From Academic Kids

Missing image
A coxless pair, sweep-oar rowing to the left of the photo; the bowside rower (or the starboard one, although the British term applied on this occasion) is further towards the bow of the boat.

In the context of sports, rowing or sculling is a system of competition that refines the rowing of boats into a specialized discipline. In the United States, high school and collegiate rowing are also sometimes known as crew.

It is a speed sport in narrow boats, where the athlete sits on a sliding seat above the water level and faces backwards, using oars to move the boat. This may be done on a river, a lake, or on the sea.

There are two forms of rowing:

  • In sweep-oar rowing, each rower has only one oar and holds it with both hands. In sweep boats each rower is either port (strokeside in the UK) or starboard (bowside in the UK) which refers to whether his oar extends to the port or starboard side of the boat.
  • In sculling, each rower has two oars (one in each hand), and because of this symmetry the rowers are not referred to as "port" or "starboard."
Missing image
Racing shells stored in a boathouse.

The relative obscurity of rowing has helped it develop an introspective atmosphere, where long hours, early mornings on the river, and the physical pain of the event are the price of being a part of the rowing community. The intense focus of top rowers on their sport is unusual even by the standard of similarly excellent competitors in other sports.

One piece of equipment commonly used when training for rowing, the "indoor rower" (a.k.a. "ergometer", "ergo" or "erg"), has become popular as a sport in its own right.



Rowing boats (or similar vessels) have been around for centuries, but before the 18th century, there is little mention of boat races. In the 13th century, Venetian festivals called regata included boat races among others. Nowadays, rowing competitions are still called regattas (with a second 't' added).

The first modern rowing races, in the second half of the 18th century, were races between watermen on the River Thames in England. The race, called the Doggett's Coat and Badge first started in 1716 and is still held each summer. Subsequently, rowing became extremely popular both as an amateur and professional sport, often with thousands of spectators for events. From the first University Boat Race between Oxford University and Cambridge University in 1829, which was also the first intercollegiate sporting event, student rowing has become increasingly popular. In the Anglo-Saxon world, there is also a sizable school rowing community. The Harvard-Yale race is the oldest intercollegiate sporting event in the United States having been contested every year since 1852.

Rowing today is governed by the FISA, which has organized World Rowing Championships since 1962. Rowing has also been conducted at the Olympic Games since 1900 (canceled at the first modern Games in 1896).

Strong rowing nations include the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Canada, Germany, Australia and Romania. Well-known rowers ( of recent years include Sir Steve Redgrave (UK), who won Olympic golds in five successive Olympics in the coxed four, coxless pair and the coxless four; Sir Matthew Pinsent (UK), who won golds in four successive Olympics, two with Redgrave in the coxless pair and two more (once with Redgrave) in the coxless four; James Tomkins (Australia), three times Olympic gold medalist, twice in the coxless four and once in the coxless pair, also the only man to have won World Championships in every sweep oar event; Rob Waddell (New Zealand) and [[Xeno M?] (Switzerland), opponents in the single sculls; Ekaterina Karsten (Belarus) in women's single sculls; and Kathrin Boron (Germany) in women's double sculls and quadruples.


Racing boats (usually called "shells") are long and narrow in order to reduce drag to a minimum. This makes them unstable and liable to tip. Being able to balance the boat while putting maximum effort into the oars is therefore an essential skill of rowing. Originally made from wood, shells are almost always made from a composite material (usually graphite-reinforced plastic) due to strength and weight advantages.

There are a large number of different types of boats. They are classified using:

  • Number of rowers. In all forms of competition the number is either 1, 2, 4, or 8. Although they are very rare, boats for other numbers of rowers do exist (including one for 24 scullers - called the "Stampfli Express").
  • Position of coxswain. Boats are either coxless, bow-coxed, or stern-coxed. In coxless boats a steersman (normally the bowman but not necessarily) is responsible for steering by use of a mechanism connecting one of his shoes by wire to the rudder, by swiveling the foot the wires moves the rudder. In competition, bow- and stern-coxed boats may race one another, but there are substantial differences created by placement of the coxswain.

Generally sculling and sweep oar boats are identical to each other except having different riggers however they are referred to using different names:

  • Sweep: pair, four, eight
  • Sculling: single, double, quad, octuple


Rowers may take part in the sport for their leisure or they may competitively row. There are different types of competition in the sport of rowing. In the US all types of races are referred to as "regattas" whereas this term is only used in the UK for head-to-head races.

