions must be large and strong. Seats 7 and 8 are referred to as the stern pair. They set the stroke rate for each side of the boat. The 8 seat is usually the hardest to row. Stern seats require fluid and consistent rowers. It is important to remember that all three sections are equally important. A winning boat consists of 8 people rowing together as a team under the direction of their coxswain.

The coxswain is the eyes and ears of the boat. The coxswain is a team member who is often overlooked (other than being thrown into the water to celebrate a boat’s victory) but his/her role on the water is considerably more involved. The coxswain must guide the boat to the starting line and get the boat lined up correctly. Once the race begins, he or she has to be a good motivator because the coxswain is the only one who can talk to the rowers.

The coxswain is responsible for:

1. Steering the boat by giving directions to the rowers and keeping the boat in the proper lane to avoid penalties;
2. Watching the crew; spotting errors and making relevant observations. A coxswain must know rowing technique, so that if a correction is necessary, he or she will know what to do and who should do it;
3. Telling the crew where they are in relation to the other boats and how much farther they have to go to win; and
4. Actuating the coach’s game plan, as the coach can’t be with the boat during the race.


The Rowing Motion
The whole body is involved in moving a shell through the water. Basically the stroke is made up of four parts: catch, drive, finish and recovery. As the stroke begins, the rower is coiled forward on the sliding seat, with knees bent and arms outstretched. At the catch, he drops the blade vertically into the water. At the beginning of the drive, the body position doesn’t change— the legs do all the work. Then, as the upper body begins to uncoil, the arms begin their work, drawing the blades through the water.

Continuing the drive, the rower moves his hands quickly into his body, which by this time is in a “layback” position. During the finish, the oar handle is moved down drawing the blade out of the water. At the same time, the rower feathers the oar; turns the oar handle so that the blade changes from a vertical position to a horizontal one. This feathering cuts down wind resistance and avoids hitting the water. The oar remains out of the water as the rower begins recovery, moving his hands away from the body and past his knees. The body follows the hands and the sliding seat moves forward until, knees bent, the rower is ready for the next catch.


There are two racing distances for high school rowers. In the fall, rowers participate in Head Races, where shells begin with a rolling start at intervals of 10 – 20 seconds, and are timed over a distance of 5000M.

In the spring, high school rowers participate in 1500M Sprint Races where all the boats start at the same time from a stationary position and the winner is the boat that crosses the finish line first. Under good conditions, an 8-oar crew can row this distance in less than 5 minutes, at an average speed of 14 mph.


How to Look Like a Rowing Expert
If you hear somebody say “heads up”, people carrying a shell are trying to get someplace with it and you are in the way. A single sculler rows a scull. An eight rows a sweep, not a scull. Single rowers are scullers – they row a scull, not a skull. But eights are rowers not sweepers!

If you hear a rower say “I caught a crab”, he/ she isn’t talking about marine life. If a blade enters the water at an improper angle it can get caught under the surface. The oar handle drives into the stomach and has the potential to throw the rower out of the boat.


Rowing Terms

Blade: spoon face of oar – captures water resistance.
Bow: forward area of boat – common name of first oarsman.
Catch: moment of blade entry in water – immediate application of power.
Collar: ring around sleeve designed to position oar and prevent movement.
Coxswain: steersman and proper authority in a boat in motion.
Crab: sometimes punishing error in execution of rowing stroke.
Double: seats two oarsmen, each individual with one oar.
Drive: physical pull on oars using legs, back and arms.
Foot Stretcher: adjustable platform against which leg drive is applied.
Gunwale: essentially parallel wood edges of boat- rigger attachment point.
Keel: center line of boat – point of balance.
Oar: lever against which work is applied – not paddle.
Oarlock: usually plastic clamp at outer pint of rigger in which oar pivots.
Pair: seats two oarsmen with or without a coxswain.
Port: coxswain’s left – oarsman at coxswain’s left.
Recovery: preferably controlled outreach of another stroke.
Release: finish of stroke when blade exits water.
Scull: smaller scale oar designed for one hand management.
Sculling: rowing with two oars.
Sleeve: protective material along pivot point of oar shaft.
Slides: tracks guiding seat motion.
Sliding Seat: rolling platform for sitting.
Starboard: coxswain’s right -oarsmen on coxswain’s right.
Stern: rear of boat – common name for coxswain and stem pair.
Stroke Rate: cadence of rowing – number count of cycles per minute.
Stroke: final oarsman in seating sequence -sets cadence of motion.
Sweep: full-scale oar designed for both hands on one oar.