Glossary of Rowing Terms


Backstay: A brace which is part of the rigger of sweep rowing boats, which extends toward the bow from the top of the pin.

Bisweptual:  A rower who can row both on the starboard and port sides of the boat.

Blade: The spoon or hatchet/cleaver shaped end of the oar. Also used to refer to the entire oar. The end of the oar that is placed in the water

Body angle: Amount of forward lean of rower’s body from hips at the catch.

Bow: the forward section of the boat; the first part of the boat to cross the finish line; the person in the seat closest to the bow who crosses the finish line first.

Bow coxed boat: A shell in which the coxswain is near the bow instead of the stern. It’s hard to see the coxswain in this type of boat, because only his head is visible. Having the coxswain virtually lying down in the bow reduces wind resistance, and the weight distribution is better.

Bowball: a rubber ball that protects the boat against damage in case of a collision

Catch, or Entry: the moment the blade first enters the water

Bury the blade: Submerge the blade totally in the water.

Cadence: The rowing stroke tempo. In a coxed boat, the coxswain often calls the cadence to keep the rowers synchronized.

Catch: the instant the oar blade enters the water. The rower is at full compression up the slide. The boat is at its greatest risk of instability during the catch, placing a premium on balance.

Check: An abrupt deceleration of the boat caused by uncontrolled motion within the shell/boat; usually a result of problems with rowing technique.

Clam: “Clip on Load Adjusting Mechanism” (C.L.A.M.) – a device that slides on and off the shaft of an oar to quickly adjust the inboard of an oar or scull. Adding one C.L.A.M. increases the inboard by 1 cm, decreasing the load the rower feels on the oars.

Collar/Button: a wide collar(Blue on Mercy oars) on the oar that keeps it from slipping through the oarlock ; designed to position the oar and prevent slippage.

Cox box: A battery-operated electronic device that combines a digital stroke rate monitor and elapsed time readout with a voice amplifier; the coxswain uses the cox box to make her commands more audible to the crew. The coxswain typically wears a headband-mounted microphone, which is attached by a wire to the cox box.

Coxswain: The athlete who sits either in the stern or the bow. She has no oars. She is in charge of the safety and steering of the boat. The cox gives commands to the crew during practice and for racing.

Crab: a stroke that gets pulled down into the water. The oar blade slices the water at an angle and gets caught under the surface. The blade is not fully squared before entering or leaving the water.  This term is from the claim that “a crab grabbed the blade and wouldn’t let go.”

Crew: The term “crew” is used in American schools and colleges to designate the sport of rowing. When outside of the academic sphere, then the sport is known as rowing. The British and European universities and schools have rowing clubs, not crew clubs. When you use the term crew, you do not need to use the term team. To say crew team is redundant.

Deck: the part of the shell at the bow and stern that is covered.

Dig deep: To thrust an oar too deeply into the water; this causes a loss of power

Drive: the part of the rowing cycle where the rower applies power to the buried blade

Double: a shell with two scullers, 2 sculls/oars each

Ergometer: Rowers call it an “erg.” It’s a rowing machine that allows a person to approximate the actual rowing motion. The primary training tool for the rower. The rower’s choice is the Concept II, which utilizes a flywheel and a digital readout so that the rower can measure her “strokes per minute,”speed, and distance covered.

Feather/Feathering: Rotating the oar in the oarlock so the blade is parallel to the water during the recovery to lessen wind resistance.

Fin, or Skeg: a small flat appendage located along the stern section of the hull which helps stabilize the shell in holding a straight course. Larger boats have a rudder attached to the skeg for steering — done by the coxswain

Finish, or Release: the squared oar blade leaving the water at the end of the drive.

FISA (short for Federation Internationale des Societes d’Aviron): the international governing body for the sport of rowing in the world, established in 1892.

Foot Pad: space between the front of the tracks, on level with the seat that is the only place you step when entering the boat. The rower should never step into the foot well, at level with the footplate, as this area is not sufficiently reinforced to take a person’s weight.

Freshman boat: Rowers who are in the ninth grade in high school; though rowers in the eighth grade may compete in the freshman rowing class. Coxswains of freshmen boats must also meet this definition.

Gate: the bar across the oarlock that keeps the oar in place.

Gunnels, or Gunwales: the top edges of the shell- – the boats are lifted and lowered into the water by the gunnels; riggers are bolted onto them.

