Glossary of Rowing Terms
Power 10, coxswain, repechage, what? Following you’ll find a collection of terms specific to the sport of rowing. Learn these terms, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming well-versed in the “language of rowing.”
Aligner: An official who is responsible for aligning boats evenly for a fair start.
Adaptive rowing: A special category of rowing race for those with physical disabilities. Under FISA rules there are three categories for adaptive rowers: LTA – Legs, Trunk, Arms. Use of at least one leg, trunk, and arms. Also for those with visual and intellectual impairments.
Backsplash Water: thrown back toward the bow direction by the blade as it enters the water. Less is best. This indicates that the blade has been properly planted before the rower initiates the drive.
Backwater : To propel the shell backwards.
Backstay: A brace which is part of the rigger of sweep rowing boats, which extends toward the bow from the top of the pin.
Backstop: The stop mechanism on the seat slides which prevents the rower’s seat from falling off the sliding tracks at the back end (towards the boat’s bow) of the slide tracks. Also, in the UK, the sliding seat position closest to the boat’s bow. As a command, it instructs the crew to adopt this position. (The US calls this seat position the “back end”).
Blade: The surface of the oar that captures and displaces water. Spoon blades have a curved blade shape. Hatchet blades have flat-ended cleaver shape.
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.
Bucket rig: A rigging arrangement of an eight or four, where riggers two and three are on the same side of the boat.
Bury the blade: Submerge the blade totally in the water.
Button: A wide collar on the oar that keeps it from slipping through the oarlock.
Cadence: The rowing stroke tempo. In a coxed boat, the coxswain often calls the cadence to keep the rowers synchronized.
Catch Stroke: phase at the instant the oar blade enters the water. The rower is at full compression up the slide and tries to reach as far as possible to obtain a long stroke. The boat is at its greatest moment of instability during the catch, placing a premium on balance.
Check: An abrupt deceleration of the boat caused by uncontrolled motion within the shell; usually a result of poor rowing technique.
Check it down and Hold water: A coxswain’s call that commands all rowers to drag their blades through the water perpendicularly, braking the boat.
Collar: A ring around the oar sleeve, designed to position the oar and prevent slippage.
Course: 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 are usually 1,500 meters. An exception is the head race, which can be much longer (three miles or more) and follow a winding river course.
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 manage the race and to make his or 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, cox: Pronounced “cox-en,” The coxswain is the person that steers the boat. He/she is a coxswain or cox’n or cox and he/she is coxing a boat. A cox’n usually uses an electronic amplifier system called a CoxBox™. It not only amplifies the cox’n’s voice through a speaker system, but it has a built-in stroke rate meter and a timer. Some boats, usually fours, may have a lie-down coxswain’s position in the bow end instead of the sit-up position in the stern. He/she is very light so that the crew need not carry extra weight on the race course. Most school and collegiate leagues, as well as international rowing events, have a minimum weight for coxswains. The minimum weights are different for girls’/women’s crew and boys’. Also, minimum weights may differ from schools to colleges, from league to league, and at international events. Your school or college coach will know the coxswain’s minimum weights. A cox’n below minimum weight can still cox but must carry a bag of sand or other deadweight to compensate for the weight deficiency.
Crab: A crab is an event when a rower or sculler is unable to extract the oar blade from the water at the finish of the drive (pulling phase of the stroke) and a sloppy stroke occurs. This can happen when a rower loses grip of the handle, makes an error in judging when to extract or release the blade from the water, or if the boat tips to the side and there’s nowhere for the rower to lower his/her hands to extract the blade.
The result is usually a falter and some timing problems for a few strokes. However, an over-the-head crab is more serious. Its when the oar handle forces the rower onto his or her back and the handle goes over his/her head. This usually causes a great deal of disruption in the boat and in most cases, the crew must stop rowing, recover the oar, and then proceed. Still worse, but very rare, thus there is no term for it, is an ejection. This may happen when racing and the boat is moving very fast. The rower catches a crab and the oar handle gets caught in the stomach causing the rower to be catapulted out of the boat. The crew must stop to collect the swimmer and then go on.
Crew: American term for the sport of competitive rowing. Also used to refer to a particular rowing team. The term crew is used in American schools and colleges to designate the sport of rowing, such as Osprey Oars’ Crew. When outside of the academic sphere, the sport is known as rowing, as in the United States Rowing Association. The British and European universities and schools have rowing clubs and not crew clubs or varsity crew. When you use the term crew you shouldn’t use the term team. Traditionally, crew means a team of rowers. To say the crew team is redundant. You may say the rowing team.
