Rowing is propelling a boat by means of oars. The purpose can be transportation, recreation or sport. In the United States, high school and collegiate rowing are also sometimes known as crew. There are two forms of rowing:
- In sweep oar 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). Due to having two oars there is no concept of port/starboard in sculling.
Rowing 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.
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. 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, 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; 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 Müller (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 carbon fiber) due 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. 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 (sprints 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 of this kind of event are the World Rowing Championships and Henley Royal Regatta.
- Head races take place from fall (autumn) to early spring (depending on local conditions). Boats begin with a rolling start at intervals of 10-20 seconds, and race against the clock. Distances usually vary from 2,000 m to 7,000 m (although some races are over 50,000 m). Examples of head races are the 3 mile (4,828 m) Head of the Charles in Boston MA in October and the 4 1/4 mile (6,840 m) Head of the River Race on the Thames, London in March.
- A third type of race is the bumps race, as held in Oxford and Cambridge. 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 catches up with the crew ahead a bump is awarded - both crews pull to the side of the bank and take no further part in that race. However, the next day, the bumping crew will start ahead of the crew that was 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 all 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.
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." 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. This person is usually the only rower in the boat who is allowed to talk. They can communicate with the coxswain 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.
The role of a cox is to:
- Steer the boat
- Provide motivation and encouragement to the crew
- To make any necessary race strategy calls
A common misunderstanding is 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.
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 deadweight (often sand or stones) 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.
World Championships and Olympics
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.
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 - lightweight
- B - under 23
- 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/straight four
- LM2x lightweight men's double sculls
- B1x men's single sculls under 23
- 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.
- 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.
- The rower in the front (i.e. the direction the boat is moving while rowing) of a multi-person shell. In coxless boats, often the person who keeps an eye on the water behind him to avoid accidents.
- The rower seated in the bow seat who is also responsible for steering the boat's course. This person does not actually row the boat, but simply guides the cadence of the other rowers and steers. They face looking in the direction of travel in a seat partially enclosed in the bow of the shell.
- (UK) Starboard side.
- The person in the sternmost position of a coxed boat (normally); responsible for steering and race strategy.
- Engine room
- The middle rowers in the boat. In an 8-person shell, this is generally seats 3, 4, 5 and 6. They are generally the biggest and strongest rowers. Because they are situated in the middle, their technique doesn't have to be as perfect as the others.
- A sweep rower who rows with the oar on the port side.
- A sweep rower who rows with the oar on the starboard side.
- (UK) Port side.
- one oar per rower.
- a shell with 8 rowers. It is usually considered to be the blue ribbon event and the closest racing. Always with coxwain because of the size and speed of the boat.
- a shell with 4 rowers. More often seen with a coxswain in club and school rowing, though it is the coxless four, not the coxed, which is raced at the Olympics. Coxless fours are often referred to as straight fours, and are commonly used by lightweight crews.
- a shell with 2 rowers. The coxless pair is a very difficult but satisfying boat to master. Coxed pairs are not an Olympic class and are seldom rowed or built.
- two oars each.
- a shell having 8 rowers with two oars each. Generally a training boat, but raced by juniors in the UK.
- a shell having 4 rowers with two oars each. A coxswain is generally not used except by novices or juniors.
- a shell for two scullers without a coxswain.
- a shell designed for an individual sculler. Very good for skill development, particularly beginners, and a very competitive class at the Olympics. Extremely rare is the coxed single which is only used as a training boat or for adaptive rowing.
- "Easy oars"
- To stop.
- "Hard on (port/starboard)"
- The rowers on that side of the boat must row harder (and the opposite side must row slightly easier) in order to facilitate a sharper turn.
- "Hold it/her up"
- (UK) Stop the boat.
- "Hold it/her hard"
- (UK) Emergency stop.
- "Check it/her down"
- Square the oars in the water to stop the boat.
- "Let it run"
- To stop rowing after a given piece of on the water rowing length, but to put the handles of the oars either to the gunwhales or out in front of the rower, in such a manner that the oars are parralel to the water yet not touching it. This allows the boat to glide for a distance leaving no paddle wake in the water. Similar, but not exactly the same is the command "Gunnel", where rowers push the oars until the handle touches the boat's gunnel.
