Does Boat Weight Matter

Have you ever wondered what boat is the right boat for you? Well the focus is all about the “Water line”. That is the line where the water will rise to when the crew sits in the boat while it’s on the water. All boats are created with this line in mind and ergo are designed to work optimally there. That doesn’t mean that a lighter crew could row in a boat designed for a heaver crew or even a heavy crew could row in a boat designed for a lighter crew.  – As long as the boat’s gunwale is indeed above the water…lol –

But there are other factors to be considered.

Gravity and Buoyancy

Balance and friction are key factors in rowing. When a lighter crew is in a boat designed for a heavier one, the boat sits higher in the water. Now this, at first glance may seem beneficial when considering water friction. i.e. less boat surface in contact with the water means less friction. But what happens is that the the crew’s center of gravity has been elevated as well and makes the boat less stable. Not only that but there they create greater wind resistance when rowing since more of the boat’s hull is exposed to the air. This can and should be considered when rowing on rough water.

The waterline changes ¼ of an inch for every 15 pound change in the average crew weight.

Seat Height

So on one hand, if the boat sits higher off the water there is less stability and comfort for the rowers.

On the other hand if the boat sits too deep in the water, the rowers may feel more stable in their sweep, but they may not feel like they can properly clear the water, due to a more “flat” relationship between the athlete, the oar the water.

Boat Weight For You

So to answer the question….”Which boat weight is best for me?”

The simple answer is to follow the weight identified on the boat. It was designed for that specific weight and will work optimally for that load. But if you want to throw caution to the wind and choose a boat that is rated for a heavier crew or a lighter one, know this:

  • In a smaller boat you will need to raise the rigger, which may make your sweep feel awkward and flat. This will compromise the ability to generate power. And you’ll be more prone to taking on water.
  • In a larger boat you will need to lower the rigger.  You’ll be more susceptible to winds on the water and you’ll have stability issues.

Having said that, our Club offers a wide range of boats for our participants, but we ask that all our rowers follow the weight guidelines for each boat.

From that ‘ideal’ weight, there is a range (usually 10-20 pounds above and below) of weight that the boat will comfortably accommodate. For example, a boat built for a crew with an average weight of 170 pounds should be fine for a range of 150-190.


If you are interested in learning more about the relationship between the rower and the shell they use please check out the following links:

  • [LINK]
  • Physics of Rowing [LINK]
  • Swift Racing Hull Weight [LINK]
  • Row Perfect [LINK]