[dropcap style=”default, circle, box, book”]T[/dropcap]rying a new sport often means learning what amounts to a new language. If you are interested in learning to row or are a novice rower, we hope this guide to rowing terminology will be useful.

There are basically two types of boats (or shells) that reflect the two basic forms of rowing – sweep rowing and sculling. In sweep rowing, each rower handles a single oar about 12.5 feet long; in sculling, a rower uses two oars (or sculls), each about 9.5 feet long. The word shell is used interchangeably with boat, because the hull of a rowing shell is only about 1/8″ to ¼” thick in order to make the boat as light as possible.

The subtypes of rowing shells are classified according to the number of rowers in the shell.

Each rower has his or her back to the direction the shell is moving and power is generated using a fluid motion of the rower’s legs, back and arms. The rower sits on a sliding seat with wheels on a track called the slide. The rower’s stockinged feet are secured in some sort of shoe attached to an adjustable bracket mounted across the body of the shell. Each oar is held in a u-shaped swivel (oarlock) mounted on a metal pin at the end of a rigger. The rigger is bolted to the body of the shell.

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Sculling Boats

These shells almost never have a coxswain. Steering is done by applying more power or pressure to the oar(s) on one side of the shell. The hands can overlap (usually left over right in the U.S.), or the left hand is in front of the right. Each rower has two oars.

Single (1X)

One rower or sculler. Singles are about 26 feet long and less than a foot wide. Racing singles can weigh as little as 30 pounds. There are heavier, shorter and wider versions often referred to as recreational singles.

Double (2X)

Two scullers. Most racing doubles also can be used as a pair with a different set of riggers designed for sweep oars, usually with a rudder added. There also are recreational versions of sculling doubles.

Quadruple (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 also can be rigged as a straight four using a different set of riggers.


Sweeping Boats

These shells usually have a coxswain (pronounced “cocksin” or referred to simply as the cox), who steers the shell using a rudder and guides the rowers with commands. The symbol used for each subtype is within the parentheses. Each rower has one oar.

Coxless pair (2)

Two sweep rowers without a coxswain. Steering is done via a rudder attached to a cable that is connected to one of the rower’s foot stretchers

Coxed pair (2+)

Two sweep rowers with a coxswain.

Straight (or coxless) four (4)

Four sweep rowers without a coxswain. Steering is done with a similar type of rudder set up as the coxless pair.

Eight (8+/8)

Eight sweep rowers with a coxswain. Eights are 60+ feet long and weigh about 250 pounds. The most commonly used shells are eight oarsmen/one coxswain and a four oarsmen/one coxswain.



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The person sitting in position 1. In coxless boats, the bowman is responsible for watching for obstructions by turning around occasionally

Bow Four

Bowman, 2, 3 and 4 rowing together.

Bow pair

The bowman and 2 rowing together..

Coxswain (cox)

Sits in the stern or bow area and directs, commands and steers.



Two sweep rowers without a coxswain. Steering is done via a rudder attached to a cable that is connected to one of the rower’s foot stretchers

Stern Four

Stroke, 7, 6 and 5 rowing together

Stern Pair

Stroke and 7 rowing together.

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


The front of the boat


The flat upper surface at the ends of the equal to approximately 2-3 seats. Often used as a race measurement as in “they won by a deck”.


The ratio of the oar length inboard of the pin to the oar length outboard of the pin.


The edge of the sides of the boat


The backbone of the shell running down the center to which the ribs attach. Not all boats have keels since the skin can be made strong enough to support the weight of the boat.


The section of the oar between blade and handle.


U-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. Oarlocks are almost as important as the oars themselves for successful rowing.


The angle of the blade to the water. Usually a combination of about 1½ degrees of pitch built into the oar blade relative to the loom and between 1 and 6 degrees on the back face of the swivel, which is adjustable. Pitch prevents the blade from digging uncontrollably deep into the water. The pitch is positive, in other words the top of the blade tilts towards the stern.



On your right when rowing, blades have red marks on them.


