Rowing Terminology

  • Blades: The wide flat section of the oar at the head of the shaft.
  • Hatchets: (a.k.a. big blades or choppers or cleavers) A design of oar blades introduced by Concept II that are what the name indicates, oar blades that have a bigger surface area than the 'standard' blade and have a hatchet or meat cleaver shape. The hatchets are shorter than the standard blades.
  • Scull: This term, used interchangeably, refers to one of the oars used in a sculling shell, the shell itself or to the act of rowing a sculling shell.
  • Foot Stretcher: A bracket attached to the shell into which rower's feet are secured in some sort of shoe.
  • Rigger: (or outrigger) Term referring to the device that connects the oarlock to the shell, it is bolted to the body of the shell.
  • Oarlock: (or rowlock) is a V-shaped swivel that 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 place.
  • 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 (when the blade is 'squared') and a line perpendicular to the water's surface.
  • Slide (or track): The track on which the seat moves in the shell.
  • Gunwale or gunnels: The top section on the sides of a shell that run along the sides of the 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. Some shells are built without this member so the term then refers to the centerline of the shell. Rudder: This term refers to the steering device at the stem. The rudder is connected to cables (tiller ropes) that the coxswain uses 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 out the cadence of the stroke rate on the gunwale.
  • Skeg: The small fin located along the stern section of the shell that helps to stabilize the shell to hold a true course when rowing. All racing shells have a skeg and it should not be confused with the function of the rudder.
  • Rigging: The adjustment and alteration of accessories in and on the shell.
  • Boat slings: Collapsible frames with straps used to temporarily hold a shell
  • Bow: The forward end of the shell. Also the name of the rower sitting most forward in the shell Stern: The rear end of the shell.
  • Port: The left side of the boat when facing the bow
  • Starboard: The right side of the shell when facing the bow
  • Coxswain: The person who steers the shell and urges the rowers on, a key position on the team.
  • The Stroke: Rower sitting nearest the coxswain. Strokes, along with cox, set both cadence and stroke length.

Shells and Team Classifications

The shells (or boats) are of two types and reflect the two forms of rowing--- sweep rowing and sculling. In sweep rowing each rower uses a single oar, in sculling a rower uses two oars. The word shell is used in reference to the boats used because the hull is only about 1/8”to 1/4" thick. These shells are long and racing shells are as narrow as possible while recreational shells can be wider.

Each rower has his/her back to the direction the shell is moving 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. The subtypes of rowing shells are classified according to the number of rowers in the shell.

Sweep Boats: (each rower has one oar - alternating sides) these shells can have a coxswain, a person who steers the shell and urges the rowers on. Included in parenthesis is the symbol used for each subtype.

  • Coxed Pair: (2+) two sweep rowers with a coxswain.
  • Coxless Pair: (2-) two sweep rowers without a coxswain.
  • Coxed Four: (4+) four sweep rowers with a coxswain.
  • Straight (or Coxless) Four: (4-) four sweep rowers without a coxswain. Steering is usually accomplished via a rudder that is attached to a cable connected to one of the rower's foot stretchers. The coxless pair has a similar type of rudder setup.
  • Eight: (8+) Eight sweep rowers with a coxswain.

Sculling Boats: (each rower has two oars) in rare occasions do these shells have a cox. Steering is accomplished by manipulating the oar pressure on either side of the shell.

  • Single: (1X) one rower, or sculler.
  • Double: (2X) two rowers, or scullers
  • Quadruple: (4X) four rowers or scullers. Often referred to as a “quad”.
  • Octuple: (8X) eight rowers or scullers, rarely seen in the US, but used in the UK and some US club for youth rowers

Team classifications:

  • Men: (M) Heavyweight division has no maximum individual weight. Lightweight division has a maximum individual weight of 155 lbs.
  • Women: (W) Heavyweight division has no maximum individual weight. Lightweight division has a maximum individual weight of 130 lbs.

More Rowing Terminology

  • Release: A sharp downward (and away) motion of the hand, which serves to remove the oar blade from the water and start the rowing cycle.
  • 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: The rowing cycle from the release up to, and including, when oar blade enters water. Squaring: A gradual rolling of the oar blade from a position parallel to the water to a position perpendicular to the surface of the water. Accomplished during the recovery portion of the rowing cycle, in preparation for the catch.
  • Catch: The rowing cycle when the blade enters the water at the end of the recovery, accomplished by an upward motion of the arms only. The blade must be fully squared at the catch.
  • Drive: Part of the rowing cycle when the rower applies power to the oar. This is a 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, the power is mainly comes from back and arms.
  • Layback: The backward lean of the rower's body at the end of the finish. Next... the release
  • Ratio: Ratio of the recovery time to the drive time. Recovery time should always exceed drive time Rating: Number of strokes per minute (a.k.a. stroke rating)
  • Set (set of a boat): The definition that comes closest to what rowers mean by the set of a boat is the “form or carriage of the body or of its parts”. In this case the “body” is the shell and the rowers. Circumstances that 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.
  • Check: Any abrupt deceleration of the shell caused by an uncontrolled motion within the shell; an interruption in the forward motion of the shell. The coxswain is most acutely aware of this abrupt deceleration and it has been known to cause whiplash in extreme cases.
  • Crab: A problem encountered by a rower when his/her oar gets 'stuck' in the water, usually right after the catch or just before the release, caused by improper squaring or feathering. The momentum of the shell can overcome the rower's control of the oar and in extreme cases the rower can actually be ejected from the shell by the oar.
  • Jumping the slide: A problem encountered when the rowers’ seat becomes derailed from the track during the rowing cycle.
  • Missing Water: A rower starts the drive before the catch has been completed (or possibly even started). Also referred to as rowing into the catch.
  • Skying: Carrying the hands too low during the recovery, especially when a rower dips his/her hands prior to the catch (i.e. sort of winding up) resulting in the blade being too high off the water surface.
  • Washing out: Rowing the oar out of the water, i.e. the blade comes out of the water before the drive is finished