Rowing Glossary


SWEEP – Rowing with one oar on one side of the boat. The length of the oar is about 12 feet long.

SCULLING – Opposite of sweep. Sculling is rowing with two oars (an oar on each side of the boat). The length of each oar is about 9 feet long.


There are four different SHELL SIZES, distinguished by the number of rowers in the shell (8, 4, 2, or 1). The symbol following the shell size indicates whether with a coxswain (+) or without a coxswain (-), or whether it is a sculling boat (x). The  image above is of stern coxswained eight-oared shell (8+).

BOW – End of the boat closest to the direction of travel.  Also can be used to refer to one-seat, or in conjunction with either four or pair. Bow-four refers to seats four through one. Bow-pair refers to seats two and one.

STERN – End of the boat farthest from the direction of travel. See diagram. Also can be used in conjunction with either four or pair. Stern-four refers to seats eight through five. Stern-pair refers to seats eight and seven.

PORT – Side of the boat to the coxswain’s left and to the rowers’ right. See diagram. Known in some countries as STROKE SIDE.

STARBOARD – Side of the boat to the coxswain’s right and to the rowers’ left. See diagram. Known in some countries as BOWSIDE.

BLADE  – The face of the oar that pushes against the water.

OARLOCK – Square latch to hold the oar and provide a fulcrum for the stroke against the rigger

RIGGER – An apparatus on the side of the boat to provide a fulcrum for the lever (oar).

FOOT STRETCHER – Part of the boat where the shoes are attached and where the rower pushes his legs against on the drive.

SLIDE – The tracks in which the rolling seat rolls .

SPLIT – The time to row the equivalent of 500 yards on an Erg.

KEEL – The steadiness of the boat. If the boat alternates leaning from side to side, it is a sign of bad technique.

RUDDER – A little fin on the bottom of the boat that the coxswain can control to steer the boat.

COXSWAIN – A very important member of the crew. Their primary job is steering, but also provides race feedback about location on the course and relative to the other crews and stroke rate per minute. They serve as an in the boat coach during races. They do call “power tens” and encourage, but don’t go “stroke, stroke, stroke.”

COX BOX – A small electronic device which aids the coxswain by amplifying his/her voice, and giving him a readout of various information.

COACH  – someone who follows the boat in a motor launch or on a bike on the bank yelling through a loudspeaker.


STROKE – One full motion to move a boat. Consists of the catch, drive, finish, and recovery. Can also be used to refer to eight-seat.

CATCH – The part of the stroke where the oar enters the water. See How To Take a Stroke.

CHECK – Bad technique that slows the boat down. Essentially, the momentum of the rowers sends the boat in the opposite direction.

DRIVE – Part of the stroke where the rower pulls the blade through the water using legs, back and arms to propel the boat.

LEG DRIVE – Term used for driving the legs against the foot stretchers on the drive.

LAYBACK – Term for how much you lean back at the finish. Too much is bad, too little is, well, bad also.

FINISH – Part of the stroke after the drive where the blades come out of the water.   The rower removes the oar from the water, by first pushing downward then away with the hands.

RELEASE – Another term for finish.

FEATHERING – Rotating the oar in the oarlock so that the blade is parallel to the surface of the water.

RECOVERY – Part of the stroke where the rower comes back up the slide slowly towards the catch. The oar is pushed away from the body by extending the arms, reaching the body forward and compressing the legs so the shin is vertical, preparing for the next Catch. The oar should not drag on the water.

STROKE RATE – How fast a stroke is being taken. In terms of strokes per minute.


“READY ALL, ROW” – Coxswain call to begin rowing.

“WAY-ENOUGH! ” – Coxswain call to have all rowers stop rowing. Call actually sounds like “way-nuff”.

“CHECK IT DOWN! ” – Coxswain call that makes all the rowers drag their oarblades through the water perpendicularly, effectively stopping the boat.

“HOLD WATER! ” – Coxswain call. Another way of saying CHECK IT DOWN.

“LET IT RUN! ” – Coxswain call for all rowers to stop rowing and to pause at the finish, letting the boat glide through the water and coast to a stop. Used as a drill to build balance.

ONE FOOT UP, AND OUT” – command for exiting a team boat. Procedure: The outside hand holds the oar(s) away from the body. The inside hand holds the gunwale to the dock. The inside foot is removed from the foot stretchers and placed on the step-in board, the body weight is shifted forward as the athlete stands supporting himself on their inside leg. The outside foot is placed on the dock and you get out of the shell.

MISSING WATER – Bad technique where you aren’t moving the blade through the water as much as you could. Usually caused by not getting the blade in the water soon enough at the catch. Therefore, missed water equals less movement of the boat.

WASHING OUT – Similar to MISSING WATER except it means taking the blade out of the water too soon at the finish.

“POWER 10” (or 20 or 30 etc.) – Coxswain call to take a certain number of power strokes. A power stroke is a stroke that musters all the strength you can give.

RUN – The distance the boat moves after a stroke. Long run is very good. Run can be visually measured by the distance between the last puddle made by two-seat and where eight-seat’s blade enters the water.

RUSHING THE SLIDE – Bad technique that causes check. Comes from coming towards the catch from the recovery too fast.

SKYING – Bad technique where the blade is too high off of the surface of the water at the catch.

CRAB – A stroke that goes bad. The oar blade slices into the water at an angle and gets caught under the surface. A bad crab can catapult you out of the boat.

ERG (ERGO/ERGOMETER/ERG MACHINE) – A rowing machine designed to simulate the actual rowing motion; used for training and testing.

REGATTA – An organized crew race.

HEAD STYLE RACING is done in the fall and can be done on river, where there are twists and turns. The shells do not line-up, but race against the clock, after starting one behind the other. You need not pass another crew to beat it, but if you pass someone that started in front of you, you have surely beat their time. The race distance is usually 3 miles long.

SPRINT RACING is done with the crews starting with the bow of their shells even a racing parallel to each other. They start together, and the first crew to cross the finish line wins. We do this racing in the spring.  On the collegiate level and internationally, the race distance is 2000 meters.   High school race 1500 meters.   Master rowers (age 27 and older) race 1000 meters.

NOVICE – a rower in their first 12 months of rowing. Since it takes most people a while to refine the basics of rowing and racing, they can row against others of similar experience level.