Rowing 101

Rowing, sometimes referred to as crew in the United States, is a sport whose origins reach back to Ancient Egyptian times. It involves propelling a boat on water using oars. By pushing against the water with an oar, a force is generated to move the boat.


Stern – the back end of the boat
Bow – the front end of the boat where the bow ball is located
Port – the left side of the boat from the coxswain’s view; the right side from the rower’s perspective as the rower is facing the stern
Starboard – the right side of the boat from the coxswain’s view, the left side from the rower’s perspective
The coxswain always faces the direction the shell is going while the rowers face the rear.

Directions In A Boat

There are two basic types of boats, Sculls and Sweeps.
Sculls (each rower has two oars) and sweep boats or shells (each rower has one oar)

Single – one rower with two oars (scull)
Double – two rowers, each with two oars (scull)
Quad – four rowers, each with two oars (scull)
Pair – two rowers, each with one oar (sweep)
Straight Four – four rowers, each with one oar (sweep)
Four With – four rowers, each with one oar and a coxswain (sweep)
Eight– eight rowers, each with one oar and a coxswain (sweep)

Rower Positions

Each seat in the boat is numbered according to its position going from bow to stern. In an eight the seats would be 1 to 8 & cox. Two seats, however, are more commonly given a different name. The #1 seat, that closest to the bow, is called “bow seat”. The rowing seat closest to the stern is called “stroke”. Rowers are often called by their seat number, both by the coach and coxswain, so always be aware of your seat.

The coach or coxswain also will often call for groups to row according to their place in the boat; ie: bow pair or stern four.

Additionally, rowers need to be aware of which side they are rowing, whether port or starboard as rowing commands are often given by side, such as “check it on port”.


Shaft – the long straight main section of the oar; usually composite.
Blade – the flat part of the oar that enters the water. Either hatchet shaped or, in older oars, tulip (Macon blades).
Handle – the oar part you hold on to; may be wood or composite with rubber grips.
Sleeve – plastic plate about 2/3 up the shaft that goes in the oarlock.
Collar – plastic piece attached around the sleeve that is pressed against the oarlock keeping the oar in the proper place.
Clam – a clip-on plastic piece that fits against the collar adjusting the load on the oar.

Coxwain Calls

Coxswain – The person sitting in the stern of the shell who steers, gives commands to the crew and passes on the coach’s directions to the crew. A good coxswain is just as important as the rowers and through good steering, calling a good race plan and motivating the crew can make the difference between winning and losing. When the coach or the coxswain is talking no one else should be saying a word.
Check It Down – A call for all rowers to square their blades and drag them through the water in order to slow down or stop the boat. The call can also be made for certain rowers only, such as, “check it on port” or “stern pair check it down”. “Check it down hard” usually means there is an emergency and the boat needs to be stopped immediately.
Hold Water – A call for the rowers to square their blades in the water while the boat is sitting still. This keeps the boat in a set place.
Power 10 – A call for the rowers to take “power” strokes, giving it everything they can for a certain number of strokes. This is used in races to make a move on another crew and, in practice, to build stamina and let rowers realize both how hard they can pull and how that affects the boat’s speed. Can also be a “Power 20” or more.
Ready To Row – Command to begin rowing. Cox will generally gives specifics of warmup or drill, otherwise rowers row regularly on hearing the final command, Row. “All four, Sit ready to row. Row!”
Square On The Ready – Used by cox to clarify at what part of the command the rowers are to square their blades. In windy weather or heavy current it may not be feasible to “square up” until the final command “Row!”. In calm weather it is more feasible to square up early so that all rowers are assured of catching at the same time.
Hold Water or Check It Down -­ Coxswain call that makes the rowers drag their oar blades through the water perpendicularly, effectively stopping the boat. “All four, Hold Water!”
Hold Port or (Starboard) – Having only one side check their blades results in a turn to that side. Having one side hold while the other rows will turn the boat tightly. “Port, Hold!” “Port to hold, starboard to row. Ready to row. Row.”
Let It Run or Let It Glide – Coxswain call for all rowers to stop rowing and to pause at the finish oars off the water, letting the boat glide through the water and coast to a stop. Used as a drill to build balance. This command is used in some programs interchangeably with weigh enough although originally it meant something different. “All Four, Let it run!”
Weighenough -­ Coxswain call to have all rowers stop rowing with blades dragging on water. Call actually sounds like “way­nuff“. “In Two Weigh Enough. One! Two!”
Slow The Slide or Adjust The Ratio ­-­ Used to correct either a rush or sluggishness on the recovery. The ratio compares the time used by the hands away from the body motion to the slide speed. “Stroke Slow the slide.”.
Back It Down -­­ Row backwards. The blades do not need to be turned around in the oarlocks although they can be. “Bow four, back it down”
Down And Away -­­ Push the hands down fully at the finish to give the blade more height off the water. “Number Three, hands down and away!”
Quick Hands Away – The down and away motion after the finish should be executed quickly to maintain balance. This is often easy for the coxwain to see.
Early -­­ A part of a stroke is early. By itself, the word usually refers to the catch timing. “Number Six, you’re early.!”
Finish Timing -­­ A reminder to the crew to align their finish times. “Five, watch your finish timing.”
Feather­­ – Roll the blades to the feather position. “All eight to feather, in two. One! Two!”
Layback -­­ Go to the layback position. “All eight to layback.”
Paddle Through -­­ Row at no pressure or to stop the drill/ piece. Instructing one side to paddle through will turn the boat to that side assuming the other side is rowing regularly.”All eight, Paddle through.” “Port, Paddle through!”
Late -­­ A part of the stroke is late. By itself, the term usually refers to the catch timing. Do not use this over and over without explaining which part of the stroke is late and how to correct it. “Three, you’re late.”
Square -­­ Make the blade perpendicular to the water. “All Four, On the Square!”
Touch It Up -­­ Someone to row gently to align or position the boat better. “Bow, touch it up.