Deck: The closed-over portion of the hull at the bow and stern. The deck sheds water and strengthens the hull. Sometimes still called the canvas, a reference to the material that shell decks used to be constructed of.
Dig deep: To thrust an oar too deeply into the water, resulting in loss of power. Synonymous with knife-in.
Double: Seats two oarsmen, each individual with one oar. View more information on boat types and sizes.
Drive: Stroke phase during which the rower presses with his or her legs against the foot stretchers and pulls on the oar(s) to force the blade through the water and propel the boat. The drive phase is a coordinated full-body movement using the legs, back, and arms. the rower remains upright during the first half of the drive. Midway through, after the knees come down, the rower leans back and pulls the oar(s) in with his or her arms. The ideal technique keeps the blade(s) just below the surface of the water and accelerates smoothly from start to finish.
Ergometer: Rowers call it an “erg.” It’s a rowing machine that closely approximates the actual rowing motion. The rowers’ choice is the Concept II, which utilizes a flywheel and a digital readout so that the rower can measure his “strokes per minute” and the distance covered.
Feather, feathering: Rotating the oar in the oarlock so the blade is parallel to the water surface. Feathering the blade while it is out of the water minimizes air resistance.
Finish: The last phase of the drive, just before the release. Power is coming mainly coming from the back and arms at the finish.
Freshman: A rower who is in the ninth grade in high school; though rowers in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades may compete in the freshman rowing class. The definition excludes students who have been retained in ninth grade for academic reasons. Coxswains of freshmen boats must meet this definition.
FISA: The international governing body for competitive rowing, including Olympic® rowing, founded in 1892. The acronym stands for the official French name: Federation Internationale des Societes d’Aviron. In plain English: International Federation of Rowing Societies.
Foot Stretcher: Also stretcher; an adjustable platform with two inclined footrests that hold the rower’s shoes. The shoes are bolted into the footrests. The rower pushes his legs against the foot stretcher during the drive phase of the stroke.
Four, four-man shell: Boat that seats four rowers, with or without a coxswain. View more information on boat types and sizes.
FSRA: Florida Scholastic Rowing Association, the governing body of high school rowing in the State of Florida. FSRA is a non-profit organization that promotes high school-age rowing and hosts an annual state championship regatta. FSRA allows participation by independent rowing clubs that are not directly affiliated with or officially sanctioned by a specific high school or county school system.
Gate: The bar across the oarlock that keeps the oar in place.
German 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 rigged boat, two consecutive rowers have oars on the same side.
Heat: A qualifying race within a specific race category (e.g. men’s varsity eight).
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 wishes to. 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 Charles. 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. Sometimes in masters events, there is an age-adjusted handicap. Crews passing each other is usually exciting, particularly on a narrow river or tight bend. Crews don’t really know how they placed until a printout of the times is posted.
Henley Races: Henley races are named after a style of racing conducted at the famous Henley Royal Regatta on the River Thames in England. The river is narrow at Henley so only two boats race at a time and the loser is eliminated and the winner goes on to the next round. This format is popular for narrow and/or short race courses in the U.S.
Hull: The outer skin of a racing boat, usually constructed of fiberglass, wood or—more commonly today—carbon fiber.
Keel: Centerline of the boat. Also, refers to the lateral steadiness of the boat. An unbalanced boat is said to be off keel.
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, permitting the boat to glide through the water. Used after the boat crosses the finish line, and during drills to improve lateral balance.
Lightweight: A racing category that refers to the body weight of the rowers. Under current FSRA rules (Fall 2002), the Lightweight class weight limits are 150 pounds for boys and 130 pounds for girls. Rowers are required to weigh-in wearing racing attire, and an average rower weight limit per boat is not calculated.
Lunge: An abrupt lean of the body just before the catch, which can throw a rower oarsman out of synch with the rest of the crew.
Missing water: A late catch, resulting in a shorter drive and, thus, less propulsion of the boat.
