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Rowing Basics

What is the difference between the boats in the races?

  • Freshmen boats must contain ONLY freshmen rowers

  • Novice boats must contain ONLY first year rowers, but can be Freshmen, Sophomore or Junior rowers

  • Lightweight boats must have each individual rower weigh less than 150 lbs for boys and 130 lbs for girls

  • JV Boats are for rowers that are made up of Freshmen, Sophomore and Junior rowers, but one or more (typically all) are not first year rowers

  • 2nd 8 boats are boats that consist of Freshmen, Sophomore, Junior AND 1 or more Senior rowers.  Think of this as almost a 2nd varsity boat, but rowing in their own category.

  • Varsity boats are typically made up of upper classmen and are your strongest rowers

Types of Boats

  • Sculls: Each rower has two oars (one in each hand).  Athletes with two oars are called scullers. 

  • Sweep Boats or Shells: Each rower has one oar (both hands on a single oar). Sweep events are the pair, four, and eight.  Pairs and fours can come with a coxswain (2+ and 4+) and without (2- and 4-). But the eight (8+) always carries a coxswain.


Competitive rowing events are called regattas.  There are two basic type of rowing races, sprints and head races.

  • Sprint Racing, Rowers race head-to-head in 1500 meter races. First over the finish line wins. Heats are run if more boats are entered in the event than there are lanes to hold them. Faster boats qualify to compete in a final heat that determines the winner.

  • Head Races,  Rowers race against the clock in 1500 meter races.  Starting time is staggered with a few seconds between each competing boat.  The best time wins the race.

Rowing Positions
Each seat in the boat is numbered according to its position going from bow to stern. In an eight, the seats are 1 to 8 and the coxswain. The #1 seat (the seat closest to the bow) is called "bow seat". The rowing seat closest to the stern is called "stroke".

The coxswain (pronounced “cox-in”) is responsible for steering, race commands, race strategy, and motivating the crew. The coxswain either sits in the stern or lies in the bow of the boat.  The FISA (International Rowing Federation) requires that coxswains in men’s crews weigh a minimum of 121.25 lbs. For women, the weight minimum is 110.23 lbs. If a cox is underweight, he/she must carry sandbags to bring them above the minimum.

Weight Categories

Directions In A 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


Rowing Terms

  • Catch - The beginning of the rowing stroke where the oar blade is set in the water

  • 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

  • Drive - The part of the stroke where the blade is pulled through the water.

  • Feathering - Rotating the oar in the oarlock with the inside hand so that the blade is parallel to the water

  • Finish - The final part of the stroke where the blade comes out of the water.

  • Leg Drive - Pushing with the legs against the foot stretchers on the drive

  • 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)

  • Puddles - Made when the blade is released from the water. Run can be judged by the distance between puddles

  • Recovery - The part of the stroke where the rower comes slowly up the slide to return to the catch

  • Release - Pushing down on the handle to raise the blade out of the water at the end of the stroke to begin the recovery

  • Run - The distance the boat moves after the release while the rower is on the recovery

  • 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)

  • Skying - Coming to the catch with the blade too high above the surface of the water

Coxswains Calls
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. 

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.

Let It Run - A call for all rowers to sit with blades off the water at the finish, allowing the shell to glide through the water.

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.


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