  • Races that are held in the spring and summer are head-to-head - all the boats start at the same time from a stationary position and the winner is the boat that crosses the finish line first. The number of boats in a race varies between two and six. These type of races are called "sprint races" in the US, and regattas in the UK. Regulation length races are 2,000 m long, however occasionally the distance will be 1,000 m, or some intermediate distance dictated by the local body of water. Dashes (sprint regattas in the UK) are 500 m long. In general, the competition is organized in a series of rounds, with the fastest boats in each heat qualifying for the next round. The losing boats from each heat may be given a second chance to qualify through a repechage. Examples are the World Rowing Championships which offers multi-lane heats and repecharges and Henley Royal Regatta which has two crews competing side by side in each round, in a straightforward knockout format, and does not offer repechages.
  • A third type of race is the bumps race, as held in Oxford (known as Torpids and Eights Week), Cambridge, and between the University of London colleges on the Tideway. In these races, crews start lined up along the river at set intervals, and all start at the same time. The aim is to catch up with the boat in front, and avoid being caught by the boat behind. If a crew overtakes or makes physical contact with the crew ahead, a bump is awarded. As a result damage to boats and equipment is common during bumps racing. The next day, the bumping crew will start ahead of any crews that have been bumped. Bumps races take place over several days, and the positions at the end of the last race are used to set the positions on the first day of the races the next year. Oxford and Cambridge Universities hold bumps races for their respective colleges twice a year, and there are also Town Bumps races in both cities, open to non-university crews. Bump races are very rare in the United States.

Rowing is unusual in the demands it places on competitors. The standard race distance of 2,000 m is long enough to have a large endurance element, but short enough (typically 5.5 to 7.5 minutes) to feel like a sprint. This means that rowers have some of the highest power outputs of athletes in any sport. At the same time the motion involved in the sport compresses the rowers' lungs, limiting the amount of oxygen available to them. This requires rowers to tailor their breathing to the stroke, typically inhaling and exhaling twice per stroke, unlike most other sports such as cycling where competitors can breathe freely.

The crew

In all boats, except the single sculls, each rower is numbered in sequential order from the bow to the stern. The bowman is always "one seat." Note - there are some exceptions to this - UK coastal rowers number from stern to bow and this is also the standard in France.

In addition to this, certain crew members have other titles and roles:

Stroke (or strokeman)

This the rower closest to the stern of the boat. Everyone else follows stroke's timing - placing their blades in and out of the water at the same time. They can communicate with the coxswain (when in a stern coxed boat) to give feedback on how the boat feels. During a race, it is the stroke's responsibility to hold a consistent rate that is mandated by the coxswain. The rower will often have a magnet under their sliding seat which passes over another magnet which allows the coxswain to get an accurate stroke rating (however, in bow-loader coxed fours the magnet is underneath bow seat so that wire does not need to be run the length of the boat). Because of the great responsibilities of the stroke, they will usually be the most technically sound member of the boat.

Bow (or bowman)

This is the rower closest to the bow of the boat. In coxless boats, they are usually responsible for steering and giving calls to the crew. In coxed boats, bowmen (bow pair, generally) are more responsible for the set of the boat than any other pair. Boats that are bow coxed (with the cox'n lying in the bows behind the bowman) rather than stern coxed (with the coxn sitting in the stern opposite the Stroke) rely on communcation between the bowman and the cox - as the cox cannot see boats coming up from behind.

Coxswain (cox)

The word Coxswain etymologically means something like "boat boy" - it comes from cock, a cockboat or other small vessel kept aboard a ship, and swain.

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
  • To make any necessary race strategy calls

A common error in non-rowers is a belief that the cox shouts "stroke, stroke, ..." so that the rowers know when to place the blades into the water. As explained above, it is the strokeman that controls the timing of the boat. Coxn's will only perform this function with very novice crews and will usually shout "there, there..." never "stroke, stroke..."

It is advantageous for the cox to be light - as there is less weight for the crew to move. However rules have been introduced to enforce a minimum weight. Anyone under this has to carry a sealed deadweight (often sand, stones or a weight) in order to meet the minimum.

A good coxswain is exceptionally valuable for a crew. When the rowers are confident in the abilities of a cox, it shows during races. Aside from the steering and commanding, a cox also has the responsibility of motivating the crew and encouraging them to push their bodies to the limit.

The coxswain holds a special position on a boat. To be an effective coxswain, one must not always be "one of the guys." A coxswain can be highly critical at practices if they believe that a rower is not contributing what they should.


Unlike most other sports, rowing has a special weight category called lightweight (Lwt for short). In this category the following limits apply:

  • Men: Crew average 70 kg (154 lb) - no rower over 72.5 kg (159 lb)
  • Women: Crew average 57 kg (125 lb) - no one over 59 kg (130 lb)

According to FISA, this weight category was introduced "to encourage more universality in the sport especially among nations with less statuesque people". The first lightweight events were added to the World Championships in 1974 for men and 1985 for women. Lightweight rowing was added to the Olympics in 1996.

