Rowing Lexicon

boat interiorBlade: The wide part of the oar that is used to move the boat through the water. The blade is painted with the school’s colors and is a way to distinguish among boats at a distance and is a better way to identify boats as they pass (instead of looking at uniforms, which can often look alike).

Boats – Sculls and Shells: All rowing boats can be called shells. Rowing boats with scullers in them (each person having two oars) are called sculls, e.g., single scull, double scull, quadruple scull. So, all sculls are shells but not vice versa! Originally made of wood (and many beautifully crafted wooden boats are made today), newer boats – especially those used in competition – are made of honeycombed carbon fiber. They are light and appear fragile but are crafted to be strong and stiff in the water.

The smallest boat – the single scull – is approximately 27 feet long and as narrow as 10 inches across. At 58 feet, the eight is the longest boat on the water.

The oars are attached to the boat with riggers, which provide a fulcrum for the levering action of rowing. Generally, sweep rowers sit in configurations that have the oars alternating from side to side along the boat. But sometimes, most typically in the 4- or 4+, the coach will rig the boat so that two consecutive rowers have their oars on the same side in order to equalize individual athlete power.

Bow: The forward section of the boat. The first part of the boat to cross the finish line. The person in the seat closest to the bow, who crosses the finish line first.

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 head is visible. Having the coxswain virtually lying down in the bow reduces wind resistance, and the weight distribution is better.

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

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

Cox Box: An electronic amplifier for the coxswain’s voice that plugs into a speaker system built into the shell, so that each rower can hear instructions. It also contains a stroke meter, which works from the magnet under the stroke’s seat and measures the cadence, or strokes rowed per minute (also called “rating”).

Crab: A problem encountered by a rower when the oar gets stuck in the water, usually right after the catch or just before the release. Called “catching a crab,” the problem is caused by improper squaring or feathering of the blade. The momentum of the shell can overcome the rower’s control of the oar. The oar handle drives into the stomach and has the potential to throw a rower out of the boat entirely! Even if not that disastrous, “catching a crab” will interrupt or ruin the flow of the boat through the water.

Crew: Crew is the term for the rowing team, so you don’t need to ask about the crew team – that is redundant! When the nine people that comprise a crew are in a shell, it is then a boat. You do not refer to an empty shell as a boat.

Deck: The part of the shell at the bow and stern that is covered with fiberglass cloth or a thin plastic.

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.

FISA: Short for Federation Internationale des Societes d’Aviron. The international governing body for the sport of rowing in the world, established in 1892.

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

German rigging: A different way of setting up which side of the boat the oars are on in a sweep boat. Instead of alternating from side to side all the way down, in a German rigged boat, two consecutive rowers have oars on the same side.

Head Race: Head races, which are generally held in the fall, about 2.5-3 miles long and the boats are started in their respective divisions separately at 10 second intervals. They are usually conducted on a river with an assortment of bridges and turns that can make passing quite interesting. The winner is the crew that had the shortest elapsed time between the start and finish lines, with any additional time included for penalties.

Lightweight: Refers to the rowers, not the boats; there is a maximum weight for each rower in a lightweight event as well as a boat average.

Oar: Used to drive the boat forward: rowers do not use paddles. Oars move the boat through the water and act as balancers. Sweep oars are longer than sculler’s oars and have wooden handles instead of rubber grips. The shaft of the oar is made of extremely lightweight carbon fiber instead of the heavier wood used years ago.

The popular “hatchet” blade – named because of its cleaver-like shape – is about 20 percent larger than previous blades. Its larger surface area has made it the almost-universal choice among world-level rowers.

Port: Left side of the boat, while facing forward, in the direction of the movement.

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.

Repechage: The second-chance race which ensures that everyone has two chances to advance from preliminary races since there is no seeding in the heats.

Rigger: The triangular shaped metal device that is bolted onto the side of the boat and holds the oars.

Rowing Stroke: The whole body is involved in moving a shell through the water. Although rowing tends to look like an upper body sport, the strength of the rowing stroke comes from the legs.

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, the athlete drops the oarblade vertically into the water.

At the beginning of the drive, the body position doesn’t change – all the work is done by the legs. As the upper body begins to uncoil, the arms begin their work, drawing the oarblades through the water. Continuing the drive, the rowers move their hands quickly into the body, which by this time is in a slight “layback” position, requiring strong abdominal muscles.

During the finish, the oar handle is moved down, drawing the oarblade out of the water. At the same time, the rower “feathers” the oar – turning the oar handle – so that the oarblade changes from a vertical position to a horizontal one. The oar remains out of the water as the rower begins recovery, moving the hands away from the body and past the knees. The body follows the hands and the sliding seat moves forward, until, knees bent, the rower is ready for the next catch.

Run: The run is the distance the shell moves during one stroke. You can figure it by looking for the distance between the puddles made by the same oar.

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

Shell: Can be used interchangeably with boat.

Slide: The set of runners for the wheels of each seat in the boat.

Sprint Race: National, collegiate, worlds, and Olympic sprint competitions are 2,000 meters, or approximately 1.25 miles. The race course is divided into 6-8 lanes and each 500-meter section is marked with buoys. Masters races are 1,000 meters. Often, juniors races are 1,500 meters.

The race begins with all boats aligned at the start in the lanes they’ve been assigned. Individuals in each lane hold the stern of each boat steady while an official, known as the aligner, ensures that each boat is even with the others and squarely facing the course.

Each crew is allowed one false start; two means disqualification. If within the first 100 meters there is legitimate equipment breakage (e.g., an oar snaps in two), the race will be stopped and restarted with repaired equipment.

The stroke rate (the number of rowing strokes per minute that a crew is taking ) is high at the start – maybe 45 to even 50 for an eight; 38 to 42 for a single scull. Then, the crew will “settle” into the body of the race and drop the rating back – 38 to 40 for an eight; 32-36 for a single. The coach and the way the race is going determine when the crew will sprint but finishing stroke rates of 46+ in the last 200 meters aren’t unheard of. However, higher stroke rates are not always indicative of speed. A strong, technically talented crew may be able to cover more water faster than a less-capable crew rowing a high stroke rate.

Unlike canoe/kayak competitions, rowers are allowed to leave their lanes without penalty, so long as they do not interfere with anyone else’s opportunity to win. An official follows the crews to ensure safety and fairness.

Despite the exhaustion of the race, the crew will row for five to 10 minutes afterwards in order to cool down. In rowing, the medals ceremonies include the shells. The three medal-winning crews row to the awards dock, climb out of their shells and receive their medals before rowing away.

Starboard: Right side of the boat, while facing forward, in the direction of movement.

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

Straight: Refers to a shell without a coxswain i.e. a straight four or straight pair.

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 into the footrests.

Stroke: The rower who sits closest to the stern. The stroke sets the rhythm for the boat; others behind him must follow his cadence.

StrokeCoach: A small electronic display that rowers attach in the boat to show the important race information like stroke rate and elapsed time.

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.