Head race: In the fall season there are head races. The name comes from a traditional English race called the Head of the River. The first head race in the US was the Head of the Charles Regatta in Cambridge/Boston begun in 1965. Now there are many. These are usually open regattas with many events defined in any way the regatta committee decides. A junior in one regatta could be anyone under 19 years old, in another, it could be defined as high school. The distance can vary, but usually in the 3-mile range. Sometimes the race course is over a winding river like the Genesee. The race is a timed event with each crew starting in single file and negotiating the race course as fast as possible. The start time and finish times are recorded and the elapsed time calculated. The fastest time wins. Crews don’t really know how they placed until a printout of the times is posted.

Heat: A qualifying race within a specific race category (e.g. women’s novice eight).

Hold Water: Command used to forcefully stop a moving shell/boat. The rowers respond by placing and holding a squared oar in the water.

Horizontal stroke: The body of the rower should not move up or down during the rowing stroke. It is as if the rowers head is on a ceiling and it stays level all the way through the stroke. Moving up and down creates unwanted vertical force on the boat and can cause the blade to go too deep or to come out/washout before the end of the stroke/the finish thus reducing potential power.

Hull: The outer skin of a racing boat, usually constructed of fiberglass, wood or—more commonly today—carbon fiber. The hull is very thin and fragile. It scratches and can be punctured easily. One needs to be especially careful when moving the boat, always listening to the commands of the coach and the coxswain. NEVER step over the hull; always walk around.

Inboard: the distance from the end of the handle to the blade-side face of the collar ( or, if in place, the C.L.A.M). The greater the inboard, the lighter the oar or scull will feel in your hands, and the lighter the load will be for the rower.

Jumped Seat: the unpleasant event that happens when a rower slips off his seat while rowing

Jumped Slide: when the seat comes off its slides

Keel: runs the length of the hull, down the center, for structural support.

Layback: Degree of backward lean of the rower’s body at the end of the finish.Let it run: Coxswain’s call for all rowers to stop rowing with feathered oars, permitting the boat to glide through the water. Used after the boat crosses the finish line, and during drills to improve lateral balance/set.

Level hands: are required throughout the rowing stroke. The hands are thought of as on a plane into the catch and a slightly lower plane through the recovery; some coaches refer to it as a conveyor belt.

Lightweight: refers to the rowers, not the boats; there is a maximum weight for each rower in a lightweight event, as well as a required boat average.

Lunge: An abrupt lean of the body just before the catch, which can throw a rower out of sync with the rest of the crew.

Missing Water: When the rower drives before the blade is in the water. A late catch, resulting in a shorter drive and, thus, less propulsion of the boat.

Novice: Rowers who are rowing for their first year. The term precisely refers to a rower in her first academic year, without regard for academic grade level.

Oar: used to drive the boat forward: rowers do not use paddles

Oarlock: the D-shaped device at the end of the rigger in which the oar rests. There is a locking gate at the top to keep the oar in place.
Oarswoman/Oarsman: A rower.

Openweight: a rowing category where there is no maximum weight.

Outboard: the distance between the tip of the blade-side face of the collar or C.L.A.M (if in place). The greater the outboard, the heavier the oar or scull will feel and the greater the load in the water will be.

Popper/Insert, or Spacer: the plastic bushing fitting on the top and bottom of an oarlock that adjusts the height of the oarlock, the clearance of the oar on the water, the work area

Port: In traditional water craft, port is the left side of the boat and riders face the bow. In a rowing shell, “port” is “right,” since rowers face the stern of the boat. Rowers sit backwards basically. Rowing is the only sport where the finish line is behind the athletes.

Power 10: a call for rowers to do ten of their best, most powerful strokes. It’s a strategy used to pull ahead of a competitor.

Puddle: the effect in the water caused by the movement of the oar, particularly at the end of the stroke

Quad: a boat with four scullers–two oars each called sculls, a total of eight oars.

Race course: Spring races usually take place on a straight area of a body of water, typically four to eight lanes wide, marked with buoys for rowing competitions. An Olympic® course is 2,000 meters. High school races in the Spring are usually 1,500 meters. Fall races are called head races. They are much longer (up to a 5k,(about three miles) and usually follow a winding river course.

Race pace: a strokes per minute rating that a rower or boat is capable of sustaining for an entire race.

Racing start: The opening strokes of a race, typically rowed at a high cadence to accelerate the boat.

Racks: wood or metal structures in the boathouse used to hold the shells

Recovery: The phase from the release and up to and including the catch, during which the oar is brought into position for the next stroke and the rower moves smoothly—and slowly—back up the slide. If the rower is too fast returning up the slide, his or her momentum will check (suddenly slow/interrupt) the forward motion of the boat. The rower feathers the oar during recovery.

