Types of Rowing

SWEEP: Rowing with one oar on one side of the boat. The length of the oar is about 12 feet long.

SCULLING: Opposite of sweep. Sculling is rowing with two oars (an oar on each side of the boat). The length of each oar is about 9 feet long.

Sweep Boat or Shell



There are four different SHELL SIZES, distinguished by the number of rowers in the shell (8, 4, 2, or 1). The symbol following the shell size indicates whether with a coxswain (+) or without a coxswain (-), or whether it is a sculling boat (x). The image above is of stern coxswained eight-oared shell (8+).

SHELL: Another term for a boat, specifically, a boat used in racing.

BOW: End of the boat closest to the direction of travel. See diagram. Also can be used to refer to one-seat, or in conjunction with either four or pair. Bow-four refers to seats four through one. Bow-pair refer to seats two and one.

STERN: End of the boat farthest from the direction of travel. See diagram. Also can be used in conjunction with either four or pair. Stern-four refers to seats eight through five. Stern-pair refer to seats eight and seven.

PORT: Side of the boat to the coxswain’s left and to the rower’s right. See diagram. The oar sticks out to a port-rower’s right.

STARBOARD: Side of the boat to the coxswain’s right and to the rower’s left. See diagram.

BLADE (HATCHET OR SPOON): The face of the oar that pushes against the water.

OARLOCK: Square latch to hold the oar and provide a fulcrum for the stroke against the rigger.

RIGGER: An apparatus on the side of the boat to provide a fulcrum for the lever (oar).

FOOT STRETCHER: Part of the boat where the shoes are attached and where the rower pushes his legs on the drive.

SKEG: Fixed plastic piece beneath boat for stabilization (keel). The rudder is mounted on it. Also called a fin. The skeg (incl. rudder) can break off in shallow water. It can also break off by hitting the dock when putting the boat in the water or taking it out. Please be careful!

SLIDE: The tracks in which the seat rolls.

BACK STOP: A small block on the bow end of the slide, which holds the seat on track.

FRONT STOP: A small block on the stern end of the slide, which holds the seat in place.

KEEL: The steadiness of the boat. If the boat alternats from side to side, it is a sign of bad technique.

RUDDER: A little fin on the bottom of the boat that the coxswain can control to steer the boat.

COXSWAIN: A very important member of the crew. Their primary job is steering but they also provide feedback during races about location on the course, relative position to other crews , and stroke rate per minute. They serve as an in-the-boat coach during races. They call power 10s and encourage the crew. However, they do not say, “Stroke, stroke, stroke.”

COX BOX: A small electronic device which aids the coxswain by amplifying his voice and giving him a readout of various information, such as stroke ratings.

The Stroke

STROKE: One full motion to move a boat. Consists of the catch, drive, finish, and recovery. Can also be used to refer to 8-seat.

CATCH: The part of the stroke where the oar enters the water.

DRIVE: Part of the stroke where the rower pulls the blade through the water using legs, back and arms to propel the boat.

LEG DRIVE: Term used for driving the legs against the foot stretchers on the drive.

LAYBACK: Term for how much you lean back at the finish. Too much is bad, too little is, well, bad also.

FINISH: Part of the stroke after the drive where the blades come out of the water. The rower removes the oar from the water, by first pushing downward then away with the hands.

RELEASE: Another term for finish.

FEATHERING: Rotating the oar in the oarlock so that the blade is parallel to the surface of the water. Roll the blade with your inside hand (hand closest to the blade) so the blade is parallel to the water, concave upwards. This is done at the start of the recovery, and the blade is slowly squred again before the end of the recover. Feathering makes rowing easier especially in windy, choppy conditions because the blade doesn’t slap the waves as much and because air resistance on the blade is decreased.
RECOVERY: Part of the stroke where the rowers comes back up the slide slowly towards the catch. The oar is pushed away from the body by extending the arms, reaching the body forward and compressing the legs so the shin is vertical, preparing for the next Catch. The oar should not drag on the water.

