The sport of rowing, also known as crew, is a popular competitive activity with roots going back to the days of ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece. It is a form of boat-racing sport that involves a group of people working together using oars for propulsion. The boats used in rowing races are also known as shells, and in modern times, they are designed to be long and narrow to reduce drag and improve speed. Modern races are governed by the International Rowing Federation, known as FISA, and sanctioned crew sizes comprise of one, two, four, or eight people. There are two forms of rowing, which are called sweep and sculling. In sweep rowing, each athlete holds one oar with both hands, and in sculling, an individual rower manages two oars. Newcomers to the sport will want to know several basic factors involved in rowing, including the crew positions, the necessary rowing equipment, and the major racing categories.
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 the boat’s oars. In a crew of eight, the rowers are further split into technical-class rowers at the bow, who keep the boat stable and balanced, the powerhouse class of rowers in the middle, who provide most of the strength and power, and the stern or stroke-class rowers, who set the timing 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. The coxswain sits at the stern end and faces the rowing team, though in some cases they may sit in the bow position. The seating in a rowing crew is numbered, with the bow seat being number one, and in an eight-person crew, the rower at the stern is number eight. The coxswain, usually present in any team of four or more, is not numbered.
A rowing shell or boat depends on a specific set of equipment to function properly. Among the most important pieces of rowing equipment, aside from the body of the boat itself, are the oars, gunwale, skeg, rudder, oarlock, rigger, seat, foot stretcher, collar, and cox box. The oar is the instrument that the rowers need in order to provide propulsion for the race, and the most important part of the oar is the wide end, or blade, which goes into the water and induces forward motion. The oarlock and rigger, situated on the side of the boat, are used to keep the oar connected to the boat, and they are themselves secured to the boat by a gunwale. The collar is necessary to keep the oar from slipping. The rudder, located at the stern, is controlled by the coxswain and is necessary for steering, while the fin, or skeg, keeps the boat stable. The rowers themselves sit in a seat, and their boots are bolted into place with a foot stretcher. The coxswain communicates with their crew using a cox box, a device that amplifies the coxswain’s voice for the rowers to hear.
There are many categories when it comes to racing; however, the official classifications are defined as lightweight, heavyweight, single scull, double scull, coxed pair, coxless pair, quad scull, coxed four, coxless four, and eight. The lightweight category pertains to races involving rowers who may weigh no more than 72.5 kilograms for men or 59 kilograms for women. The heavyweight category is for those who weigh more than the limit for lightweights and is also referred to as open weight. Single scull racing refers to races where the crew consists of one person, while a double scull refers to a crew of two; in either case, each rower controls two oars apiece. A coxed pair is a crew of two rowers, each controlling one oar, with one serving as the coxswain for steering, while a coxless pair is a two-person team with no coxswain. A quad scull pertains to a race involving crews of four rowers, each with two oars. A coxed four is a crew of four rowers, each with one oar, and a fifth crew member who is the coxswain, while a coxless four has no coxswain. The category known as eight is defined as a race involving crews of eight rowers, each controlling one oar, being steered by a ninth crew member, the coxswain.
- Rowing Equipment and History: Equipment
- Rowing: Frequently Asked Questions
- Article III: Equipment
- Equipment Terminology
- Types of Rowers
- Rowing 101 General Information
- ABCs of Rowing
- Rowing Terminology and Definitions (PDF)
- The Basics of Rowing
- Rowing Classifications
- Beginning Rowing Course Reader (PDF)
- Rowing Handbook (PDF)