Rowing Terminology


Each rower has his back to the direction the boat is moving and power is generated using a blended sequence of the rower’s legs, back and arms. In other competitive forms of rowing the rower sits on a sliding seat with wheels on a track called the slide. However the longboats and skiffs used in the league are based on traditional designs and have fixed seats.

Basic terminology

Boat – the boat itself. Sometimes referred to as the shell.
Bow – the front end of the shell.
Stern – the back end of the shell, where the cox usually sits; also the end of the boat with the rudder.
Fin or Skeg – the fin under the stern of the boat which helps to keep the boat on course.
Rudder – a small, movable part that sits under the stern of the boat; allows the coxswain to steer the boat.
Tiller – an extension of the rudder to help steer the boat.
Bow Side -The person nearest the bow has their oar on this side.
Stroke Side – Celtic longboats are set up with a choice of sides – left or right. The person at the stern of the boat sets the stroke rate (for others to follow).
The boats are steered by the coxswain (Cox).  Coxes use a rudder to steer the boat, which they control using ropes that are connected to it. To help keep the boat on course, all boats have a small fin in the stern.
There are two types of rowing boats – rowing and sculling. Rowers have one oar each, while scullers have two oars each.


Oars are referred to as blades for rowing and sculls for sculling. They are made of carbon fibre although our older Pembrokeshire Longboats and the Skiffs are propelled by wooden blades. Wooden blades are heavier but can make the boat easier to balance for beginners.

Oars for the right (Starboard side) of the boat looking forward often have a green marking.
Oars on the left of the boat (Port side) often have a red marking

There are two basic types of oars:
Cleavers – the most commonly used type of oar, made out of fibreglass and carbon fibre. The shafts of the oars are hollow, making them as light as possible. Sometimes referred to as hatchets.
Macon – originally created in the 1960’s, was the blade of choice until cleavers came into existence. Macon blades are used for novices as they put less strain on your back if you have bad technique. The longboats retain their links with traditional sea-going pilot boats by using Macon-type Oars.
Blade or Spoon – the end of the oar that is placed in the water and used to propel the boat forward; also the oar itself is oftentimes referred to as a blade.
Shaft or Haft – the long, hollow length of the oar.
Collar or Button – a small plastic piece that is placed against the oarlock (or Gate) to keep the oar from slipping out.

The inboard of the blade can be adjusted by moving the collar along the sleeve to adjust the gearing of an oar. This is usually done in conjunction with the set up of riggers. _ cm can make a significant difference, therefore you should use oars set up for the boat you are using.

The Stroke

Catch – The point where the legs are compressed, the arms are stretched out, the body is angled forward and the blade is enters the water.
Drive – the part of the stroke where the legs are pressing down, then the back and arms swing backward, sending the body to the bow.
Finish – the point where the rower pushes down on the handle of the oar to pop the blade out of the water and begins to push the arms out of the bow.
Recovery – the time spent winding the body back up to the catch, it is like compressing a spring; first the arms extend, then the body angle is achieved, finally the legs are pulled up to the catch.
Square blades – keeping the blade perpendicular to the water on the recovery.
Feathered blades – keeping the blade parallel to the water on the recovery.
Crab – an unfortunate incident when the blade gets caught in the water and the handle of the oar hits the midsection of the rower; can result in getting tossed out of the boat. It is caused by the blade not entering into the water fully square (in the vertical position), when pressure is applied to the blade it will just go deeper and deeper in the water

Rowing Terminology

Hold it up – put the blades into the water at an angle, causing the boat to decelerate quickly.
Firm/Full Pressure – pull on the oar with 100% of your power.
Three Quarter Pressure – rowing with 75% of your power.
Half Pressure – rowing with 50% of your power.
Light Pressure – stop rowing with pressure and just lightly pull the blades through the water.
Back it down – push the oar backwards through the water to move the boat toward the stern.

Other Rowing Terms

Stroke – The rower sitting nearest the stern (and the coxswain, if there is one). The stroke is responsible for setting the stroke length and cadence (with the coxswain’s gentle advice).
Ratio or Contrast – The ratio of the recovery time to the drive time. In sliding seat boats the recovery time should always be longer than the drive time. Some say the recovery should be twice as long on the drive. In fixed seat boats such as the Celtic Longboats the recovery time is about equal to the drive time. This is because the shape of the longboat causes a faster deceleration time than the sleeker river based sliding-seat craft.
Rating – The number of strokes per minute. Also known as stroke rating.
Backsplash – This term is in reference to the water thrown back towards the bow direction (i.e. towards the direction of motion of the shell) by the blade as it enters the water at the catch. Many excellent coaches and rowers (please correct me if this has changed) would say that a small amount of backsplash is desired. This indicates that the blade has been properly planted in the water before the rower initiates the drive with the legs. Obviously (maybe it isn’t) the smaller the backsplash, the better it is. I suppose the ideal is, with a sufficiently quick catch, no splash at all.
Stern Check – Bad technique that slows the boat down. Essentially, the momentum of the rowers sends the boat in the opposite direction. Any abrupt deceleration of the shell caused by some uncontrolled motion within the shell causing an interruption in the forward motion of the shell. The coxswain is probably the most acutely aware of this abrupt deceleration.
Airstroke – The rower starts the drive before the catch has been completed (or even started in some cases). This is also referred to as rowing into the catch.
Skying – The fault of carrying the hands too low during the recovery especially when a rower dips his or her hands just prior to the catch (i.e. a sort of winding up). This usually results in the blade being too high off the water’s surface.
Puddles – A measure of your power (and of run). If your blade leaves behind little dinky ripples, then you’re not pulling hard enough. If you leave tidal waves after you pull your blade out of the water, then you’re pulling just right.
Pyramid – Strength/endurance building drill where the coxswain calls an increasing series of power strokes, then a decreasing series of power strokes. e.g. Power 10 – 10 normal strokes – Power 20 – 10 normal strokes – Power 10.
Ergometer (Erg) – An ergometer is a rowing machine that closely simulates rowing in a boat.

For more information see the Welsh Sea Rowing Association website