STROKE RATE: How fast a stroke is being taken, in terms of strokes per minute.

Rowing Commands or Terms

READY ALL, ROW: Coxswain call to begin rowing.

WEIGH ENOUGH: Command for rowers to stop. Usually given a 2-stroke warning, as in, “In two, weigh enough.” Rowers know that in one (said at the catch), rowers complete one full stroke; and in two (said at the second catch), rowers complete this second full stroke and end at arms away, blades squared, boat balanced. Generally after performing the command, the coxswain say, “And down,” to which the rowers will feather the blades and set the boat. Saying “And down” depends on the cox–some coxswains prefer that rowers automatically set the boat after weighing enough. However, weigh enough means ending the stroke at arms away and not down. Whatever the cox’s policy, it should be clear and consistent Note: In an emergency, the command is “Weigh enough, hold water!” Stop whatever you are doing and hold water.

CHECK IT DOWN: Coxswain call that makes all the rowers drag their oar blades through the water perpendicularly. Blades are squared and partly buried, effectively stopping the boat. Used in landings, turns, before race starts, etc.

HOLD WATER: Coxswain call similar to “Check it down.”‘ Akin to braking hard. Blades must be square and buried, oars held tightly to break the boat’s momentum. Very important in emergency situations, also used before race starts, turns, etc.

LET IT RUN: Coxswain call for all rowers to stop rowing and pause at the finish, letting the boat glide through the water and coast to a stop. Used as a drill to build balance.

ONE FOOT UP, AND OUT: Command for exiting a sweep boat. Procedure is as follows: The outside hand hold the oar away from the body. The inside hand holds the gunwale to the dock. The inside foot is removed from the foot stretchers and placed on the step-in board, the body weight is shifted forward as the rower stands supporting himself on their inside leg. The outside is placed on the dock, as the rower gets out of the shell.

POWER 10 (or 20 or 30, etc.): Coxswain call to take a certain number of power strokes. A power stroke is a stroke that musters all the strength the rower can give.

RUN: The distance the boat moves after a stroke. Long run is very good. Run can be visually measured by the distance between the last puddle made by two-seat and where eight-seat’s blade enters the water.

SET (the boat): command to Balance the boat. Generally used when rowers are not rowing but sit relaxed with both hands on the oar as it floats feathered on the water. Each rower setting the boat is actively maintaining a constant oar handle height, thereby keeping the set/balance of the boat steady and centered. Rowers’ body leans (or lack thereof) also affect the side-to-side balace. Sometimes all rowers are setting, other times only some rowers set. If someone is rowing behind you while you’re setting, move your seat up to avoid getting hit in your back. Rowers also “set” the boat when they pause or weigh enough and let the boat run with oars in the air – the oars and bodies are again used to balance the boat so it doesn’t rock side-to-side or run with either port or starboard side down.

SQUARE: The blade is perpendicular to the water. Rowing square blades is rowing without feathering during the recovery.

Technique-Related Terms (Mostly things you want to avoid doing)

catching a crab: slang; getting an unexpected tug or jerk on your blade, sometimes boat-stoppingly violent. The blade gets “caught” in the water and may be quickly sucked in from rushing water, making the oar handle fly up or towards you or even behind you. Crabs happen because of poor technique, often getting the blade in the water at the wrong time, but sometimes one rower’s skying/ruining the set can cause another rower to crab, and crabs are more easily caught in choppy water (including motor boat wakes). Do the best you can to maintain proper control of your blade, especially in race situations, and improve your technique to avoid catching crabs.

check: the interruption or braking of the boat’s forward momentum. Things that cause check during a race include poor bladework, rushing the slide, and hitting the front stops.

digging: The blade is too deep in the water during the drive. This really affects the set, and it’s hard to get a crisp finish. Sometimes seen with skying. The blade should not be entirely buried in the water during the drive, but rather remain at the same depth as when the squared blade is just floating (no hands on the handle).