In 2002, lightweight rowing at the Olympics came under threat when the Programme Commission of the IOC recommended that, outside combat sports and weightlifting, there should not be weight category events. The Executive Board overturned this recommendation and lightweight rowing continues at the Olympics.

At a non-international level, generally only large races have lightweight categories. At the collegiate level, many larger American Division I schools can field one or two lightweight boats for both men and women.

World championships and Olympics

Main articles: World Rowing Championships, Rowing at the Summer Olympics

At the end of each season, FISA hold the World Rowing Championships with events in 24 different boat classes.

At the Olympic Games only select boat classes are raced (14 in total):

  • Men: quad scull, double scull, single scull, eight, straight four, and straight pair
  • Lwt Men: straight four and double scull
  • Women: quad scull, double scull, single scull, eight, and straight pair
  • Lwt Women: double scull

Athletes generally consider the Olympic classes to be "premier" events and are more interested in rowing in these at the World Championships. During Olympic years only non-Olympic boats compete at the World Championships.

Event nomenclature

The following short nomenclature is often used to indicate the type of boat:

  • The prefix indicates the type of event
    • M - men's (usually only used for lightweight men's events)
    • W - women's
    • L or Lt - lightweight
    • B - under 23 years of age
  • For non-international events, there may be an experience category (e.g. N - Novice, M - Masters, E - Elite). The categories are different depending on the country.
  • The number of crew members (excluding cox).
  • A "x" indicates a sculling boat.
  • The last character shows if the boat is coxed (+) or coxless (-).


  • 8+ "men's coxed eight"
  • W4- "women's coxless four" (or "straight four")
  • LM2x lightweight men's double sculls
  • B1x men's single sculls under 23

Anatomy of a stroke

  • The stroke begins with the oar out of the water with the blade feathered, or in other words parallel to the water. The rower has legs straight and body upright, and arms straight in front.
  • The rower leans the body forward (i.e. toward the stern) slightly while keeping the oar level and legs straight.
  • The rower bends the legs, bringing the seat forward (i.e. toward the stern) on its rollers, while the oar remains level.
  • The blade of the oar is turned 90 degrees so that it is perpendicular to the water. This is called squaring the blade.
  • The blade is quickly inserted into the water. This is called the catch.
  • The rower levers the boat past the tip of the blade by the action of straightening the legs while the body remains leaned forward and the arms remain straight. This is called the leg drive.
  • The rower continues pushing with the legs while the body leans back (i.e. towards the bow) and begins to draw the blade handle(s) towards the body.
  • The rower completes the leg drive plus backwards lean and pulls the oar to the chest by bending the arms. This is called the draw.
  • The rower pushes the oar handle down such that the blade comes out of the water. This is known as the release or the finish.
  • The oar is turned 90 degrees such that the blade is parallel to the water.
  • The arms are pushed out in front of the body until they are straight.
  • The body is returned to the upright position, and now the position is identical to the starting position.

It is important to note that the rowing stroke differs slightly depending on location. For example, on the East coast, a gradual square is sometimes favored over the "flip catch" referred to above. A gradual square has the rower gradually changing the blade from parallel to the water to perpendicular over the entire recovery rather than a quick flip right before the catch. In Canada, the drive is not as separated. When the Canadian-style rowers catch, they push the legs down and lean back at the same time. This allows for an extremely large amount of power at the beginning of the stroke but lacks the consistency of the separated drive favored by other crews.

Coastal and ocean rowing

Missing image
A Cornish pilot gig, a 6 crew boat returning from a race at Falmouth in Cornwall

Coastal and ocean rowing is a type of rowing perfomed on the sea. Due to the harsher conditions encountered at sea, the boats are wider and more robust than those used on rivers and lakes.

The form of competition is also different. Boats race up to 12 abreast out to the halfway point, where they turn round and race back to the start. Total race distances are usually around 2,000 m.

There are some open water rowing events, notably the "Blackburn Challange", a 22 mile open Atlantic Ocean race, in which participants use a variety of boats, see Dory, Guideboat, Whitehall Rowboat, and Wherry. Racers are grouped according to style, fixed vs sliding seat and hull shape.

Ocean rowing boats also include Cornish pilot gigs which were traditionally from the Isles of Scilly off the coast of Cornwall.

Adaptive rowing

Adaptive rowing is a special category of races for those with physical disabilities. Under FISA rules there are 3 classifications of adaptive rowers:

LTA - Legs, Trunk, Arms 
Use of at least one leg, trunk and arms. Also those visually impaired and intellectually disabled.
TA - Trunk and Arms 
Only use of trunk muscles.
A - Arms only 
Limited trunk control.

All rowers must wear a life jacket and the boats may have additional stability attached to the riggers. Adaptive events were added to the World Rowing Championships in 2002 and are due to take place at the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing, China.

Rowers of wider fame

Clubs, organizations, and companies for rowing

See also


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools