Rowing Terminology



Boats are divided into two classes: shells and sculls. In both kinds of racing boats, rowers feet are tied into shoes built into the boat (they wear socks not shoes to race). They move back and forth on seats that roll on a track about 2.5 feet long and have swivel oarlocks allowing them to power their oars.

Rowing Shells

Athletes with two oars — one in each hand — are called scullers. There are three sculling events: the single, the double, and the quad. Shorthand for these events are “1x,” “2x”, and “4x”, etc. In a scull, each rower has two oars that are approximately 9.5 feet long.

Athletes with only one oar are sweep rowers who race in shells. In a shell, each rower has only one oar that is 12 feet long. Sweep events are the pair, four, and eight. Pairs and fours can come with a coxswain (2+ and 4+) and without (2- and 4-). Eight (8+) always carries a coxswain. The eight is the fastest boat on the water.

Eight-oared shells are about 60-feet long – that’s 20 yards on a football field.

An “eight”, which carries more than three-quarters of a ton (1,750 pounds), may weigh as little as 200 pounds. The boats are made of fiberglass composite material.

“Singles” may be as narrow as 10 inches across, weigh only 23 pounds, and stretch nearly 27-feet long.


In the sport of rowing, each rower is numbered by boat position in ascending order from the bow (front) to the stern (back) (with the exception of single sculls).

Boat Seats

The coxswain (pronounced “cox-in”), or “cox”, steers the boat with a rudder and serves as the in-the-boat coach, carrying out the coach’s plan. To carry out the race (or training) plan, the cox calls “power pieces” (e.g., 20 hard strokes) and stroke rate, which the rower facing the coxswain (“the stroke“) must instigate.  And the cox also serves as chief motivator, calling out encouraging information (e.g., “I’ve got Edgewater’s stroke” or “Give me Lyman’s bow ball!”).

Stern Pair. The “stroke” is the rower closest to the stern of the boat. Everyone else follows the stroke’s timing – placing their blades in and out of the water at the same time as stroke. The stroke 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 establish the crew’s rate (number of strokes per minute) and rhythm. (In coxed boats, the coxswain will assist the stroke in establishing the rate). Because of the great responsibilities, the rower in the stroke seat will usually be one of the most technically sound members of the boat.  The next rower (“seven” in an eight) sits directly behind stroke and is typically both fit and skilled: this rower acts as a buffer between the stroke and the rest of the crew. They closely follow the rhythm set by the stroke and help transmit this rhythm to the rest of the boat, and particularly to the rowers rowing on the same side as seven, since rowers tend to look at the blades on their side of the boat to check their timing. If the strokeman increases or decreases the stroke rate it is essential that seven follows this change so that it is translated to the rest of the crew. Number seven usually watches the back of number 8 so that they can time when to move up the slide and copy their rhythm.

Middle Crew. The middle rowers of a crew (numbers 2 and 3 in a four, and 3, 4, 5 and 6 in an eight) are normally the most powerful and heaviest rowers, colloquially known as the Fuel Tank, Engine Room, Power House or Meat Wagon. The boat pitches and yaws less in the middle, and the rowers there have less effect on these movements, being closer to the center of mass and center of buoyancy. Therefore the rowers in the middle of the boat do not have to be as technically sound or reactive to the movements of the boat, and can focus more on pulling as hard as they can. It is common practice among crews to put the most technically proficient rowers at the bow and stern and the physically strongest and heaviest rowers in the center.

Bow Pair. The rower closest to the bow of the boat, is usually called either “bow” or the “bowman”. In coxless boats, the bowman is often responsible for giving calls to the crew. The bow pair of bow and “two”, who are the two rowers closest to the boat’s bow, are more responsible for the stability (called “set“) and the direction of the boat than any other pair of rowers, and are often very technical rowers. The bow of a stern-coxed boat is subject to the greatest amount of pitching, requiring the bow pair to be adaptable and quick in their movements.