hanging at the catch: A pause in a rower’s rhythm as s/he is about to drop the blade into the water. This happens when you rush the slide and get to the top before the other rowers, and then your blade just hangs in the air while you wait for everyone else. Hanging at the catch means you’re rushing the slide more than you need to and thus slowing the boat, it’s inefficient because you’re wasting energy hurrying, it throws off the “swing” or unified movement of the other rowers, and also makes it very hard to catch with the other rowers.

missing water: This happens when you don’t raise your hands as you come up to the catch, but jam the oar in the water when you’re already at the top (front) of the slide. When you do it right, you see water splashing behind your blade. When you do it wrong, the first part of your stroke is actually out of the water, and you lose a lot of power -that’s your strong leg drive you miss out on, which is why this is important. Don’t worry about slowing the boat with your little backsplash – worry more about not missing water.

rushing the slide: Coming up the slide too quickly and/or accelerating up the slide. The recovery should be a slow deceleration, and rushing the slide creates momentum in the direction opposite to the where the boat is going. Whether or not you bounce on your legs or hit the front stops at the top (front) of the slide, rushing the slide slows the boat. Use your legs to brake the recovery. Rushing also wastes energy; it’s better to pull hard twice (and relax/breathe during the recovery) than to pull hard three times in the same time (and spend even more energy hurrying up the slide, and slowing the boat by rushing on top of that) – you wouldn’t last very long aerobically, and you’re not being efficient. If the stroke rating is fast, bring up the rating in the water by pulling harder, and concentrate on keeping the recovery smooth and decelerating. It’s ideal to have the recovery take twice as long as the drive (this is having a good ratio).

skying: The blade is too high off the water. This strongly affects the set of the boat, and may lead to digging besides. Usually seen at the end of the recovery, when the rower lowers the hands as s/he comes up to the catch, sometimes in too bent-over a position (when tired). The rowers should instead sit up more, and raise their hands into the catch.

shooting the slide: Starting the drive with your rear end first (not the center of your back), leaving your shoulders in back behind initially. This ends up being a quick jerk of the seat backwards, a result of a too-explosive leg drive and not moving the blade through the water as your legs push. This is very wasteful of your powerful leg drive, puts your back in a very inefficient position for transferring leg drive to driving the blade, may strain your lower back, and even causes the boat to “check” or jerkily slow down. [The checking the action/reaction of the boat to go in the wrong direction resulting from the jerky movement of your butt (and nothing else) in the right direction.] The drive should have a firm start, but be controlled and smoothly accelerating all the way through. Think of the oar handle and the seat being joined by a bar that maintains a constant distance between them during the first part of the drive.

tea-bagging: pejorative slang. Just dipping the blade in the water during the drive, applying little or no effort to move the boat forward. This is basically going through the motions of rowing without doing any work. The cox and others can tell if you’re tea-bagging because there won’t be a puddle left on the water after your blade leaves it. Rowers who pull hard will leave a large puddle behind their finish; tea-baggers are basically dead weight and better replaced with rowers who make an effort.

Miscellaneous Rowing-Related Terms

ERG (ERGO/ERGOMETER/ERG MACHINE) – A rowing machine designed to simulate the actual rowing motion; used for training and testing.

REGATTA – An organized crew race.

HEAD STYLE RACING is done in the fall and can be done on river, where there are twists and turns. The shells do not line-up, but race against the clock, after starting one behind the other. You need not pass another crew to beat it, but if you pass someone that started in front of you, you have surely beat their time. The race distance is usually 3 miles long.

SPRINT RACING is done with the crews starting with the bow of their shells even a racing parallel to each other. They start together, and the first crew to cross the finish line wins. We do this racing in the spring. On the collegiate level and internationally, the race distance is 2000 meters. Master rowers (age 27 and older) race 1000 meters.

NOVICE – a rower in their first 12 months of rowing. Since it takes most people a while to refine the basics of rowing and racing, they can row against others of similar experience level.