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Rowing Terminology

Actual start: In sprints (head-to-head races), this is generally five or six partial strokes done at a high rate and in a certain pattern at the beginning of the race, i.e., three-quarter length stroke (sometimes called three-quarter slide), followed by half, half, three-quarters, three-quarters, and then a full length stroke. The goal is to get the rowers off to a cohesive start and quickly build momentum.

Air stroke: To take a stroke without the blade having been placed in the water, resulting in a complete lack of power.

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

Backsplash: This term is in reference to the 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.

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. As a command, it instructs the crew to adopt this position. Also, in the UK, the sliding seat position closest to the boat’s stern. As a command, it instructs the crew to adopt this position. (The US calls this seat position the “back end”).

Backwater: To propel the shell backwards.

Blade: The spoon or hatchet shaped end of the oar or sweep.

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

Body: The body of the race is carried out at a consistent rating, with power tens called as the coxswain deems necessary.

Bow (or bow seat): The rower closest to the front or bow of a multi-person shell. In coxless boats, often the person who keeps an eye on the water behind him to avoid accidents.

Bow ball: An essential small, softball no smaller than 4 cm diameter securely attached to a rowing or sculling boat’s bow. Primarily intended for safety but also useful in deciding which boat crossed the finish line first in very close races.

Bow number: A card holding the number assigned to the boat for a race.

Bow: The front section of a shell.

Bowloader / Bowcox / Bow-steered: When a coxswain is placed in a seat partially enclosed in the bow of the shell.

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

Canvas: The deck of the bow and stern of the boat, which was traditionally made from canvas

Catch point: Where the blade enters the water.

Catch: The part of the stroke at which the oar blade enters the water and the drive begins. Rowers conceptualize the oar blade as ‘catching’ or grabbing hold of the water.

Check: The amount of interruption of the forward movement—usually occurs at the catch and sometimes at the release.

Cleaver blade (also Hatchet blade): Modern oar blades that have a more rectangular hatchet-shape. 

Collar / Button: A wide plastic ring placed around the sleeve of an oar. The button stops the oar from slipping through the oarlock.

Cover: The distance between one set of puddles and the next set of puddles.

Cox box: Portable voice amplifier; may also optionally incorporate digital readouts displaying stroke rate, boat speed and times.

Coxmate: A portable amplification device, similar to a cox box, incorporating a digital readout. Higher models may also have a built-in radio and speed sensor.

Coxswain: The oar-less crew-member, usually included, who is responsible for steering and race strategy. The coxswain either sits in the stern or lies in the bows of the boat.

Crab: A rowing error where the rower is unable to timely remove or release the oar blade from the water and the oar blade acts as a brake on the boat until it is removed from the water. This results in slowing the boat down. A severe crab can even eject a rower out of the shell or make the boat capsize (unlikely except in small boats). Occasionally, in a severe crab, the oar handle will knock the rower flat and end up behind him/her, in which case it is referred to as an ‘over-the-head crab.’

Drive: The propulsive portion of the stroke from the time the oar blade enters the water (“catch”) until it is removed from the water (“release”).

Egg beater: A race where the crews are drawn randomly from a hat, so that boats are made up of members from different teams and often the lineups include coxswains as rowers and vice versa. Also known as scratch race.

Eight (8+): A shell with 8 rowers. Along with the single scull, it is traditionally considered to be the blue ribbon event. Always with coxswain because of the size, weight, and speed of the boat – bow loader eights exist but are banned from most competitions for safety reasons.

Engine room: The middle rowers in the boat. In an 8-person shell, these are generally seats 5, 6, and 3 and 4 to a lesser degree. They are generally the biggest and strongest rowers.

Ergometer (also Ergo or Erg): An indoor rowing machine.

Feather: To turn the oar so that its blade is parallel with the water (opposite of square).

Finish: That portion of the pull-through just as the oar is taken from the water.

Flutter/Shunt: In head-to-head races, the coxswain may decide to call a flutter, which is essentially the six-stroke start put into the race close to the end. The flutter may push one boat which is trailing another a few seats ahead but is extremely demanding on a crew. In many cases, it is used as a desperation move when all other options have been exhausted.

Foot stretcher: An adjustable footplate which allows the rower to easily adjust his or her physical position relative to the slide and the oarlock. The footplate can be moved (or “stretched”) either closer to or farther away from the slide frontstops.

Footchock (also Footplate): An alternate name for the cross bracing which allows a rower to secure his/her feet.