- "On the square"
- to row without feathering the blades on the recovery.
- The command to stop. (American)
- "Power 10"
- the command to take 10 strokes at more than full pressure. Used for passing and gaining water in a race. (sometimes "Power 20" or "Power 30")
- "...in 2"
- Most water commands are appended to take place after two strokes. For example "Power 10 in 2" or "Weigh-enough in 2"
- (UK) The sliding seat position closest to the boat's bow. As a command, it instructs the crew to adopt this position.
- Bow ball
- An essential small, soft ball 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.
- Cleaver blade
- Modern oar blades that have a more rectangular hatchet-shaped. (also hatchet blade)
- Portable voice amplifier; may also optionally incorporate digital readouts displaying stroke rate, boat speed and times.
- Ergometer, ergo or erg
- An indoor rowing machine.
- 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.
- (UK) The sliding seat position closest to the boat's stern. As a command, it instructs the crew to adopt this position.
- (UK) Term for an oar lock.
- (pronounced: gunnels) The top rib of the shell.
- Hatchet blade
- Modern oar blades that have a more rectangular hatchet-shaped. (also cleaver blade)
- A motorboat used by rowing instructors, coaches or umpires.
- Macon blade
- Traditional U-shaped blade. Also referred to as a Spoon.
- Oar lock
- The rectangular lock at the end of the rigger that holds the oar in place while allowing it to pivot and lock in the square or feathers position.
- A type of mitten with holes allowing the rower to grip the oar with bare hands while also warming the hands, used frequently by northern rowers.
- The triangular frame that hold the oarlock away from the gunnel to optimize leverage (there are several styles of riggers). Rigging is also used to describe whether a boat is stroked by a port or starboard (ie port-rigged, starboard-rigged).
- The boat used for rowing.
- Hollow rails upon which a rower or sculler's sliding seat will roll.
- A blade design in which the face of the oar blade is smooth, without the traditional central spine.
- State room
- The space between the gunwales.
- An adjustable footplate.
- The part of the stroke at which the blade enters the water.
- A rowing error in which the blade is pushed under the water and becomes caught in the flow of the water past the boat, referred to as 'catching a crab'. This always results in slowing the boat down, and can even lift a rower out of the shell or make the boat capsize (unlikely).
- To turn the oar so that its blade is parallel with the water (opposite of square).
- 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. (US)
- the number of strokes executed per minute by a crew. (also stroke rate)
- the relationship between the time taken during the propulsive and recovery phases of a rowing or sculling action.
- 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". See "Keel."
- Split time (split)
- Amount of time it takes to row 500 meters. Displayed on all ergs.
- one complete cycle through the process above
- the rower in the stern of a multi-person shell, whose timing is followed by the other rowers.
- Stroke rate
- The number of strokes executed per minute by a crew. (also rating)
- To turn the oar so that its blade is perpendicular to the water (opposite of feather).
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. In sprints (head-to-head), the start consists of the following sections:
- Actual start : This is generally five partial strokes in a certain pattern, ie three-quarters, half, half, three quarters, full. The goal is to get the rowers off to a cohesive start, and quickly build momentum.
- High Ten : Not to be confused with "Power Ten," the high ten is ten strokes at a high rating to finish building speed
- Power Ten : After the high ten, the coxswain calls "Ten to Settle" during which the rating drops to the rate it will be for the duration of the race.
- The body of the race is carried out at a consistant rating, with power tens called as the coxswain deems necessary.
- 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
- In head-to-head races, the coxswain may decide to call a flutter, which is essentially the five-stroke start put into the race close to the end. The flutter may push one boat which is trailing another a few seats ahead.
- Seat race
- A method to compare two rowers in fours or eights. Two boats race against each other once. One rower from each boat switch positions, and the two boats race again. Relative performance in the two races is used to compare the abilities of the two rowers.
- A tankard awarded as a prize to each member of a winning crew.
Coastal rowing is a type of rowing perfomed on the sea. Due to the harsher conditons 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.
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.
- Governing Bodies
- FISA - The Official World Rowing Website (See FISA)
- row2k.com - Rowing fan site with news, results, and photos
- rec.sport.rowing on Google Groups