Rowing Terminology

Understanding these terms is essential for effective communication and performance in sweep and scull rowing. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced rower, being familiar with this terminology will help you navigate the sport more effectively.

General Terms

These are general terms relating to sweep and scull rowing.

  • Sweep: A style of rowing where each rower uses a single oar on either port or starboard.
  • Sculling: A style of rowing where each rower uses two oars, one in each hand.
  • Novice: A rower in their first year of rowing, regardless of age.
  • Master: A rower who has attained, or will attain, the age of 21 during the current calendar year.
  • Lightweight: A category in rowing based on the rower's weight, with specific limits for men and women.
  • Bow Ball: A small, soft ball attached to the bow of the boat for safety, minimizing the impact in case of a collision.

The Boat

Let's get to know the boat, or racing shell.

  • Shell (or racing shell) An extremely narrow, and often comparatively long, rowing boat specifically designed for sweep or scull racing or exercise. Shells seat between one and eight individuals.
  • Bow: The front end of the boat. It's also used to refer to the person sitting closest to the front end of the boat.
  • Stern: The back end of the boat. The coxswain usually sits near the stern in boats that have one.
  • Port: Left side of the boat when facing forward (towards the bow).
  • Starboard: Right side of the boat when facing forward.
  • Rigger: The metal or carbon fiber framework that is attached to the side of the boat and holds the oar.
  • Foot Stretcher: Adjustable plate in the boat where a rower's feet are secured.
  • Slide (or track): The rails on which the rower's seat moves back and forth.
  • Gunwale (or gunnel): The top edge of the sides of the boat.
  • Bucket Rig: An arrangement of rowers where two consecutive rowers on the same side of the boat are followed by two on the opposite side.
  • Deck: The flat section at the bow and stern ends of the shell.
  • Rudder: A small fin located under the stern used for steering the boat, often controlled by the coxswain.
  • Footplate: The adjustable plate in the boat where the rower's feet are placed.
  • Keel: The central structural element running along the bottom of the boat, providing stability and balance.
  • Wing Rigger: A type of rigger that extends out from the side of the boat in a wing-like shape, as opposed to being directly attached to the side.
  • Hull: The main body of the rowing boat.
  • Rigging: The process of adjusting the oars and the boat setup, including the position of the foot stretchers, oarlock heights, and pitch angles to optimize rowing efficiency and comfort.
  • Derigging: The process of dismantling the riggers from the boat, tying down seats and preparing the boat, usually for transit.
  • Gearing: The ratio of the inboard length of the oar (from handle to oarlock) to the outboard length (from oarlock to blade tip), affecting the leverage and force applied during each stroke.

Types of Boats

There are many types of boats, let's learn about them.

  • Bow Coxed Boat: A boat where the coxswain is located near the bow instead of the stern, lying down and facing the rowers.
  • Eights (8+): A sweep rowing boat for eight rowers, each with one oar, plus a coxswain.
  • Four (4+ / 4-): A sweep boat for four rowers, which can be coxed (4+) or coxless (4-).
  • Quad (4x): A sculling boat for four rowers, which does not have a coxswain (4x). The rower in the bow seat is responsible for the direction of the boat.
  • Pair (2+ / 2-): A sweep boat for two rowers, which does not have a coxswain. The rower in the bow seat is responsible for the direction of the boat.
  • Double (2x): A sculling boat for two rowers, which does not have a coxswain (2x). The rower in the bow seat is responsible for the direction of the boat.
  • Single (1x): A sculling boat for one rowers, which does not have a coxswain (1x). The single rower is in full control of the boat.

The Rowers

Let's learn about the boys, and girls, in the boat.

  • Coxswain (or cox): The person who steers the boat and directs the crew. They are typically positioned at the stern.
  • Stroke: The rower who sits closest to the stern and sets the rhythm for the boat.
  • Stern Pair: The last two rowers closest to the stern, responsible for setting the stroke rate and rhythm.
  • Stern Four: The four rowers closest to the stern in an eight-oared boat, typically comprising the stern pair and the two rowers in front of them.
  • Stern Six: The six rowers closest to the stern in an eight-oared boat, typically comprising the stern pair and the four rowers in front of them.
  • Jump Seat: Informal term for the coxswain's seat in the boat.

Oars + Taking a Stroke

Terms relating to the mechanics of rowing.

  • Blade: The flat part of the oar that goes into the water.
  • Catch: The part of the stroke where the oar blade is placed into the water.
  • Drive: The part of the stroke where the rower applies power, moving the boat forward.
  • Finish (or release): The part of the stroke where the oar blade is taken out of the water.
  • Recovery: The phase where the rower returns to the catch position to start a new stroke.
  • Feathering: Turning the oar blade parallel to the water to reduce air resistance during the recovery.
  • Squaring: Turning the oar blade perpendicular to the water before the catch.
  • Layback: The backward lean of the rower's body at the end of the drive phase.
  • Ratio: The relationship between the time spent on the drive phase and the recovery phase of the stroke.
  • Blade Work: The skillful handling of the oar in the water, including the catch, drive, and finish.
  • Catches: Refers collectively to the rowers' blades entering the water at the start of the stroke.
  • Inside Hand: The hand closest to the oarlock; in sweep rowing, it controls the height of the blade off the water during the recovery.
  • Outside Hand: The hand at the end of the oar handle; it primarily controls the feathering and squaring of the blade.
  • Puddles: The circular patterns left in the water by the oar blades after each stroke.
  • Half Slide: A position where the rower's seat is halfway up the slide, often used in drills.
  • Full Slide: The position where the rower's seat is at the furthest point on the slide, allowing for maximum leg extension.
  • Quarter Feather: Partially feathering the blade, often used in rough water conditions to prevent the blade from catching the wind.