The Boat

Hull – the actual boat. The hull is very thin and fragile. It scratches and can be punctured easily. 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.
Decks – there are both stern and bow decks on the shell. These decks form compartments to trap air for flotation in the event of swamping or flipping.
Vents – There are vent hatches in both the bow and stern decks. When closed they trap air; when open they allow air flow to dry out any moisture in the fore and aft compartments. It is the responsibility of the coxswain and bow seat to close the deck vents. There are often vent hatch covers under the seats also. These allow access for adjustments to the seat tracks.
Gunwales – these are the top outer edges of the boat. A lifting point
Keel – runs the length of the hull, down the center, for structural support.
Ribs – run perpendicular to the keel, against the hull, for structural support. A lifting point.
Seat – on wheels that allow forward and back movement. Also a rower’s place and # in the boat.
Tracks – guides in which the seat wheels roll (also called slides).
Foot Stretcher – adjustable plate to which the shoes are attached, allowing adjustment for length.
Foot Pad – space between the front of the tracks that is the only place you step when entering the boat.
Rigger – metal or composite “arm” attached to the exterior of the boat that holds the oar.
Oarlock – “U” shaped plastic part in which the oar is placed.
Gate – screw-down rod that keeps the oar from coming out of the oarlock.

Rowing Terms

Catch – The beginning of the rowing stroke where the oar blade is set in the water.
Drive – The part of the stroke where the blade is pulled through the water.
Finish – The final part of the stroke where the blade comes out of the water.
Release – Pushing down on the handle to raise the blade out of the water at the end of the stroke to begin the recovery.
Recovery – The part of the stroke where the rower comes slowly up the slide to return to the catch.
Feathering – Rotating the oar in the oarlock with the inside hand so that the blade is parallel to the water.
Leg Drive – Pushing with the legs against the foot stretchers on the drive.
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).
Missing Water – Not getting the blade into the water soon enough causing one to miss part of the beginning of the stroke (sometimes called rowing into the water).
Washing Out – Raising the blade out of the water before the finish of the stroke.
Skying – Coming to the catch with the blade too high above the surface of the water.
Run – The distance the boat moves after the release while the rower is on the recovery.
Puddles – Made when the blade is released from the water. Run can be judged by the distance between puddles.
Crab – When the oar is not released cleanly from the water. A rower “catches a crab” when the oar gets stuck in the water at the finish.