Match: Racing format Most schools and colleges have a match racing season (Spring). This is when two or three schools agree to race side-by-side on a straight, or as straight as possible, course that can fit on the local lake/river/bay. The boats lineup abreast, standing still and a referee/starter, when satisfied that the crews are level and ready to start, will give the commands Attention… Go. The boats start from a standing stop and race in a lane either imaginary or marked by buoys for a set distance. The first boat to reach the finish line is the winner. The international (Olympic) distance is 2000 meters (1¼ mile). High schools may race 1500 meters and master rowers 1000 meters. The Harvard-Yale Boat Race begun in 1852 is 4 miles and the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race begun in 1829 is 4¼ miles. A time is usually taken and the margin between boats is recorded when a flag at the finish is dropped or raised when the bow of each boat crosses the line. Many times the margins are given in lengths. A length is a boat-length. Visually, it is easy to estimate the distance by boat-lengths. One boat-length would be when the bow (front tip) of one boat is about even with the stern (aft tip) of another boat. There could be multiples and fractions of a length: ¼ length, ½ length, ¾ lengths, 1½ lengths, 3 lengths, etc. (At the Henley Royal Regatta after a race with a margin of 4 or 5 lengths the result is recorded as easily.) A boat length is relative to the size of the boat in the race. View more information on boat types and sizes.
Novice: A first-year rower. While novice high school rowers tend to be freshmen, the term precisely refers to a rower in his or her first season, without regard for academic grade level. FSRA eliminated the novice class from state championship competition in Fall 2002.
Oar: A lever used to propel the boat forward. Rowers do not use paddles.
Oarlock: A square latch that holds the oar at the outer point of the rigger. The oarlock is the pivot point for the oar; the fulcrum of the lever.
Oarsman; oarswoman: A rower.
Off keel: An unbalanced boat.
Outrigger: A rigger.
Pair: Seats two oarsmen-each individual with two oars. View more information on boat types and sizes.
Port: The left side of the boat when facing forward (toward the bow); to the coxswain’s left and the rowers’ right.
Power 10: A coxswain’s call for the rowers to perform 10 strokes at maximum power. A Power 10 is a tactic used to overtake or pull away from a competitor in a close race, usually at the finish line.
Pyramid: A training technique designed to build strength and endurance, during which the coxswain calls an increasing cadence of power strokes (Power 10, Power 20, etc.), each separated by a cadence of normal strokes, and followed by a decreasing cadence of power strokes.
Quad (4x): A four-person sculling shell. View more information on boat types and sizes.
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.
Recovery Stroke: phase between the release and 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 the boat. The rower feathers the oar during recovery.
Regatta: An organized crew competition. A high school regatta may 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. FSRA voted in Fall 2002 to eliminate the novice class from its state championships.
Release: Stroke phase, starting the rowing stroke or following the finish of the drive (take your pick) when the blade(s) exit the water. The release is a sharp downward and away-from-the-body movement of the hand(s), causing the oar blade to rise. After the blade exits the water, the rower feathers the oar.
Repêchage: French term, pronounced rep-eh-shahj, from repêcher, “to finish up again.” The repêchage is a second qualifying heat for a boat that has already lost, providing a second chance to advance to the finals. Why get a second chance? Sports competitions with one or more qualifying rounds are often structured so that top competitors do not compete head-to-head until the later rounds of competition. This structure is called a seeding system and the hierarchical, advance ordering of the competitors is called the draw. The goal of a seeding system is to produce an order of finish most representative of the respective competitors’ abilities, by reducing the odds that a top competitor will be prematurely eliminated by another top competitor in an early qualifying round. (This is not always an entirely noble goal: In paid attendance sporting events, the seeding system also increases the odds that later rounds of the competition will have high audience interest.) An alternative to seeding is double elimination, a system in which each competitor has two chances to advance to the finals. The repêchage is a double elimination system. Philosophical debates about the quality of a victory aside, competitors generally prefer double elimination because they are not penalized for bad luck or uncharacteristically poor performance in a single qualifying round. While crew races are usually not seeded, FSRA does seed the qualifying heats at the Scholastic State Championship Regatta, based upon performance records in Florida’s spring high school regattas.
Rig, rigging: The way in which riggers are arranged in a shell, which in turn dictates how the oars and rowers are arranged. Also, refers to the process of preparing the boat for use.
Rigger: A triangular-shaped metal frame that is bolted onto the gunwale for each oar position. The outboard end of the rigger is the pivot point—or fulcrum—for the oar.
Rigging: Attaching and adjusting the riggers.
