Rowing Terminology

The sport of rowing comes with it’s own set of terminology. There is even terminology for carrying and launching the boat! Below is a list of common words you will hear at a Learn to Row.


Oarlock – holds the oar and acts as a swivel during the drive and recovery.

Shaft – the long narrow “stick-like” part of the oar.

Rigger – the metal support that holds the oar. This is adjustable to make the participant more comfortable. But should ONLY be adjusted by very experienced rowers.

Port – this is the right side of the boat if you are rowing (on the left side of the boat for the cox).

Starboard – this is the left side of the boat if you are rowing (on the right for the cox).

Stern – the back of the boat, this is usually where the cox sits and is also where the fin and rudder are located.

Bow – the front of the boat, there should be a round rubber ball on the end, called a “bow ball.”

Fin – a short piece of medal toward the stern of the boat on the bottom of the hull. This helps to keep the boat moving in a straight line.

Rudder – this can be located in the stern of the boat or attached to the fin. It is used to steer the boat.

Slide – the two medal tracks that the seat slides on.

Stretchers – the slings that the crew puts the boat on in order to make adjustments or wash the boat.

Footboards – this is where the participant places her/his feet when sitting in the boat. These are adjustable to permit shorter or taller people to sit in the same position relative to the desired arc of the oar. Some boats have what are termed as clogs and other boats have shoes.

Decking – the plastic material which is used to cover the bow and stern of the boat where no one sits or steps on.

Coxswain (Coxie for short) – She/He is the person who steers the boat and gives the commands to the crews.

Stroke Seat – the rower who sits in the stern seat (the seat closest to the cox) and who is responsible for setting the rhythm and pace for the crew.

Sculling – the participant rows with one oar in each hand.

Sweep – the participant rows with both hands on the same oar.


Are you ready? ROW – the command to start rowing.

Let it run – the command to stop rowing.

Hold water – the command used to stop the boat. The blades are held squared in the water.

The Square – the blade stays perpendicular to the water and the position in which it is placed in the water and pulled through the water during the stroke.

Feathering – during the recovery, the blade is rotated so the spoon is carried flat on the water.

Inside hand – in sweep rowing, it is the hand closest to the oarlock.

Outside hand – in sweep rowing, it is the hand farthest away from the oarlock.

Catch a crab – the blade gets caught in the water as a result of going into deep or not getting the blade out fast enough at the release.

Hands on the boat – command for the crew to place themselves along the boat and put their hands on the gunwales, standing reading to lift the boat.

Shoulder height, ready up – crew lifts the boat and places the gunwales on their shoulders.

Down to the waist – crews lower the boat from their shoulders down to arms length or their waists

Walk it out, watch the riggers – crew carefully walks the boat out of the boathouse, watching carefully to ensure that the riggers do not bang on anything. Everyone should avoid chatter when carrying the boat except to call out a potential problem.

Over the head, ready up – the boat is pushed (with hands on both gunwales) from shoulder height to over the rowers’ heads with arms stretched straight.

Toe the edge – crew places foot at the edge of the dock to ensure that they do not place the boat on the dock (when rolling it into the water) and damaging it.

Roll it toward… – the rowers’ grab the cross pieces inside the boat (or ribs) and together roll the boat in the direction they are told. If the crew is going to put the boat onto stretchers, it is important that the boat be rolled away from the stretchers to avoid putting a hole in the boat.

Roll it, and in – slowly the crew rolls the shell toward the water to their waist and then pushes the boat away from themselves and the dock and gently places the boat in the water.

Water side, blades across – the water side blades are pushed out so that the collar is against the oarlock and the blade is feathered on the water. This provides stability while the participants are getting into the boat.

One foot in and down – participants step into the boat and sit on the seat and ALWAYS KEEP ONE HAND ON THE OAR.

Number off when ready – once participants are ready they call out their seat number starting with bow or seat number one, ending at stroke seat or seat number eight. This tells the cox that everyone is ready to launch.

Hand on the dock – participants place on hand on the dock in preparation to launch.

Lean away – in preparation to launch everyone leans in the opposite direction of the riggers that are closest to the dock.

Walk it down – after placing hands on the dock, leaning away from the riggers the crew pushing the boat along the dock until all oars are clear of the dock.


Catch – the catch is the point in the rowing stroke when the oar is placed in the water. It is a transition phase in the cycle, serving as the end of the recovery and the initiation of the drive. The arms should be straight; the shins should be as close to perpendicular as possible. The head should be level and the body should be sitting up with the back in a strong position.

Drive – the drive is the propulsive phase when the blade is secure in the water and the oar is pushing the boat ahead. During the drive, the legs generate the most force and start working as soon as the blade goes in the water. Then, the back starts to pull as soon as the hands come over the knees. The arms start to bend as the oar comes to a right angle position to the boat, and at this point the legs are almost straight and the back is nearly vertical.

Finish – the finish or also known as the release is the point in the stoke where the legs, back and arms have finished the work and the blade is taken out of the water square by pushing down on the handle of the oar. At the finish, the should be 10 – 15 degrees past perpendicular, the handle is pushed down and the blade is taken out of the water on the square, the blade is then feathered by rolling the handle into the finger tips as the oar is pushed away from the body.

Recovery – the recovery is the part of the stroke from the finish to the catch. During the recovery, the boat should run as far as possible so nothing should be done to interrupt the boat’s glide. There is a definite sequence to the recovery that can help maximize this glide or also known as RUN.

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