Rowing Terminology


Bow – the forward section of the boat.

Catching a Crab – an oar that, at an angle to the water (rather than the ideal perpendicular), gets caught beneath the surface. The oarblade is driven backwards and disrupts the momentum of the boat.

Coxswain - (pronounced COX-in) The person who steers the shell and is the on-the-water coach for the crew. He/she is usually quite small and light. Also referred to as the cox. Tradition has it that the crew throws the cox into the water if they win their race.

Cox Box – an electronic mechanism that the cox’n uses to keep track of the stroke rating, the boat speed, time and runs the speaker system so that the rowers can hear the cox’n commands.

Crew - the group of people who row a racing shell, as in varsity crew or the sport of racing with racing shells, as in “He went out for crew in his freshman year.” Note in both of these instances, the word “team” is understood, but not used. There is no such thing as “crewing” or “crewing practice” or “crewers.”

Fin or Skeg – a small piece attached to the bottom of the shell that enables the boat to be steered by the rudder as water passes by it.

NB4, NG8, etc. – abbreviation for Novice Boys 4 boat and Novice Girls 8 boat, etc.

Novice - having less than one calender-year’s worth of rowing experience. In racing, a novice may row in a varsity boat, but a varsity rower may not row in a novice boat. See Varsity definition, below.

Oarlock – the device that the oar sits in, holds it attached to the boat and moves with the stroke to enable greatest reach. The height of the oarlock can be adjusted.

Parts of the Stroke:

  1. catch – the seat should be toward the stern, back and arms straight, arms fully extended, knees deeply bent, shins perpendicular to the water. The beginning of the stroke in the water.
  2. drive – straighten legs, slide seat toward bow, pull toward bow with trunk/torso. Keep arms out straight and at a constant level, keep knees between arms. Complete the drive by leaning back and pulling the oars to the abdomen.
  3. release – leaning back, lift the oar blades with a slight downward push on the handles, simultaneously twist the oar so as to feather the blade parallel to the water.
  4. recovery – extend arms forward, slide seat toward stern, bring thighs up to chest. Moving together and lightly so as to not interrupt the forward movement of the shell.

Power 10 – a call for rowers to do ten extremenly powerful strokes; it’s a strategy used to pull away from a competitor.

Ratio - the difference between the time taken for the drive and the recovery. The recovery should take approximately twice as long as the drive. This slows the rower down to avoid impeding the forward progress of the shell. Good ratio allows for more run of the shell in the water.

Rigger – a mechanism attached to the side of the racing shell that holds the oar with an oarlock. There are several adjustments on the rigger that contribute to boat speed.

Run - the distance a shell moves during the course of one stroke.

Set – the desired balance of a racing shell, to be level from side to side, to move through the water with the boat balanced evenly, thus maximizing effort to equal better boat speed.

Scull - a light, narrow racing boat for one, two or sometimes four rowers; each rower is equipped with a pair of oars. These oars are smaller than the oars used in sweep rowing.

Shell - a light, long, narrow racing boat, for rowing by one or more persons.

Stern - the back or rear of the boat.

Stroke - the rower closest to the stern. Stroke sets the rhythm for the boat; others behind him/her must follow the cadence he/she sets.

Sweep Rowing – shells for a pair, four or eight rowers; each rower is equipped with a single oar which stays in a fixed position on the boat.

Swing - the hard-to-define feeling when near-perfect synchronation of motion occurs in the shell, enhancing the overall speed and performance, the swinging of the body.

Varsity - having at least one calender-year’s worth of rowing experience. In racing, a novice (less than one year of experience) may row in a varsity boat, but a varsity rower may not row in a novice boat.

VG8, VB4, etc. – abbreviation for Varsity Girls 8 boat and Varsity Boys 4 boat, etc.