Footplate (also Footchock): The piece of the boat to which the rower’s feet are attached, either by tying their actual shoes (sneakers) in, or (more often) by putting their feet into a permanently-attached pair of sneakers.

Footstop: The shoe assembly in a shell into which each rower laces his or her feet.

Four (4-) or (4+): A shell with 4 rowers. Coxless fours (4-) are often referred to as straight fours, and are commonly used by lightweight and elite crews and are raced at the Olympics. In club and school rowing, one more frequently sees a coxed four (4+) which is easier to row and has a coxswain to steer.

Frontstop: The stop mechanism on the seat slides which prevents the rower’s seat from falling off the sliding tracks at the front end (towards the boat’s stern) of the slide tracks. Also, in the UK, the sliding seat position closest to the boat’s stern. As a command, it instructs the crew to adopt this position. (The US calls this seat position the “front end”)

Gimp seat: Seat 3 in an 8-person boat, often regarded as having the least responsibility.

Gunwales (also Saxboard): (Pronounced: gunnels) The top rail of the shell

Handle: The part of the oar that the rowers hold and pull with during the stroke.

Hands away: At the close of the drive phase, the hands move away from the body.

Hanging at the catch: The blade is hesitating at the catch point, before entering the water.

Hatchet blade (also Cleaver blade): Modern oar blades that have a more rectangular hatchet-shape.

Head race: A long race in which rowers race a twisting course of about three miles. A race for time. The start is staggered. Usually in the fall months.

Heavyweight: A rower who weighs more than the restrictions for lightweight rowing. Often referred to as Open weight.

High Ten: In sprints (head-to-head races), a set of strokes done at a high cadence immediately after the start. Not to be confused with “Power Ten,” the high ten is ten strokes at a high rating to finish building speed. Some crews may pull 15 or 20 high strokes to build even more speed.

Hot seating: When two crews share the same shell, during a regatta, sometimes it is necessary for the crews to switch at the finish line without taking the boat from the water.

Hull: The actual body of the shell.

Inboard: The length of the oar shaft measured from the button to the handle.

Inside hand: The oarsmen’s hand nearest the oarlock. This is the feathering hand.

Jumping the slide: A problem where the seat becomes derailed from the track while rowing.

Keel: The balance of the boat. Good keel means that the stability of the boat is good. “keep keel” is a command often heard from the coxswain when the boat starts to sway.

Keelson: A structure timber resembling the keel, but on the inside of the shell.

Launch: A motorboat used by rowing instructors, coaches or umpires.

Lay-back: What the rowers have when they sit with their legs flat and lean towards the bow of the boat with their body.

Leather / Sleeve: A thick piece of leather (plastic) around the oar to keep the oarlock from wearing out the wood.

Leg Drive: Power applied to the stroke, at the catch, by the force of driving the legs down. Often heard being yelled from the coach boat.

Lightweight: A rower whose weight allows him or her to be eligible to compete in lightweight rowing events.

Lines: The ropes held by the coxswain to control the rudder.

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

Macon Blade (also Spoon blade and Tulip): Traditional U-shaped oar blade.

Masters (or Veteran): Rowers 27 (31 – UK) years of age or greater.

Missing water: A technical fault where the rower begins the drive before the catch is complete.

Novices: Rowers who are rowing for the first season, or (in the UK) a rower who has not won a regatta.

Oar: A slender pole that is attached to a boat at the Oarlock. One end of the pole, called the “handle,” is gripped by the rower. The other end has a “blade,” which is placed in the water during the propulsive phase of the stroke. The blade portion of the oar is similar to a razor blade or a piece of paper: Essentially two-dimensional, the third dimension is very thin, although it should be noted that there is a very important element to the third dimension of the blade, namely that it is curved into a sort of hydrofoil, which helps provide much of the thrust.

Oarlock: The rectangular lock at the end of the rigger which physically attaches the oar to the boat. The oarlock also allows the rower to rotate the oar blade between the “square” and “feather” positions.

Open water race: Competition on unsheltered water exposed to current, tide, wind and requiring navigation skills as well as strength, endurance, and technique. It generally uses a mass start and includes a mix of human-powered boats. Typical race distances are 6 to 26 miles.

Outboard: The length of the oar shaft measured from the button to the tip of the blade.

Outrigger: See Rigger

Outside hand: The hand of a rower that is placed on the end of the oar handle.