Regatta: An organized crew competition. A high school regatta will have races in the following men’s and women’s classes:  for four- and eight-seat boats: varsity, junior varsity (JV), lightweight, freshman, and novice; sculling events most likely will also be included.

Release: When the blade exits the water.  Following the finish of the drive. the release is a sharp downward and away-from-the-body movement of the hands, causing the oar blade to rise. After the blade exits the water, the rower feathers the oar.

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

Rigging and Derigging: The process of removing and replacing riggers on the shells/boats. This is done when the boats must be loaded on a trailer for transportation to and from a regatta. The rowers must derig their boats for trailering, and then rig them upon arrival at the regatta site for racing. This must be repeated again for trailering the boats home.

Rudder: the device used to steer the shell

Run: the run is the distance the shell moves during one stroke. You can calculate it by looking for the distance between the puddles made by the same oar.

Rush: when rowers rush forward into the catch instead of moving with the speed of the boat/water. Rush creates a force which impedes a smooth recovery into the catch. When there is a lot of rush in a boat, it can make it difficult to move forward and even prevent rowers from getting all the way up to the catch.

Rushing the slide: Coming up the slide to the catch too fast causing one’s weight to be thrown toward the stern causing the boat to check (slow down).

Sculls: another word for “oars.” Sculling boats require each rower to use two oars, or sculls to propel the boat forward. Sweep oars, one per rower, are longer and bigger than sculls.

Sculling: Rowing with two oars, one in each hand (an oar rigged on each side of the boat).

Seat: on wheels that allow forward and backward movement. Also a rower’s place and # in the boat.

Seat Number: A rower’s position in the boat counting up from the bow. In an eight, the person closest to the bow of the boat is 1 or “bow,” the next is 2, followed by 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and finally 8 or “stroke.” In certain countries the seats are numbered the opposite way, from stroke up to bow.

Set: The boat’s balance; a delicate state influenced by each rower’s body lean, timing, and rowing technique, and by the boat’s design.

Shell: can be used interchangeably with “boat”

Single: a one-person shell/boat with two sculls/oars

Sky/Skying the blade: the effect of lowering the handles of the oars during the rowing stroke so much that the blades are high above the water.

Sleeve: Protective material along the pivot point of the oar shaft.

Slide: the set of runners/tracks that guide the wheels of the seat in the boat

Sliding seat: A rower’s seat, with wheels that roll along a track. Permitting each rower’s seat to slide forward and back inside the boat; allows the legs to provide power for the stroke.

Sprint: The last 250 -500 meters of a race. Also refers to a race substantially shorter than 2,000 meters, or shorter than 1,500 meters in high school competition.
Square: when the blade of an oar is perfectly vertical, the spoon facing forward. The blade is squared right before the catch and then it is placed into the water almost simultaneously with the drive. The blade remains squared throughout the duration of the drive until it is released from the water at the finish.

Starboard: “starboard” is “left,”since the rowers face the stern while rowing.

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

Stretcher, or Footstretcher: where the rower’s feet go. The stretcher consists of two inclined footrests that hold the rower’s shoes. The rower’s shoes are bolted into the footrests. The footstretcher can be moved forward and backward for proper positioning of the rowers work around the pin.

Stroke: the rower who sits closest to the stern. The stroke sets the rhythm for a multiple-seat boat; others behind her must follow her cadence.

Stroke coach: a small electronic display that rowers use in the boat to be able to know important race information such as stroke rate, split/speed and elapsed time.

Stroke rate, rating: The rowing cadence; stroke speed in strokes per minute.

Sweep rowing: The rowers have one oar each.

Swing: the hard-to-define feeling when near-perfect synchronization of motion occurs in the shell/boat, enhancing the performance and speed.

Track: U-shaped piece of metal that keeps the sliding seat wheels on a straight path. Each slide has two tracks.

Unisuit or Uni: A body-fitting one-piece garment made from a spandex fiber. Unisuits are usually worn by rowers only during regattas, and the rules of rowing require that each crew (i.e. team) wear identical uni’s. (Spandex shorts are often worn during practice since baggy shorts or sweats could become tangled in the sliding-seat wheels.)

Washing out: When the blade comes out of the water too early, during the drive, before the end of the stroke/finish. A blade out of the water is not moving the boat.

Weigh-Enough or Way’nuf: the command for “Stop.” This is a 19th century American Naval term that has remained in use through today. Outside of America, this term is not used.