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Rowing Terminology

Updated: Aug 22, 2021

Rowing- The Ultimate Sport

A Brief Intro to RowingTerminology

Welcome to the sport of competitive rowing! If your family has recently become involved in crew, you have probably heard some terms that you aren't familiar with. This guide was put together some years ago by other rower parents and is a good place to start to familiarize yourself with some of the terms you will hear from your kid or around the boathouse.






Bow: The forward section of the boat. The first part of the boat to cross the finish line.

Catch: The beginning of the stroke when the blade enters the water. The rower is fully compressed (knees bent, arms reaching forward) and the seat is forward on the slide. The blade is fully “squared” (perpendicular) to the water at this time.



Coxswain “Cox”: Person who steers the shell. He/She is the on-the-water coach for the crew.



Cox box: An electronic device used by coxswains, consisting of a headset microphone and speakers located through the shell which the cox gives commands to the crew.  Connected to sensors under a sliding seat, the cox box has readouts that can show speed, stroke rating, number of strokes and time rowed.

Crab (“Catching a Crab”): A stroke that goes bad. The oar blade slices into the water at an angle and gets caught under the surface.



Drive: The part of the stroke cycle where the Rower applies power to the oar. This consists primarily of the leg drive, then straightening the back, and finally pulling in the arms. Most of the power in the stroke is accomplished during the leg drive.



Ergometer (ERG): Is a rowing machine that closely approximates the actual rowing motion. The ERGs available to GBCC/Grassfield are Concept II model, which utilizes a flywheel and a digital readout so that the rower can measure strokes per minute and distance covered.


Finish: The blade comes out of the water and the legs are straight and the hands have finished pulling the oars into the body. When the blade comes out of the water it is immediately rotated or “feathered” so that it is parallel to the surface of the water.



Feather: Rolling the oar handle in your fingers so the blade is parallel to the water.


Gloves: Are NEVER used. When your hands blister, they blister. And then those blisters will have blisters.


Lightweight: Refers to the Rowers, not the boats. There is a maximum weight for each rower in a lightweight event, as well as a boat average.

Oar: Used to drive the boat forward. Rowers do not use paddles!

Port: The left side of the shell when moving forward. Oars on the port side are numbered 2, 4, 6 and 8 (stroke)

Power 10: A call for Rowers to do 10 of their best and most powerful strokes. It’s a strategy used to pull ahead of a competitor.

PR: (“Personal Record”): A Rower's fastest personal recorded ERG time to date.

Race Watching: The crew that’s making it look easy is most likely the one doing the best job. When watching a race, look for a continuous, fluid motion from the rowers, synchronization in the boat, clean catches, i.e. oars entering the water with little splash, and the boat with the most consistent speed.


Rigger: The triangular shaped metal device that is bolted onto the side of the boat and holds the oars. Run: The run is the distance the shell moves during one stroke. You can figure it by looking for the distance between the puddles made by the same oar.

Rowers: are Among the World’s Best Athletes. Rowing looks graceful, elegant, and sometimes effortless when it is done well. Don’t be fooled. Rowers haven’t been called the world’s most physically fit athletes for nothing. The sport demands endurance, strength, balance, mental discipline, and an ability to continue on when your body is demanding that you stop.


Rowing: is a Total Body Workout. Rowing only looks like an upper body sport. Although upper body strength is important, the strength of the rowing stroke comes from the legs. Rowing is one of the few athletic activities that involves all of the body’s major muscle groups. It is a great aerobic workout, in the same vein as cross-country skiing. It is also a low-impact sport on the joints.

Sculls: 9 foot oars used by scullers. Sculling is one of the two disciplines of rowing where the athletes use two oars or sculls.

Slide: The set of runners for the wheels of each seat in the boat.

Shell: boats are called shells, and they are made of lightweight materials; carbon fiber, fiberglass.

SPM not MPH: Rowers speak in terms of Strokes per Minute (SPM), literally the number of strokes the boat completes in a minute’s time. The stroke rate at the start is high – 38-45, even into the 50s for an eight – and then “settles” to a race cadence typically in the 30s. Crews sprint to the finish, taking the rate up once again.

Starboard: The right side of the shell when moving forward. Oars on the starboard side of a standard-rigged boat are the Bow, 3, 5, 7.  Note that for the rowers, starboard oars will be on their left.

Stern: The rear of the boat; the direction the rowers are facing.

Stroke: The rower who sits closest to the stern. The stroke sets the rhythm for the boat; others behind him must follow his cadence.

Sweep: One of the two disciplines of rowing – the one where rowers use only one approximately 12 foot oar. Pairs (for two people), fours (for four people) and the eight are sweep boats. Pairs and fours may or may not have a coxswain. Eights always have a coxswain.

Swing: The hard-to-define feeling when near-perfect synchronization of motion occurs in the shell, enhancing the performance and speed.

Teamwork: Rowing isn’t a great sport for athletes looking for MVP status. It is, however, teamwork’s best teacher. The athlete trying to stand out in an eight will only make the boat slower. The crew that is made up of individuals willing to sacrifice their personal goals for the team will be on the medal stand together. Winning teammates successfully match their desire, talent and blade-work with one another.





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