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Rowing Glossary


People new to rowing may find this glossary of rowing terms helpful.

This partial glossary uses three sources. The first is USRowing, which is a nonprofit organization recognized by the United States Olympic Committee as the governing body for the sport of rowing in the United States. For the official USRowing glossary of rowing terms go to: http://www.usrowing.org/About/Rowing101/Glossary.aspx

The second reference is Thomas C. Mendenhall’s “A Short History of Rowing” (1981), Charles River Books, Boston, Massachusetts. And,

A third reference is the glossary from Row2k at:
http://www.row2k.com/features/368/Rowing-101---Glossary/#.VxA51bD2bmQ.

Please send any additions and/or corrections to NavyLights.org.  

Glossary on Rowing
Bow (oar): The rower who rows in the one-seat, which is located closest to the bow.

Bow (shell): The forward section or nose of a shell; the first part of the shell to cross the finish line; the direction that coxswains face.

Bow four: The four rowers from bow-oar to four-oar in an eight.

Bow-side: All oarsmen with oars in the water on the same side of the shell as the bow-oar. In a standard port rigged shell the bow-oar is on the starboard side.

Bucket rig: An uneven alteration of riggers with the two and three riggers rigged on the same side and the other riggers rigged in various combinations but typically with the four and five riggers paired opposite of the two and three pair and the bow and stroke riggers rigged on opposite sides.

Button: A wide collar on an oar that keeps the oar from slipping through the oarlock.

Catch: The part of the stroke cycle when the oar is placed in the water followed by the drive.

Crab: To make a faulty stroke, such as one where the blade enters the water at a wrong angle and sinks too deep making it difficult or impossible for the rower to get the oar out of the water after the finish; sometimes refers to having the blade at a wrong angle and failing to enter the water at all.

Crew (rowing): A team of rowers in a racing shell. “Crew” is the American term for the sport of competitive rowing, which is internationally known as “Rowing”. The phrase “crew team” is redundant.

Drive (also Pull-Through): The part of the stroke cycle between the catch and the release. After the catch, the rower drives the oar through the water by using the legs to drive the seat from the stern end to the bow end of the tracks while simultaneously using the back and arms to pull the oar through the water.

Double: A sculling shell for two rowers. Doubles do not have coxswains. A double is denoted as 2x-.

Eight: A sweep shell for eight rowers. Eights always have a coxswain. An eight is denoted as “Eight”, 8, 8+, or VIII+.

Feather: To turn the blade over parallel to the surface of the water at the end of the drive (finish) in order to lessen the wind resistance of the blade which then facilitates the release to start the recovery; opposite of square.

Finish: The part of the stroke cycle just before the oar is taken from the water.

Flutter: The six-stroke start put into the race close to the end, which is used by a trailing boat in a close race but is extremely demanding on the crew. In many cases, a flutter is used as a desperation move when all other options have been exhausted. [Note: This definition of flutter is from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rowing_terms ]

Four: A sweep shell for four rowers. A four may or may not have a coxswain. A four with coxswain is denoted as “Four with”, 4+, 4/w, or IV+; a four without coxswain is denoted as “Four without”, straight four, 4-, 4/wo, or IV-.

FISA: Established in 1892, FISA is short for Federation Internationale des Societes d’Aviron, which is the international governing body for the sport of rowing.

Gate: A bar across the oarlock that keeps an oar in place.

German rig: The standard rig of a shell has the riggers alternated from bow-to-stern; however, in the standard rig configuration the shell is not truly balanced because the bow-side oars are two feet nearer the bow than the stroke-side. A German rig compensates for this imbalance by placing riggers four and five on the same side and then alternating the other riggers as in a standard rig but with the bow rigger on the stroke-side. German national coach Karl Adam originated this rigging with four and five on the starboard side.

Italian rig: An uneven alteration of riggers with the bow and stroke rigged on the same side and the other oars rigged in pairs on alternating sides.

Oar (oarsman): Rowers are often referred to as oarsmen or “oars” as in port-oar or starboard-oar or five-oar or six-oar.

Oar (sweep): Used to drive the shell forward in sweeps: rowers do not use paddles! Oars are between twelve-and-a-half to thirteen feet in length. Sculling oars are referred to as sculls.

