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What IS Crew?

Crew is the sport of competitive rowing. Boys and girls in long, narrow boats (called “shells”) race against each other in sprint races, usually 1500 meters or against the clock in longer 5-kilometer Head races. They compete against other rowers of similar age, weight or ability.

The concept is simple, and it’s easy to learn the basics. However, there’s an enormous amount of skill involved in propelling that narrow craft through choppy waters with 12-foot oars, and it takes more teamwork than practically any other sport.  It takes strength, endurance, balance, concentration, coordination, and the will to win that makes the athletes push through the pain to be the fastest boat on the water.  In fact, many say that rowers are the world’s finest athletes.



The term “boat” refers to a team or boat crew. It can be an eight, four, two (double), or even a single rower. Sweep rowing, where the rower has one 12-foot oar, generally have a Coxswain, this is the Boat Captain or known to the Oarsman as “Coaches Minion”. Coxswain who steers the boat and communicates to the Rowers through an on-board announcing system (the “cox box”) if that boat has one. The Coxswain sets the tempo for which the oarsman will row employing strategy to ensure their crew is able to keep up with other boats and have enough stamina left for their final kick towards the finish line.



Boats are classified by the number of rowers. With the “cox,” an “eight” will actually have nine members in the boat, similarly a “four” will actually have five members in the boat.

The vessel they sit in is a “shell,” a lightweight, streamlined boat with sliding seats and oarlocks extending over the side. They’re built for speed made of composite materials and are rather fragile. Sweep rowers control a single oar and scullers control two shorter oars, called sculls, that are approximately 9 feet long. The boat classification depends on the number of rowers in the boat whether they are sweep rowing (single 12-foot oars) or sculling (two 9-foot sculls). Sweep boat categories come in twos, fours and eights. Scullers row alone (singles), by twos (pairs), or fours (quads). All eights have a coxswain; twos and fours may or may not have a cox. GBCC has a mix of sweep eights and fours and sculling doubles and singles.

Boys and girls row separately in competition.  In each class there is a varsity eight, and there may be a second eight, third eight, etc. The junior eight is a class in which all the rowers must be younger than 17. There also are weight-classified boats, such as lightweights, in which no participant can be heavier than a specified weight.





When it comes to deciding a crew member’s place in a rowing team, there are two types of positions that the athlete may take. One is that of a rower, of which there can be several on a large team. The rowers sit with their backs to the bow, or front section of the boat, and they provide the propulsion via their use of their oars. In a crew of eight, the rowers are further split into technical-class. All seats or positions have a vital role in the boat. Rowers at the bow, keep the boat stable and balanced. Rowers in the middle of the boat are usually the “engine room” and provide strength and power. The stern pair of rowers, set the timing or cadence of the team’s rowing actions. The head of the boat is the other major position, known as the coxswain. The coxswain, or cox, has the responsibility of steering, motivating, and otherwise communicating with the team and leading them during the race. Individual rowers are identified by the seat they occupy, starting at the bow (front) with the 1 seat. Occupying the 8 seat, commonly known as the “stroke,” is an experienced rower who sets the cadence for the boat. The coxswain, usually present in any team of four or more, is not numbered.

There are lots of other terms to learn. Don’t worry. You’ll be speaking fluent “crew” in no time.

Feel free to ask any of the Varsity parents or rowers as you have more questions. You can always reach out to the board as well! They will be happy to walk you through it!