Rowing 101 - The Basics

What is rowing's appeal? See below for some frequently asked questions about your son or daughter's varsity rowing experience. 


Video: Why does my son/daughter row? 

Video: Are rowers the fittest athletes in the world? 

Do rowers row in boats by themselves or in a larger team? 

There are many different sizes of rowing shell and two different styles of rowing. See the image below for a detailed outline of the types of boats your athlete could be using. Chances are they will have tried all of the possible combinations!


Rowing looks complex! How does the rowing stroke work? 

Rowing definitely involves a complicated technique that requires a long learning curve. View the link below for an outline of the general rowing stroke. 

How do you row?


There is a lot of terms that I hear but have no idea what they mean. Is there a resource for this? 

See the following list for an in depth description of terminology in rowing! Glossary of Rowing


How do rowers progress through the program?

A student athlete will either express interest out of high school or begin as a novice rower while already at UBC. A Novice rower will typically spend one year learning the technique behind rowing and gaining strength and fitness on the ergometer. From their novice year the typical progress is to Junior Varsity and then Varsity crews to compete with the top 8 rowers on their respective teams. 

In Canadian university rowing, an athlete has five years of eligibility, meaning they are only able to complete at the University Championships (if selected) for a total of five times. 

Of course, the UBC Rowing program goal is to win a National Championship banner each year. Boats and teams are selected with this ultimate goal in mind, and athletes train with the aspiration of making their varsity boats to compete for the banner. 

How can I get involved as a parent or family member?

We have many opportunities to get involved, including hospitality, helping with sponsors and volunteering at regattas. If you are interested, contact the student executive at or contact our head coaches. 

Why are there so many practices on land?

Stamina, strength and technique are all needed for a successful rowing team. Running, weightlifting and sets on a rowing machine help to build these. The work done on land helps to maximize the experience once on the water. It is in these sessions that athletes bond as a team, learning to push themselves and eachother in a quest for higher levels of performance. 

What is an erg?

An ergometer or “erg” is a rowing machine. The rowing machine measures the time you rowed and how much power you generated and calculates a distance rowed from that information. The erg allows you to get a feel for how the parts of the stroke fit together without having to worry about the motion of the boat or coordinating your actions with another rower. A key function of many hours on the erg is that it builds stamina and strength.

What is a 2K test all about it?

A 2K test is the standard method to gage the power of an individual athlete.  It is a test of how fast a rower can go 2000 meters on a rowing machine. Although a good 2K time does not guarantee that someone will be a good rower on the water – it is indicative of their power which is a very critical element of rowing.  Rowers are expected to give this test everything they have – imagine a full sprint for 5:30 to 7:30 minutes. The erg test is a key element in how coaches evaluate rowers and is used by them to help determine what boats rowers will be placed in.

What’s a PR or PB?

PR or PB is an abbreviation for Personal Record or Personal Best, they are the same thing. It refers to the best time a rower has achieved on the erg for a particular type of piece. Achieving PR or PB is always good news, especially during testing periods.

What does a coxswain do?

The coxswain or “cox” is the person in charge of the boat and the rowers. They sit in the stern (back) of the boat and is the only person facing forward. There are many varied responsibilities. Keeping in mind that an eight person boat is almost 60 feet long, many factors can make steering a boat that long difficult – there is a delay in steering, there may be more power on one side, can be affected by wind and tide and to control speed and stopping you must be able to properly communicate to the entire boat. The cox, while steering has to keep track of the number of strokes and switch rowers in and out of a drill or set.  They also monitor to keep track of the stroke rate. The coxswain is also responsible for giving feedback to the rowers as they can tell whether they are moving together, whether they are at the correct stroke rate, whether one side of the boat is rowing more powerfully, etc.  Of course, a key component is the coxswain is expected to be able to motivate the rowers – knowing how to encourage the team to stretch for their full potential. In a race, the coxswain is responsible for the execution of the race plan and for making adjustments to reflect the actions of his or her own rowers and that of the competitor boats.

The coxswain has the overall responsibility for the safety of the boat when it is on the water, coming into dock and as it is being moved about on land. The cox is the person you will see walking with the boat when the others are carrying it, giving instructions to the rowers, ensuring they all move together.

What is “seat-racing”?

Seat racing is one input that coaches use in figuring out the final line-up for a boat. By having two boats race during practice, then switching one rower at a time and racing again, the coach can see what impact a specific rower in a specific “seat” has on a boat and what combinations of rowers are most effective. Seat racing most often occurs in the lead up to a regatta.


Pay attention to our team web sites, Twitter and other social media feeds for updates or delays, etc. Most regattas have websites and they usually allow you to download a “heat sheet” before the regatta. The heat sheets list the times of the races, as well as the lane assigned to each boat.

What is a head race?

There are two main types of races – sprints and head races. A sprint involves all the boats lining up at the start and the first one to cross the finish line wins. Sprints are most often 2000 meters. A head race is a race in which the rowers all start at the same place but at staggered times. The first boat goes and then the next boat chases it down the course while in turn being chased by the third boat and so on. You generally do not know who wins until the end when the times are announced.

What is the difference between first, second and third boats on the team?

The first boat is made up of the eight rowers and the coxswain that the coaches believe can row faster than any other potential combination, the first boat is the Varsity team. The second boat is the made up of the eight rowers out of the remaining rowers that can row fastest together this is the Junior Varsity (JV) or 2V boat. The third boat is the next eight, known as the 3V (3rd Varsity)

Do erg scores determine what boat an athlete will be selected to?

Erg score is only one of the considerations that a coach uses to determine the line-up in a boat. In order to make a top boat, a rower needs not only strength and stamina, but good balance and the ability to move in unison with his or her teammates. Additionally, the coaches are looking for athletes that they and the teammates can depend on. Power, skill and will are all part of the make-up of a successful rower. A team member who misses practices or who does not give full effort during practice may not get placed as highly as their skill level or power level suggests. 

Is there an expected uniform?

For all varsity races, athletes will be expected to wear the official UBC team unisuit.  The team members will have access to the order forms typically done through the team manager or member of the student executive. For most novice races they will be in predetermined UBC rowing shirts and black spandex shorts or leggings. The coaches will let them know what is expected.