Rowing: Propelling a boat with a lever. Rowing can be a general term to mean rowing a boat with one oar per person or two oars per person. To be more specific, when a person is rowing with one oar then he/she is rowing using a sweep oar, and when rowing with two oars, he/she is sculling with a pair of sculls. Pulling is rowing on open-water (ocean, open bays, etc).
Rudder: A small fin on the bottom of the boat that the coxswain uses to steer the boat.
Rudder cable: A rope or cable operated by the coxswain to turn the rudder.
Run: The distance over water that the boat covers during one stroke. Run can be visually measured by estimating the distance between successive catches or puddles made by the same oar.
Rush the slide To move from the recovery to the catch too quickly, often the result of a lunge.
Scull Oar: designed for rowing with a single hand; smaller than a sweeping (two-hand) oar.
Sculler: A rower who sculls.
Sculling: Rowing with two oars, one in each hand (an oar rigged on each side of the boat).
Seat: The sliding seat the rower sits on. The seat also refers to the rower’s sequential position in the boat; seat positions are numbered from bow to stern. The rower closest to the bow is the One Seat, the next is the Two Seat, and so on.
Seating: Seating positions in a racing shell are generally numbered from the bow to the stern in English-speaking countries, unlike many non-English-speaking countries which count from the Stroke forward. Generally, the forwardmost rower is called the “Bow” and the aftmost rower the “Stroke”, regardless of the number of rowers in the boat, with all other seats simply being numbered. So, for instance, the crew of an eight (with coxswain) would number off from the bow: “Bow”, “Two”, “Three”, “Four”, “Five”, “Six”, “Seven”, “Stroke”, whereas a four (with or without coxswain) or a quad would number off: “Bow”, “Two”, “Three”, “Stroke”.
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: A crew boat; used interchangeably with boat. It is perfectly correct to call a rowing or sculling boat a boat. Another term that is used is racing shell or just shell. Either term is commonly used when referring to a boat that is used for racing.
Single: Boat that seats one rower who rows with two oars, one in each hand. View more information on boat types and sizes.
Skying: Poor catch technique in which the blade only skims the water surface, causing a loss of power.
Sleeve: Protective material along the pivot point of the oar shaft.
Slide: Set of two runner tracks for the wheels mounted underneath each 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 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: To turn the blade perpendicular to the water surface. The blade is squared at the end of the recovery, in preparation for the catch.
Starboard: The right side of the boat when facing forward (toward the bow); to the coxswain’s right and the rowers’ left.
Stern-four: Seats eight through five in an eight-boat.
Stern-pair: Seats eight and seven in an eight-boat.
Stern: The rear of the boat; the direction the rowers are facing.
Straight: A boat that races with no coxswain.
Stroke: The complete rowing motion, consisting of the release, recovery, catch, drive and finish. Also refers to the the rower closest to the coxswain in the stern (the eight-seat position in an eight). This individual is usually the rower with the best combination of strength, technique and consistency, as he or she sets the tempo for the other rowers, based upon the coxswain’s cadence calls.
Stroke rate, rating: The rowing cadence; stroke speed in strokes per minute.
Sweep: Sweeping is the opposite of sculling; a sweep rower rows with one oar on one side of the boat. Pairs (two people), fours (four people) and eights (eight people) are sweep boats. Pairs and fours may or may not have a coxswain. Eights always have a coxswain. Sweep also refers to an oar designed for use with two hands.
Swing: Rowing term that refers to an elusive sensation of near-perfection; a state in which all rowers in the boat are seemingly in a symphony of harmonic motion, with no wasted energy. Similar in meaning to the phrase “in the zone” in other sports.
Toe: To operate a rudder that’s controlled by the foot.
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 elastomeric fiber such as DuPont Lycra®. Unisuits are usually worn by rowers only during regattas, and the rules of rowing require that each crew (i.e. team) wear identical unisuits. (Spandex shorts are often worn during practice since baggy shorts or sweats could become tangled in the sliding-seat wheels.)
Walking: When passing a boat, the coxswain announces each seat as it is passed.
Washing out: Taking the blade out of the water too early.
Way-enough or way ’nuff: When a crew is to stop rowing, the cox’n, coach or someone will call way-enough or way ’nuff. This is a 19th Century American naval term that has carried on through to today. It should not be confused with weigh as in weigh anchor (unless your racing shell has an anchor). Outside of North America, way ’nuff is not used.