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Rowing Terms

Trying 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.


Bow: 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.

Stroke: 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.


Boat Terms

Blades: 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.

Bow: The front of the boat

Deck: 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”.

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

Gunwales: The edge of the sides of the boat

Keel: 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.

Loom: The section of the oar between blade and handle.

Oarlock: 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.

Pitch: 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.

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

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

Rigging: 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 foot stretchers, location and height of the oarlocks.

Rudder: 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.

Scull: 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.

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

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

Span: The distance between the swivel pins.

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

Starboard: On your left while rowing, signified by green marks.

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.

Catch: 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.

Feathering: 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.

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

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

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

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

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

Squaring: 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

Other Related Rowing Terms

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

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

Backsplash: 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.

Cadence: The number of strokes per minute. Stroke rate.

Check it down or Hold water: Take a quick stroke to correct the direction of the boat. Check is also a term for wasted energy due to poor technique.

Commands: Directions given by the Cox.

Crab: 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.

Puddles: 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.

Rating: The number of strokes per minute.

Ratio: 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.

Regatta: 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.


One of the most physically demanding Olympic sports, rowing is all about endurance. With each race 2000 meters long, rowers reach anywhere between 40 and 47 strokes per minute. With many different events, the number of competitors per boat, as well as the type of rowing varies.

There are two different types of rowing: sweeping and sculling. Sweeping, much like the name suggests, requires the use of one oar, with the athlete only rowing on one side of the boat. This is the type of rowing used in the esteemed men's and women's eight. Sculling, in turn, requires the use of two oars, one in each hand. Among the 14 different Olympic events eight are sculls and six are sweeps.

Abbreviation key: + (with coxswain), - (without coxswain), x (sculls), M (men's), W (women's), L (lightweight)

Here is a list of rowing events:   

Sweep Events
Pair (2-)
Four (4+)
Eight (8+)

Sculls Events
Single (1x)
Double (2x)
Quadruple (4x)

Learn more on rowing terminology.

Blade: The flat end of the oar that is in the water during the drive. Also see "hatchet." Crews are identified by the design on their blades.

Bow: The forward section of the boat; the first part to cross the finish line.

Bowman: The person in the seat closest to the bow who crosses the finish line first.

Bow ball: The round tip -- usually rubber and 4cm in diameter -- on the end of the bow. It is required by all boats at Olympic rowing events to minimize damage in the event of a collision.

Button: A wide collar on the oar that keeps it from slipping through the oarlock. The button may be moved to adjust the position of the fulcrum of the oar; coaches often will move the button in headwind or tailwind conditions to change the "load."

Catching a crab: When a rower errors in releasing his blade from the water and the oars get pulled under the water, with the consequent force sometimes hurling the rower from the shell.

Check: The extent to which a shell loses momentum as the crew changes directions just before they begin to pull. Also see "run."

Coxswain: Person who steers the shell and directs the race plan, acting as the eyes of the crew. Often times considered an on-the-water coach for the crew.

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

Drive: The segment of the rowing stroke during which the blades are in the water.

Ergometer: Known to rowers as an "erg," a rowing machine that closely approximates the actual rowing motion and allows athletes to measure their strokes per minute and distance covered.

Feathering: Holding the blades in a flat position between strokes to reduce wind resistance during recovery; one of the most difficult aspects of rowing for beginners.

FISA: In French, the Federation Internationale des Societes d'Aviron, rowing's international governing body. Established in 1892, it is the oldest international sports federation in the Olympic movement.

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

German or Italian 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- or Italian-rigged boat, two consecutive rowers have oars on the same side. The two pairs are often described as rowing a bucket.

Hatchet: An innovation in the shape of the oar blade that entered the sport in 1991.

Length: May refer to a margin in racing equal to the length of a boat; also can refer to a crew's or individual's rowing style.

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.

Load: Refers to the rigging parameters on the riggers and oars, which can be adjusted to either lighten or increase the load. In a headwind, a coach might lighten the load to help the athletes maintain rhythm and endurance; in a tailwind, a coach might increase the load to give the rowers a better bite.

Oar: Not a paddle. Used to drive the boat forward. The size and shape of oars is unrestricted.  

Paddle: Not an oar. Describes rowing with very little power on the oar.
Port: Left side of the shell facing forward.

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.

Puddles: The water swirls left by oars in stroke.

Rating (or beat): The number of strokes taken in a minute.

Recovery: The phase of the rowing stroke during which the oars are not in the water, and the rowers are returning to the catch for the next drive.

Release: Also "finish." The moment in the stroke when the rowers take their oars out of the water; the end of the drive.

Repechage: The second-chance race (last-chance qualifier) that ensures that each boat has two chances to advance from preliminary races because there is no seeding in the heats.

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

Run: The distance a shell moves during one stroke. Can be measured as the distance between the puddles made by the same oar.

Sculling: One of two disciplines of rowing. Scullers use two oars, or sculls.

Shell: Boat.

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

Starboard: The right side of the shell facing forward.

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

Straight: Refers to a shell without a coxswain.

Stretcher or footstretcher: Where the rowers' 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: Rower who sits closest to the stern. The stroke sets the rhythm for the boat -- others behind him must follow his cadence.

Strokemeter or stroke coach: Small electronic display which rowers attach in the boat to show the important race information like stroke rate and elapsed time.

Stroke rating: Cadence; the number of rowing strokes per minute that a crew is taking. Can vary from the low 30s to the high 40s.

Sweep: One of the two disciplines of rowing in which rowers use only one oar.

Swing: The hard-to-define feeling when near-synchronized motion occurs in the shell, enhancing the performance and speed.

Washing: A foul charged against a crew that drifts from its lane and washes another boat with churned-up water; a rare occurrence.