Overreach: Fault done by an oarsman when he comes to his full reach forward and then attempts to obtain even greater length by releasing his grasp on the handle with his outside hand or by bringing his outside shoulder further forward.

Pair (2-) or (2+): A shell with 2 rowers. The Coxless pair (2-), often called a straight pair, is a demanding but satisfying boat to master. Coxed pairs (2+) are rarely rowed by most club and school programs. It is no longer an Olympic class event, but it continues to be rowed at the World Rowing Championships. The bow loader coxed pair was nicknamed “the coffin” due to the difficulty for the cox to escape in the event of a capsize.

Pause paddling: Rowing with a pause between each stroke. The coxswain or rower giving commands will indicate where in the stroke this pause should be taken.

Pin: The vertical metal rod on which the rowlock rotates.

Pitch: The angle between a “squared” blade and a line perpendicular to the water’s surface.

Pogies / Poagies: A type of mitten with holes on each end, which allow the rower to grip the oar with bare hands while also warming the hands, used frequently by rowers in colder climates.

Port / Portside: The left side of the boat when facing forward.

Port: A sweep rower who rows with the oar on the port or left side of the boat.

Pot: A tankard awarded as a prize to each member of a winning crew.

Puddles: Disturbances made by an oar blade pulled through the water. The farther the puddles are pushed past the stern of the boat before each catch, the more “run” the boat is getting.

Pull through: The portion of the stroke from the catch to the finish (when the oar is in the water). This is the propulsive part of the stroke.

Rating (also Stroke rate): The number of strokes executed per minute by a crew.

Ratio: The relationship between the time taken during the propulsive and recovery phases of a rowing or sculling action.

Recovery: The non-work phase of the stroke where the rower returns the oar from the release to the catch.

Release: At the end of the drive portion of the stroke. It is when the oar blade(s) is removed (or released) from the water.

Repechage: The “second chance” race given to those crews which fail to qualify for the finals from an opening heat. “Rep” qualifiers move onto semi-finals or finals depending on the number of entries. Used in international racing.

Ribs: The name given to that part of the boat to which the skin of the hull is attached. They are typically made of wood, aluminum or composite materials and provide structural integrity. The riggers bolt to the ribs.

Rigger: A “Rigger” is the rowing slang name for an Outrigger. It is a projection from the side (gunwale) of a racing shell. The oarlock is attached to the far end of the rigger away from the boat. The rigger allows the racing shell to be narrow thereby decreasing drag, while at the same time placing the oarlock at a point that optimizes leverage of the oar. There are several styles of riggers, but they are most often a triangle frame, with two points attached to the boat, and the third point being where the oarlock is placed. Rigging is also used to describe whether a boat is stroked by a port or starboard rower (i.e., port-rigged, starboard-rigged). With sweep rowing, riggers typically alternate sides, though it is not uncommon to see two adjacent seats rigged on the same side of the boat.

Rigging: The term used to describe how the boat is outfitted, including all of the apparatuses (oars, outriggers, oarlocks, sliding seats, etc.) attached to a boat that allows the rower to propel the boat through the water. It is derived from an old Anglo-Saxon term wrigan or wrihan, which means “to clothe.” It literally means to outfit or clothe a boat. “Rigging” is also used to describe the configuration of the boat and settings of the apparatuses.

Roller: The wheels upon which the seat slide travels along its track.

Rudder: Adjacent to the skeg and used by the coxswain (or in some coxless boats, by a rower using a “toe”) to steer the boat via attached cables. Extra-large rudders are used on narrower and/or bendier rivers.

Run: Distance a shell travels during each stroke.

Rushing: Term for when rowers move too quickly along their tracks into the catch. The boat will lose the feeling that it is gliding or “running out.”

Saxboard (also Gunwales): The sides and top edge of a boat, which the riggers attach – see also Gunwales

Scratch crew: A crew that has not rowed with each other before.

Scull: (a) An oar made to be used in a sculling boat where each rower has two oars, one per hand; or (b) a boat (shell) that is propelled using sculling oars, e.g., a “single scull,” is a one-person boat where the rower has two oars.

Sculler: A rower who rows with two oars, one in each hand.

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 “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.

Seat race: A method to compare two rowers in fours or eights. Two boats race against each other once. One rower from each boat switches positions, and the two boats race again. Relative performance in the two races is used to compare the abilities of the two rowers.

