Rowing Terms




The Shell (aka ‘The Boat”):

Bow – the front of the shell where the little white ball is located (bow ball). When sitting in the shell, it is behind you. You get to see where you’ve been!

Stern – the back of the shell which is in front of you while sitting in the shell.

Starboard – the side of the shell that is on your left hand side while sitting in the shell.

Port – the side of the shell that is on your right hand side while sitting in the shell.

The rigger – the metal structure protruding from each side of the shell usually alternating from port side to starboard side.

The oarlock – at the end of the rigger, the metal and plastic part that actually holds the oar. It is made up of the gate, the metal bar that opens up to allow the oar to be inserted and the star nut which is at the end of the gate and locks it down. You screw the star nut open and close.

The seat – the place where you put your seat! It rolls on four little wheels on the seat tracks. Usually there is a seat keeper, which allows the seat to stay in the shell when it is lifted up overhead. However, not all shells have seats with keepers. Care should be taken to remove these seats and carry them separately or else the seat could drop out and hit you on the head or get lost in the water!


The Coxswain:

The role of a coxswain is to:

Steer the boat
Provide motivation and encouragement to the crew
Inform the crew of where they are in relation to other crews and the finish line
Make any necessary race tactic calls

A boat without a cox is known as a coxless or ‘straight’ boat. While coxless pairs and fours are commonplace, because of the speed and lack of maneuverability eights always have a cox.

Some boats are bow-coxed or ‘bowloaders‘ with the coxswain lying in the bow behind the bowman rather than stern-coxed or ‘sternloader’, with the coxswain sitting in the stern opposite the Stroke. Bowloader eights are rare due to the length of the boat, this would make it difficult for the cox to know where the stern is.

Coxswains used to communicate to the crew by shouting or through a megaphone that was strapped to their head. However, since the late 1970s a “cox box” or speaker and microphone system has enabled even the bowman to hear the coxswain’s commands. Such a system is particularly important in bowloaders as the coxswain is facing away from the crew, making it hard for the crew to hear the coxwain’s commands unaided.


The location of the rower in the shell:

bow (seat) – the person sitting in the front of the shell furthest from the cox’n

two (seat) – the person sitting in front of the bow person

three (seat) – the person sitting in front of the two seat

four (seat) – the person sitting front of the three seat, and so forth to the…..

stroke (seat) – the person sitting in front of the seven seat. The stroke is the person that everyone behind (seven through bow) needs to follow. The stroke sets the timing at the direction of the coxswain.


Your Body During the Stroke:

The finish – the end of the drive or power section of the stroke. Your back is slightly angled or laid back toward the bow of the shell and your hands holding the oar are at mid-chest. This is the finish of the drive, but the beginning of the recovery.

The recovery – that portion of the stroke that includes the next three body positions. It is always done at about half the speed of the drive. The rower may hear the cox’n command: slow up the slide or slow slide or ease the recovery or the reprimand: your rushing the slide!

Arms away – from the finish position, your arms are set straight away from your body. Your back is still in the layback position.

Body angle – with arms already away, you swing your shoulders and back forward bending at the waist. Your legs remain mostly flat. At the end of this move, your hands are roughly over your shins.

Up the slide to the catch – with your body angle set as described above, you come up the slide by fully bending your legs and arrive at the catch. Your shins are about perpendicular to the bottom of the boat. Your arms are still out straight in front of you and your legs have separated at the knees to allow one arm – your so-called

Outside arm – (rowing at port your left arm or rowing at starboard your right arm) to reach through your legs. This position allows you the most reach and compression of your legs. This is the end of the recovery. (See below also, level hands)


The Stroke:

The catch – the beginning of the drive portion of the stroke. Your body is fully compressed. You’re ready to begin the stroke with the drive.

The drive – from the catch position (arms fully straight forward, body angle leaning forward, and legs compressed) you begin to push off from the foot stretches with your legs. There is a dynamic, but definite connection between your feet, through your straightening legs, your engaged lat muscles, straight arms, and the oar during the drive. Most of the power, indeed 70%, comes from this leg drive. The drive is done about twice as fast as the recovery.

Open with your back – the legs are almost fully down (this is the completion of 70% of the power of the stroke) and you begin swinging back toward the layback position.

Finish with your arms – the upper body is now laid back and the arms are pulled back to the chest.

The location and use of your hands on the oar handle:

Outside hand – rowing at port your left hand; rowing at starboard your right hand. Your outside hand is at the end of the oar and is held loosely during the recovery. A firmer grip is held during the drive.

Inside hand – rowing at port your right hand; rowing at starboard your left hand. Your inside hand is about eight inches away from the outside hand. It is your feathering hand. The hand that turns the oar from the feathered position (during most of the recovery) to the squared position (just before the catch and during the drive while the oar blade is actually in the water). The inside handgrip is slightly firmer than the outside hand especially during the recovery while it is manipulating the roll-up from feather to square. It is important to maintain the grip of the inside hand at all times since it is the way you feel the correct position of the oar.

The roll-up – the process of turning the inside hand to bring the oar from the feathered position to the squared position. This occurs after the finish and during the recovery. It is usually completed by the time the hands pass over the shins. Some rowers like to time it with the wheels on the seat. As the wheels begin to turn the inside hand begins to turn the oar to the squared position.

Level hands – this is the term used to describe the horizontal plane the hands are on during the drive and the recovery. During the drive the hands are slightly higher relative to the gunnel of the boat (which allows the oar blade to be just barely buried in the water, but not too deep); during the recovery the hands are slightly lower relative to the gunnel of the boat (which allows the oar to skim along the top of the water in the feathered position).

During the drive: If the hands are carried too high during the drive the oar will go too deep. In this case, too much of oar will be in the water … half the shaft of the oar may be in the water! That’s too much resistance, inefficient, and what’s worse it tends to tip the boat! On the other hand (no pun) if the hands are carried too low during the drive, the blade will miss the water altogether! This is actually no big deal as won’t happen that much and is probably better than going too deep.

During the recovery: The idea is to just allow the blade of the oar to skim along the surface of the water. You must try to keep your hands level throughout the recovery and drive and not let them bob up and down. Think about having your hands pass over a level tabletop!


Rowing Terms