The device that connects the oarlock to the shell and is bolted to the body of the shell.


Refers to the relationship between the dimensions and angles if the boat, the seat, the oars, and the rower(s). Adjustments and alterations of accessories affect the rigging, (ex. height of the rigger, location of footstretchers, location and height of the oarlocks.


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.


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


A small fin located along the stern section of the hull which helps to stabilize the shell in holding a true course.


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


The distance between the swivel pins.


The distance from the swivel pin to the center of the boat.


On your left while rowing, signified by green marks.

[/one_half_last] [separator headline=”h3″ title=”Stroke or Rowing Cycle”] The stroke or rowing cycle starts with the rower at rest with legs fully extended and the oar blades immersed in the water, almost perpendicular to the water’s surface and ends with the rower at the end of a pull through the water.


The point in the cycle when the rower applies power to the oar in a fluid motion as it enters the water, starting with a leg drive, then the back and finally the arms.


Turning the oar blade from a position perpendicular to the surface of the water to a position parallel to the water, done in conjunction with the release.


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


The amount of backward lean of the rower’s body at the end of the finish.



The distance an oarsman is able to extend his arm forward at the catch.


The part of the cycle from the release up to and including where the oar blade enters the water.


A sharp motion of the hand, downward and away, which removes the oar blade from the water and starts the rowing cycle.


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, done during the recover portion of the rowing cycle and in preparation for the catch

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Rowing backwards to move in the opposite direction from rowing with blades reverse.


Square blades – legs down straight, use only the arms to take stroke, no body swing, no slide.


The water thrown back towards the bow by the blade after the catch. The smaller the backsplash, the better the catch.

Body Swings

Like backstops, but with the body swinging form the hips, legs are down, no slide.

Breaking the knees

Sliding only an inch or two up the slide.


The number of strokes per minute. Stroke rate.

Check it

Take a quick stroke to correct the direction of the boat. Check is also a term for wasted energy due to poor technique.


Directions given by the Cox.


When the rower’s oar gets ‘stuck’ in the water, either 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.

Hold water

When the rower’s oar gets ‘stuck’ in the water, either right after the catch or just Put your blade square in the water to stop the forward motion of your boat.


Jumping the slide

Encountered by a rower when the seat becomes derailed from the track during the rowing cycle.

Missing Water

The rower starts the drive before the catch has been completed; also referred to as rowing into the catch.


Little ripples left by the blade means the pull is not hard enough; large waves mean the rower is pulling just right.

Quarter slide

Slide ¼ of the way up the slide to the catch.


The number of strokes per minute.


Refers to the ratio of the recovery time to the drive time; the former should always be longer.

Rushing the slide

Causes check and results from coming too fast toward the catch from the recovery.

Set the boat

A “good set” provides a level, stable shell that is the basis for a symphony of motion. The set of the boat can be affected by a variety of factors: rower’s posture, hand levels, rigging, timing at the catch and release, and weather conditions such as the wind.

Square your blade

Blade straight up, ready to slice into water.

Way enough

Stop rowing.

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For team LWT (light weight) boats, 160 pounds is the individual maximum and the boat cannot average more than 155 lbs.


Women (W)

The individual maximum for team LWT (light weight) boats is 130 pounds and the boat must average no more than 125 pounds. In the U.S. women have an individual maximum only; no average.

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Head races/h4>
Between 2 – 3.5 mile races conducted later in the rowing season, starting in late September. Boats are started by division at 10-second intervals. Head races are usually held on a river with an assortment of bridges and turns that make passing a challenge. Each division winner is referred to as the ‘head’ of that river. Head of the Charles is one of the most famous head races.


An organized crew race that can be local, regional, national or international. The Henley Royal Regatta in England is perhaps the oldest and most famous regatta in the world.



Races that usually have six shells racing against one another in separate designated lanes, which may or may not be marked. Standard distance is a straight 200 meters and can take anywhere from 5.5 to 8.5 minutes depending on boat class, weather, water current and level of experience. There are other racing distances for older men and women (Masters) and Junior (high school rower).