Seat: Molded seat mounted on wheels, single action or double action. Single action is fixed bearing wheel; double action is wheel on axle that rolls on track and rolls on horns of the seat. A secondary meaning of location in the shell, the bow seat is one and is numbered upward to the stroke seat (8, in an 8-man shell). Thirdly, it can mean a competitive advantage in a race, to lead a competitor by a seat is to be in front of them by the length of a single rower’s section of a shell.

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 that 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 balance of the boat. Affected by handle heights, rowers leaning, and timing, all of which affect the boat’s balance, after which the coxswain tells rowers to “set the boat”.

Settle: In sprints (head-to-head races), immediately after the rowers complete their high cadence strokes to start the race, the stroke tempo is lowered and the stroke lengthened to the rating to be used throughout the body of the race. Often accompanied by a Power 10 or 20. Coxswains may call a “Ten to Settle” or “Ten to Glide” to drop the cadence more gradually.

Shell: The boat used for rowing.

Shooting your slide: Term used for when an oarsman’s seat moves toward the bow faster than his shoulders.

Shoulder (also Knee): Load bearing supports that mount the rigger and attach to the keel of the boat.

Skeg (also Fin): Thin piece of flat metal or plastic that helps stabilize the shell in the water.

Skying: Term used to describe a blade that is too high off the surface of the water during the recovery. The rower’s hands are too low causing an upset to the balance of the boat (the “set”).

Slides (also Tracks): Hollow rails upon which a rower or sculler’s sliding seat will roll. Older shells might be convex rails with double wheels.

Slings: Folding, portable temporary boat holders. Two are required to hold a boat.

Smoothie: A blade design in which the face of the oar blade is smooth, without the traditional central spine.

Spacing: Distance between bowman’s puddle on one stroke and the point at which the No. 7 rower catches water on the next stroke.

Speed coach: A device mounted on the keel of some high-performance shells that determines the boat’s speed based on the speed of a small propeller and transmits this information to the cox box.

Split time (split): Amount of time it takes to row 500 meters. Displayed on all ergs and on cox boxes installed on boats with speed coaches (see above).

Spoon blade (also Macon blade): Traditional U-shaped oar blade.

Sprint: The last 500 meters of most races are generally at a much higher rating than the rest of the race, as crews pull to exhaustion.

Square: To turn the oar so that its blade is perpendicular to the water (opposite of feather).

Starboard (also Starboard side): The right side of the boat when facing forward.

Starboard rigged: A boat where the stroke rower is a starboard rower.

Starboard: A sweep rower who rows with the oar on the starboard or right side of the boat.

Start: In head to head races, the start is one of the most important parts of the race. In head races, where boats do not race next to each other, there is a running start, where rowing begins before the starting line and rowers are already at full speed when they cross the start. 

Starting gate: A structure at the starting line of the race. The shell is “backed” into the starting gate. Once in the gates a mechanism, or person lying on the starting gate, holds the stern of the shell.

Stern: The rear section of a shell.

Stretcher: A slang abbreviation for Foot Stretchers.

Stroke (Seat): The rower closest to the stern of the boat, responsible for the stroke rate and rhythm.

Stroke rate (also Rating): The number of strokes executed per minute by a crew.

Stroke: (a) One complete cycle through the process above; or (b) the rower in the stern of a multi-person shell, whose timing is followed by the other rowers.

Superhuman 20: A crew’s 20 strongest strokes, which usually occur in the middle of a race.

Sweep: A rower who rows with one oar (in both hands).  In a sweep boat, each rower has one oar. (In a sculling boat, each rower has two oars, one on each side of the boat.  RGCC only races sweep boats.)

Swing: A feeling in the boat when the rowers are driving and finishing their strokes strongly and getting good layback.

Swivel: Term for the rowlock/oarlock. Often referred to as gate due to the securing bar/gate at its top.

Three-quarter / Half / Quarter slide: Shortened strokes, often used during the start of a race or in a warm-up.

Toe: In some boats without a coxswain, a rower may be able to control the rudder and steer the boat by changing the direction his foot points. This is called “toeing a boat,” and the mechanism is called a “toe.”

Top-nut: The nut which screws onto the top of the pin holding the Oarlock in place.

Tracks: See Slides

Tulip (also Macon blade): Traditional U-shaped oar blade.

Walking: When passing a boat, the coxswain announces each seat as it is passed.

Washing out: When an oar blade comes out of the water during drive and creates surface wash that causes the shell to lose power and become unsteady.