Boats that are bow coxed rely on communication between the bowman and the cox – as the cox cannot see boats coming up from behind. Bowmen tend to be the smallest of the rowers in the boat.


Coxswains are petite, but not too petite. The FISA (International Rowing Federation) requires that coxswains in men’s crews weigh a minimum of 55 kilograms (121.25 lbs) in racing uniform. For women, the weight minimum is 50 kilograms (110.23 lbs) in racing uniform. If a cox is underweight, he/she must carry sandbags to bring them above the minimum.

Lightweight men cannot weigh more than 155 pounds for Junior rowers (18 and under) and the average weight of the entire boat cannot exceed 150 pounds.

Lightweight women cannot weigh more than 135 pounds for Junior rowers (18 and under) and the average weight of the entire boat cannot exceed 120 pounds.

Coxwains and competitors in the lightweight category must weight in for every race.


 In coxless pairs, quadruple sculls and coxless fours, one of the rowers will be designated to steers.  They will control the rudder using lines attached to the toe of one shoe, which pivots around the ball of the foot.  The rower who steers is chosen according to experience and the nature of the course on which the boat is rowing: bow has a clear view ahead when looking over one’s shoulder, whereas stroke may be able to steer well on a straight course by pointing the stern at a reference point.  A rower steering in the middle of a four or quad is not uncommon, since bow and stroke have other duties already.