On The Water

These are terms related to sweep and scull rowing races. This includes phrases used by coxswains to instruct and give feedback to rowers.

  • Stroke Rate (or rate): The number of strokes rowed per minute.
  • Power 10 (or any number): A call for a series of ten (or another number) powerful strokes to increase speed or gain distance.
  • Open Water: The gap between boats during a race; also refers to clear water ahead of a crew.
  • Catching Water: Initiating the stroke by placing the blade in the water at the beginning of the drive phase.
  • Set: The balance of the boat, usually maintained by the rowers keeping their hands at the right height and distributing their weight evenly.
  • Hold Water: A technique used to stop or slow down the boat quickly, where the rowers square their blades in the water perpendicular to the boat.
  • Backing Down (or backing): Rowing in reverse to maneuver the boat, often used for steering into a dock or starting position.
  • Rowing in the Soup: Rowing in very choppy or rough water conditions.
  • Choppy: Wind-blown water that is rippling with waves. Tricky for beginners to row on choppy bodies of water.
  • Glassy: A calm water surface with no distinguishable surface features, with a glassy or mirror like appearance. Glassy water is ideal for rowers.


Terms about practice.

  • Seat Racing: A method of determining the best rowers for a boat by having them compete against each other in different line-ups.

Off the Water

Some things indeed do happen off the water.

  • Ergometer (or erg): A rowing machine used for training and measuring rowing performance.
  • Sling: Portable folding boat holders. Generally, two slings are used to hold a boat for rigging and derigging.
  • Boathouse:: (or boat house). A building specially made for the storage of crew boats and equipment and located on lakes, rivers or canals. Rowing clubs often have their own boathouse.
  • Shell Trailer: (or boat trailer) A specially designed trailer for hauling racing shells to regattas.

Mistakes & Errors

Not everyday is a good day. Here are some definitions related to common mistakes by rowers

  • Crab: A common rowing error where the oar blade gets caught in the water, often causing the rower to be jolted or thrown off balance.
  • Catching a Crab: Failing to release the oar blade cleanly from the water, which can disrupt the rhythm and potentially cause the rower to lose balance.
  • Swing: The elusive feeling when the entire crew is rowing in perfect harmony, making the boat move smoothly and efficiently.
  • Washing Out: When the blade comes out of the water during the drive phase, reducing the effectiveness of the stroke.
  • Rushing the Slide: Moving forward on the recovery too quickly, which can disrupt the timing and balance of the boat.
  • Check: A sudden slowing down of the boat, often caused by uncoordinated rowing or a disruption in the boat's rhythm.
  • Overreach: Extending the arms and upper body too far forward at the catch, which can disrupt the timing and balance.
  • Skying: Raising the oar blade too high off the water during the recovery phase, leading to a less efficient catch.
  • Washing Down: The act of a boat's wake disturbing another boat, usually against the rules in racing.
  • Decking: The act of leaning back too far at the end of the drive phase, which can disrupt the balance and timing of the boat.
  • Missing Water: When a rower fails to fully submerge the blade in the water during the catch, resulting in a less effective stroke.
  • Rowing 'Heavy': A sensation of rowing with more resistance, often due to poor technique, uncoordinated crew timing, or adverse water conditions.
  • Catching Air: When the blade is not fully submerged in the water during the drive phase, causing a loss of power.
  • Burying the Blade: Fully submerging the oar blade in the water during the drive phase for maximum power.
  • Dirty Blade: When the oar blade is not cleanly entering or exiting the water, often causing splashing.
  • Dive: When the blade goes too deep into the water during the drive, causing inefficiency and resistance.
  • Rushing the Finish: When a rower moves too quickly from the drive to the recovery phase, disrupting the boat's rhythm.

Regattas & Racing

  • Head Race: A time-trial competition usually held in the fall where crews race over longer distances (e.g., 3 miles) against the clock.
  • Sprint Race: A traditional spring/summer race over a shorter, straight course, typically 2,000 meters, with crews racing side by side.
  • Sprint Finish: The final high-intensity, high-stroke-rate phase of a race, aiming to cross the finish line with maximum speed.
  • Hot Seating: Quickly changing rowers or coxswains in the same boat during regattas with tight schedules, allowing the boat to be used in multiple races.
  • Stake Boat: A boat, or sometimes a platform, moored to mark the course and especially the starting point in a sprint race.
  • Stake Boat Holding: Volunteers man each lane of a sprint race and hold onto the stern of a boat while a referee advises boats are moved into bow alignment for an even start.

These terms add more depth to the understanding of sweep and scull rowing, covering a variety of technical and tactical aspects of the sport.