Oarlock: A U-shaped swivel of cast metal or plastic which holds the oar in the rigger. The oarlock is mounted on the sill and rotates around a vertical thole pin with a gate at the top to secure the oar.

Pair: A sweep shell for two rowers. A pair may or may not have a coxswain. A pair with coxswain is denoted as “Pair with”, 2+, or 2/w; a pair without coxswain is denoted as “Pair without”, straight pair, 2-, or 2/wo.

Port: Left side of the shell while facing the bow.

Port-oar: Sweep rower who rows with one oar in the water on the port-side of the shell.

Port-stroke: A shell rigged with the stroke rigger on the port side.

Power-10: A call for rowers to do ten of their best, most powerful strokes.

Puddles: Whirls left in the water from the oar blade slipping as the rower pulls.

Quad: A sculling shell for four rowers. A quad may or may not have a coxswain. A quad with coxswain is denoted as “Quad with” or 4x+; a quad without coxswain is denoted as “Quad without”, straight quad, or 4x-.

Recovery: The part of the stroke cycle between the release and the catch in which the seat is returned to the stern-end of the slide while the oar is simultaneously feathered and then made ready for the catch.

Release: The part of the stroke cycle when the oar is taken from the water, which is then followed by the feather.

Repechage: A second-chance race which ensures that all rowers have two chances to advance from preliminary races when there is no seeding in the preliminary heats.

Rhythm: The proportion of the time occupied on the recovery to the time taken on the drive; effective rhythm helps produce the best results for the power expended.

Rigger (also Outrigger): A triangular shaped metal framework of two or three stays bolted to the side of a shell which supports the oarlock and is positioned about 30-inches out from the center of the shell.

Rower (also known as an Oarsman or Oar): Person who pulls one oar in a sweep rigged shell.

Run: The run is the distance the shell moves during one stroke. You can figure the run by looking for the distance between the puddles made by the same oar.

Scull (discipline): One of the two disciplines of rowing – where rowers use two oars (the other discipline is sweep). Singles (one sculler), doubles (two scullers), and quads (four scullers) are sculling shells. Singles and doubles never have a coxswain. Quads may or may not have a coxswain.

Sculls (oars): Sculls are shorter oars used in pairs by rowers for singles, doubles, or quads. Sculls are between nine-and-a-half to ten feet in length.

Sculler: A rower who rows with two oars – one in each hand.

Set: The shell’s balance which is established by the posture and timing of the rowers [especially the bow pair].

Shell: A term that is used interchangeably with boat.

Single: A sculling shell for one rower. Singles do not have coxswains. A single is denoted as 1x-.

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

Square: To turn the oar so the blade is perpendicular to the water; opposite of feather.

Standard rig: Uniform alteration of a shell’s riggers with the bow and stroke riggers rigged on opposite sides.

Starboard: Right side of the shell while facing the bow.

Starboard-oar: Sweep rower who rows with one oar in the water on the starboard side of the shell.

Starboard-stroke: A shell rigged with the stroke rigger on the starboard side.

Start: Five or six partial strokes used to start a sprints race that are at a high rate and in a certain pattern – three-quarter length stroke, followed by half, half, three-quarters, three-quarters, and then a full length stroke. The goal is to get the rowers off to a cohesive start and quickly build momentum. [Note: This “start” definition is from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rowing_terms.]

Stern: The rear of the shell, which is the direction that rowers and scullers face.

Stern four: The four rowers from five-oar to stroke in an eight.

Stern pair: The two oars closest to the stern.

Straight: Refers to a shell without a coxswain, e.g., a straight four or straight pair.

Stroke (also Rating or Cadence): Rate of oars striking the water or cadence; the number of strokes per minute that a crew is rowing.

Stroke (rower): The rower who rows in the seat closest to the stern. The stroke sets the rhythm and cadence for the crew.

Stroke (rowing motion): The complete cycle of the rowing motion which consists of the square, catch, drive, finish, release, feather, and recovery.

Stroke-side: All oarsmen with oars in the water on the same side of the shell as the stroke. In a standard port rigged shell the stroke is on the port side.

Sweep: One of the two disciplines of rowing – where rowers use only one oar (the other discipline is scull). Pairs (two rowers), fours (four rowers), and eights (eight rowers) are sweep shells. 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, which enhances performance and speed.

Tandem rig: An uneven alteration of riggers in which each pair of two adjacent riggers is rigged on the same side of the shell.