  • Rigging is how the boat is outfitted, including all of the apparatuses (oars, outriggers, oarlocks, sliding seats, etcetera) attached to a boat that allow the rower to propel the boat through the water. The following terms are often associated with a boat’s rigging, along with other often used terms for equipment used in rowing.
  • Blade  The spoon or hatchet/cleaver shaped end of the oar. Also used to refer to the entire oar.
  • Bowloader/ bowcox / bow steered   A shell in which the coxswain seat is near the bow of the boat rather than its stern. The seat in a bow loader partially enclosed and is designed so that the coxswain is virtually lying down, in order to reduce wind resistance and distribute coxswains weight so as to create a lower center of gravity.
  • Bow The front section of a shell; the first section of the shell to cross the finish line.[6]
  • Bow Ball  A 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 used in deciding which boat crossed the finish line first in very close races.
  • Bow Number  A card displaying the lane number assigned to the boat for a race.
  • Collar / Button  A wide plastic ring placed around the sleeve of an oar. The button stops the oar from slipping through the oarlock.
  • Cox Box Portable voice amplifier; may also optionally incorporate digital readouts displaying stroke rate, boat speed and times.
  • Coxmate
  • A portable amplification device, similar to a coxbox, incorporating a digital readout. Higher models may also have a built in radio and speed sensor.
  • Ergometer(also ergo or erg)  An Indoor rowing machine.
  • Foot Stretcher  An adjustable footplate, to which a pair of shoes is typically attached, which allows the rower to easily adjust his or her physical position relative to the slide and the oarlock. The footplate can be moved (or “stretched”) either closer to or farther away from the slide frontstops.
  • Frontstop  The stop mechanism on the seat slides which prevents the rower’s seat from falling off the sliding tracks at the front end (towards the boat’s stern) of the slide tracks. Also, in the UK, the sliding seat position closest to the boat’s stern. As a command, it instructs the crew to adopt this position. (The US calls this seat position the “front end”)
  • Gunwales(pronounced: gunnels) The top rail of the shell (also called Saxboard)
  • Handle The part of the oar that the rowers hold and pull with during the stroke.
  • Hatchet blade  Modern oar blades that have a more rectangular hatchet-shape and which are not symmetrical. (also cleaver blade)
  • HullThe actual body of the shell.
  • Inboard The length of the oar shaft measured from the button to the handle.
  • Keelson A structure timber resembling the keel, but on the inside of the shell.
  • Launch A motorboat used by rowing instructors, coaches or umpires. Referred to as a “coach boat” in Canada.
  • Leather/Sleeve  A thick piece of leather (plastic on modern oars) around the oar to keep the oar lock from wearing out the shaft of the oar (typically wood or carbon fiber).
  • Lines The ropes held by the coxswain to control the rudder.
  • Loom  The part of the oar between the blade and the handle.
  • Oar A slender pole which is attached to a boat at the Oarlock. One end of the pole, called the “handle,” is gripped by the rower, the other end has a “blade,” which is placed in the water during the propulsive phase of the stroke.
  • OarlockThe rectangular lock at the end of the rigger which physically attaches the oar to the boat. The oarlock also allows the rower to rotate the oar blade between the “square” and “feather” positions. Also historically called ‘Rowing Gate’ by some manufacturers.
  • Outboard  The length of the oar shaft measured from the button to the tip of the blade.
  • Outrigger(See Rigger)
  • Pin The vertical metal rod on which the rowlock rotates.
  • Pogies/Poagies  A type of mitten with holes on each end, which allow the rower to grip the oar with bare hands while also warming the hands, used frequently by rowers in colder climates.
  • Portor Portside (US) The left side of the boat when facing forward. (Strokeside in UK)
  • Ribs The name given to that part of the boat to which the skin of the hull is attached. They are typically made of wood, aluminum or composite materials and provide structural integrity. (see also shoulder).
  • Rigger  Rowing slang name for an Outrigger. It is a projection from the side (gunwale) of a racing shell. The oarlock is attached to the far end of the rigger away from the boat. The rigger allows the racing shell to be narrow thereby decreasing drag, while at the same time placing the oarlock at a point that optimizes leverage of the oar.
  • Roller  The wheels upon which the seat slide travels along its track.
  • Rudder Adjacent to the skeg and used by the coxswain (or in some coxless boats, by a rower using a “toe” or foot steering mechanism) to steer the boat via attached cables.
  • Scull  (a) An oar made to be used in a sculling boat where each rower has two oars, one per hand (b) A boat (shell) that is propelled using sculling oars, e.g., a “single scull,” is a one-person boat where the rower has two oars.
  • Seat  Molded seat mounted on wheels, single action or double action. Single action is fixed bearing wheel, double action is wheel on axle that rolls on track and rolls on horns of seat. A secondary meaning of location in the shell, the bow seat is one, and is numbered upward to the stroke seat (8, in an 8-man shell). Thirdly can mean a competitive advantage in a race, to lead a competitor by a seat is to be in front of them by the length of a single rower’s section of a shell.
  • Seating Seating positions in a racing shell are generally numbered from the bow to the stern. Generally the forward most rower is called the “Bow” and the aft most rower the “Stroke”, regardless of the number of rowers in the boat, with all other seats simply being numbered.
  • Shell The boat used for rowing.
  • Shoulder  Load bearing supports that mount rigger and attach to keel of boat. (also knee)
  • Skeg(or fin) Thin piece of flat metal or plastic that helps stabilize the shell in the water.
  • Slides (or tracks)  Hollow rails upon which a rower or sculler’s sliding seat will roll. Older shells might be convex rails with double wheels.
  • Slings  Folding, portable temporary boat holders. Two are required to hold a boat.
  • Speed Coach  A device mounted on the keel of some high-performance shells that determines the boat’s speed based on the speed of a small propeller and transmits this information to the coxbox.
  • Starboard(or Starboard side) The right side of the boat when facing forward.
  • Starting Gate  A structure at the starting line of the race. The shell is “backed” into the starting gate. Once in the gates a mechanism, or person lying on the starting gate, holds the stern of the shell.
  • SternThe rear section of a shell.
  • Stretcher  A slang abbreviation for Foot Stretchers.
  • Toe  In some boats without a coxswain, a rower may be able to control the rudder and steer the boat by changing the direction his foot points. This is called “toeing a boat.” And the mechanism is called a “toe.” (also: “foot steering”)
  • Top-Nut The nutwhich screws onto the top of the pin holding the Rowlock in place.
  • Tracks (see Slides)
  • Wheel (see Roller)

Sources: and

Oxford Boathouse, Lake Ridge Marina, Woodbridge, VA