A crew boat consists of a shell, rowers and a coxswain. Coaches try to place team members
together to establish fast boats. The rowers compete at regattas, or sprint races, of 1,500
meters in high school, 2,000 meters in college. As many as six or seven boats may line up and
race one another over a straight course to the finish line. Regattas have separate divisions for
men and women, weight classes and for different types of boats.
There are two types of boats or shells that reflect the two types of rowing — sweep rowing
and sculling. For the most part, BI participates only in sweep rowing, where each rower has a single, 12.5-foot
The boats are referred to as shells because the hull is only about _ to ¼ inch thick, to make it
as light as possible. The first thing a rower learns is not to step on the hull of the shell—it will
crack like an egg. The second thing the rower must learn is how to carry their shell to ensure
that it does not get dropped and break.
There are five types of sweep boats:
2+ (two sweep rowers with a coxswain)
2- (two sweep rowers without a coxswain)
4+ (four sweep rowers with a coxswain)
4- (four sweep rowers without a coxswain)
8+ (eight sweep rowers with a coxswain)
BI only rows 4+ and 8+shells. The normal configuration of a sweep boat has oars alternating between starboard and
port sides of the boat. The starboard side of the shell is the right side of the shell when facing
the bow from inside the boat, and the port side is the left side of the shell when facing the
The rowers themselves sit in a line down the center of the shell, with their backs to the
direction the shell is moving. Each rower sits on a sliding seat with wheels on a track, called
the slide. Each oar is held in a U-shaped swivel, called an oarlock, mounted on a metal pin at
the end of a rigger. The rowers’ feet are secured in adjustable brackets called foot stretchers.
Each person in the boat has a position, starting in the bow. The person closest to the bow is
called bow seat. Every other seat is called by the number of the seat, except the lead rower,
who is the stroke. The coxswain (pronounced cox’n) is the oar-less athlete who sits in the rear
(stern) of the shell and looks toward the finish line. The coxswain manages the rowers, giving
commands that keep the boat pulling together in unison, and steers the boat using a rudder.
The coxswain is in control of the movement of the shell both on and off the water.
Seat positions in the boat are numbered bow (#1) to stern (#8 when there are 8 rowers or #4
when there are 4), and each rower has a different ability and job. In seat #8, you will generally
find the rower with the best stroke, who leads the rhythm of the boat and sets the stroke
length and cadence; the “stroke” sits nearest the stern and coxswain and provides
information about trailing boats. The rower in seat #7 is the leader of the starboard side of the
boat, and it is essential that this rower be in the same rhythm as the stroke. The oarsmen on the starboard side (seat #s 5, 3, 1) get their timing from the rower in seat #7. The rowers in
the middle four seats (#s 6, 5, 4, 3) provide the power for the boat (the engine room). They
must swing together as a group, using as much power from their legs as possible.
They are usually the largest rowers in the boat. Seat #2 and #1 are generally the lightest
rowers in the boat. They provide balance and control, and help the coxswain steer the boat.
Timing must be precise in a good crew. All the oarsmen must hit their catches
simultaneously—that is, the blades of all the oars must enter the water at the same time—
and the pull through and the finish of the stroke must also be performed in unison. Although
rowing looks like an upper body sport, strong legs are actually more important. The rower
slides forward to the front end of the slide, extends the arms, rotates the blade of the oar just
before dropping it into the water (the catch), applies pressure, first with the legs and back,
driving the seat backwards on the slide, finishes the stroke with a full body swing, and draws
the arms into the body, pulling the oar out of the water. The wrists then turn the blade to
reduce wind resistance and push the oar handle from the body in a single motion as the rower
slides forward to begin a new stroke at the catch. All of this needs to be done in unison,
following the timing of the rower in the #8 seat—the stroke, who sets the pace. Looks easy,
but the reality in the boat is different from the reality of the spectator!
Catch: The beginning of the stroke where the legs are compressed in a 90 degree angle, the
arms are stretched out, the body is angled forward and the blade is enters the water.
Drive: The propelling part of the stroke where the legs are pressing down, then the back and
arms swing backward, sending the body to the bow.
Finish: The point where the rower pushes down on the handle of the oar to pop the blade out
of the water and begins to push the arms out of the bow.
Recovery: The time spent winding the body back up to the catch; it is like compressing a
spring—first the arms extend, then the body angle is achieved, finally the legs are pulled up to
Square blades: Keeping the blade perpendicular to the water on the recovery.
Feathered blades: Keeping the blade parallel to the water on the recovery.
Arms only: Term used by coxswain instructing rowers to use only arms in rowing.
Back down: (or Back) Row backwards.
Check it: Same as “Hold or Hold Water.”
Hold or Hold Water: Square the oar in the water (to stop the boat fast).
Paddle: Row easy, no power on the stroke.
Half Power: Next step up from “paddle.” Next step is 3/4 power, then Full power.
Power: Take strokes at full power.
Ready-all, row: The command to start rowing. Should be preceded by “From the Finish” or
“From the Catch.”
Way enough: Finish the stroke in progress and stop rowing.
Other Rowing Terms
Catch a crab: When the blade gets stuck in the water during the stroke. This can sometimes
stop the boat and throw the rower into the water.
Skying: When the blade is too high off the water just before the catch.
Digging: When the blade is too deep in the water during the stroke.
Washing-out: When the blade starts to come out of the water during the stroke.
Erg: Short for Ergometer. A land-based rowing machine used for training that simulates the
rower’s action in the boat and measures various items such as power, length, frequency,
distance and time.
Rating: The number of strokes per minute, also known as stroke rating.
Regatta: A rowing race, sometimes called Sprint Races. Usually races covering 1,500 meters
for high school and 2,000 meters for college.
Head Race: Fall races, typically rowing upriver over a winding course covering several miles.
Times for the head races are based on start-to-finish times, not head-to-head racing.