Rowing Terms

There are two basic types of boats:

SHELLS – 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)


  • 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


  • 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”.


  • 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.
  • FOOT PAD – space between the front of the tracks that is the only place you step when entering the boat.
  • FOOT STRETCHER – adjustable plate to which the shoes are attached, allowing adjustment for length.
  • GATE – screw-down rod that keeps the oar from coming out of the oarlock.
  • GUNWALES – these are the top outer edges of the boat. A lifting point.
  • 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.
  • KEEL – runs the length of the hull, down the center, for structural support.
  • OARLOCK – “U” shaped plastic part in which the oar is placed.
  • RIBS – run perpendicular to the keel, against the hull, for structural support. A lifting point.
  • RIGGER – metal or composite “arm” attached to the exterior of the boat that holds the oar.
  • 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).
  • 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.


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


  • BACK –  Row backward by pushing the handle away from the body with the blade in the water.
  • CATCH – The point in the stroke when the oar is placed in the water. The rower is all the way forward on the slide.
  • CHECK IT – To slow or stop the boat by placing the oar handles square in the water. Also called HOLD WATER
  • CRAB or “CATCH A CRAB” –  Getting the oar stuck under the water at the finish of the stroke. Caused by feathering the oar too early. (while it is still underwater)
  • DRIVE – The “in the water” phase of the stroke that drives the boat forward.
  • FEATHER – Turing the oar handle to change the blade from the vertical (square) to a position parallel with the water.
  • FINISH – The end of the drive and the start of the recovery. During the finish, the hands move down, raising the blade out of the water, the inside hand feathers the oar, and both hands move away from the body.
  • INSIDE HAND – In sweep rowing, the hand closest to the oar lock.
  • LAY BACK – At the end of the drive, or sitting at the finish, the rower’s body leans slightly backward toward the bow.
  • 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).
  • OUTSIDE HAND – The hand closest to the oar end.
  • PUDDLES – Made when the blade is released from the water. Run can be judged by the distance between puddles.
  • RECOVERY – The “out of water phase of the stroke” during the recovery, the oar is feathered and the rower moves toward the stern in the following order; Arms are pushed out straight, then the body leans forward, then the knees are raised which slides the rower forward on the seat.
  • RELEASE – Pushing down on the handle to raise the blade out of the water at the end of the stroke to begin the recovery. . See also FINISH
  • RUN /LET IT RUN Command to stop rowing and let the boat coast forward.
  • 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).
  • SEAT NUMBER – Rower’s positions in the boat are referred to by seat number, beginning in the bow. The first seat is referred to as bow the second as two, etc. the rower closest to the stern is the stroke.
  • SET or SET THE BOAT – One of the most important concepts in rowing. The boat is easiest rowed when it is level or “set”. Think of your oar as a lever. When sitting in the boat, with the oar lying flat on the water, Raising the oar handle with your hands will cause the boat to lean in the opposite direction of your oar. Lowering your hands will make the boat lean toward your oar. Use this technique to slight corrections to the set of the boat while rowing, or setting the boat.
  • SKYING – When the oar blade rises in the air just before the catch, because the rower is dropping the hands too low before the catch.
  • SLOW SLIDE – Control of the speed at which the seat moves forward on the slide during the recovery. Too fast of a slide will cause a jerking motion which slows the boat.
  • WASHING OUT – Raising the blade out of the water before the finish of the stroke.
  • 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.
  • 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. Done correctly, the boat will be set (balanced) and no blades will be touching the water. A good drill for correcting set problems, especially those related to lean and handle heights.
  • 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.