Glossary of Terms


Rowing boats are referred to as “shells.” The type or size of a shell is designated by the number of seats, and hence the number of rowers contained therein, and by the type of oar used. A slightly different terminology is used to differentiate sweep boats from sculling boats which contain the same number of seats.

Scull- noun- A rowing shell rowed with two oars per rower. “Jane rows in a double scull.”

Scull- noun- An oar used in a sculling boat. “Jane bought a new set of sculls.”

Scull- verb- To row in a shell with two oars. “Jane sculls with her friends.”

Skull- noun- The bone in your head. “Jane broke her skull when she crashed her bike.”

So, “Jane sculls in a scull with new sculls” is correct, but confusing.

Sweep Boats – Athletes with only one oar each.

Eight (8+) - An eight oared shell is the largest rowing shell and carries eight sweep rowers and is always rowed with a coxswain. Eights are usually between 50 and 60 feet long and weigh around 200 lbs. The eight is the fastest boat on the water, and the eight race is always the marquee event of a regatta.

Four (4+ or 4-) - A four oared shell holds four sweep rowers and may or may not have a coxswain. In the US, youth and collegiate fours always have coxswains. A four without a coxswain is called a “straight four.” Coxed fours are usually a little more than 40 feet long and weigh around 120 lbs.

Pair (2+ or 2-) - A pair is the smallest sweep boat with only two rowers and is considered the most difficult to row. The pair is a great training tool for teaching sweep technique. Coxed pairs are almost never seen on this side of the Atlantic.

Sculling Boats – Athletes with two oars – one in each hand.

Octuple or Oct (8x+) - The octuple is rarely used, and then only for novice rowers to help teach the fundamentals of sculling. The oct always has a coxswain, and is the heaviest and most stable of sculling boats.

Quad (4x or 4x+) - This is the largest and fastest sculling shell, with four rowers and eight sculling oars. The quad is usually rowed without a coxswain, and uses the same hull as the 4-. The coxed quad (4x+) uses the same hull as a 4+, and is primarily used as a training tool for younger rowers.

Double (2x) - Built for two scullers, the double is similar to a pair, and frequently uses the same hull with different riggers. Doubles are never rowed with a coxswain.

Single (1x) - Built for one sculler, the single is the smallest racing shell with no coxswain. A racing single is usually between 25 and 30 feet long and will often weigh less than 35 lbs.

Sweep vs. Scull

In the United States and Canada, sweep rowing is much more popular than sculling. Perhaps we just like things that are big and go fast, and so the marquee event at any regatta is the eight. In collegiate rowing, there are no dedicated sculling events, so most college rowers only scull in the summer when they row for clubs.

Crew vs. Rowing

The sport of rowing is frequently referred to as crew. Crew seems to be primarily used in North America, and then only for scholastic and collegiate rowing, which is dominated by big boat sweep rowing. You will rarely hear someone refer to small boat sculling as crew.

Crew is only properly used as a noun. So it’s correct to say that you “row crew” or that you are part of a crew, but you never go crewing, and you are never a crewer. The verb is “to row”, making you a rower. It is also somewhat redundant to say that you are on the “crew team”.

Paddle vs. Row

You paddle a canoe, with a paddle. You row a shell with an oar. The only time the word paddle is correctly used in rowing is then the rowers are at “paddle pressure” which is very light, barely moving, oar pressure.

Boat Positions

Each rower in the boat has a specific position and name. The bow rower, and usually the furthest from the coxswain, is “1 seat” (or usually just “bow”). In front of (actually behind them, since they are facing backwards) the bow person is the 2 seat, followed by 3 seat, 4 seat, etc…ending at the rower seated closest to stern, who is referred to as “stroke”, and never 4 or 8. The stroke is responsible for setting the rate for the other rowers to follow.

The coxswain is usually seated at the stern of the shell looking at and beyond all the rowers. The coxswain steers, motivates, and coordinates all the rowers in addition to executing race strategies during competition. They do not, contrary to what you see in movies, yell “stroke, stroke.” Some fours have the coxswain seated in the bow; this is referred to as “bow coxed” or a “bow loader”. These fours tend to be faster, especially in the fall races, but also harder to row and cox because the coxswain can’t see what the rowers are doing.


Sweep oars are usually 360-380cm in length while sculling oars are usually 270-290cm in length. Sculling oar blades are roughly 2/3 the size of sweep blades. The length of the oar will vary depending on blade type, experience level, the size of the boat, the size of the rowers, and the desired load.

Rowing Shell Parts


The forward end of the shell that goes through the water first. The rubber ball situated at this end is the “bow ball” and it is designed to prevent boats from tearing holes in each other should there be a collision. The “bow number” in a race will always be fastened to the bow deck.


The rear of the shell, the direction the rowers are facing.

Bow/Stern Deck

The flat surface on the bow or stern. This forms part of an air tight compartment that provides extra flotation in the event that the boat fills with water.


The bottom of the boat. Never step on or over the hull because of the shell’s fragility. The hull is composed of lightweight materials including honeycomb, carbon fiber, Kevlar,and some plastics.


The left side of the boat, from the coxswain’s perspective.


The right side of the boat, from the coxswain’s perspective


Pronounced “gunnel,” this is the upper side edge of the boat.


Or “splash guard” is located behind the bow rower and prevents water from spilling into the boat.


The curved crosspieces of a wood, metal or carbon fiber in the shell that form the boat’s frame. They are used for strength and sturdiness.


The moveable fin under the boat used to steer.

Seat Deck

The flat surface inside the boat where the seat tracks are mounted.


The fixed fin under the boat used for stability.


Grooved strips of metal or plastic upon which the sliding seat travels backward and forward.


Where the rower places his or her feet. They are adjustable towards the stern or bow of the boat.

Rigger Parts


The triangular shaped metal arm extending from the side of the boat which supports the oar. The rigger is removed from the boat during travel and re-attached using rigger bolts and rigger nuts.


The plastic device, shaped like a U with a hinged top, mounted on the rigger that swivels and holds the oar.

Top Bolt

The bolt Niskayuna awards to the most essential rower of each season and which holds the oarlock in place.


The metal brace which connects the top of the oarlock and the side of the shell.

Wing Rigger

The riggers that bolt to the top of the gunwale instead of the side of the boat. They are usually lighter than a traditional rigger, reduce drag in choppy water, and reduce flex in the hull during the rowing stroke.

Rowing Technique


Not to be confused with the position in the shell, the stroke is divided into two parts: drive and recovery.


The phase of the rowing stroke where the blade of the oar is in the water propelling the boat forward.


The phase of the rowing stroke where the blade is out of the water.


The end of the recovery, not the beginning of the drive. The hands are lifted, allowing the blade to fall in the water, just before the legs begin to drive.


The end of the drive, when the blade is taken out of the water and the recovery begins.


The motion of twisting the handle to flattening the blade during the recovery so that it is parallel to the water.


Refers to the motion of all the rowers swinging together into the finish of the stroke. “Swing” is more the feeling of synchronicity with the other rowers. Good swing will enhance the speed and performance of the crew.


The movement of the boat during the recovery when none of the blades are in the water. Coaches, coxswains, and rowers will measure the “run” of the boat by comparing oar puddles to see if the boat is moving efficiently.


The whirl of water left by the blade after it exits the water.


The amount of time the blade is in the water compared to the amount of time the blade is out of the water. The blade should be out of the water longer than it is in the water. This becomes more difficult at higher speeds.

Stroke Rate

The number of strokes per minute. This will be higher in lightweight boats, and in shorter races.


An increase in speed or acceleration of the slide toward the stern and stopping abruptly before the catch.


To “catch a crab” means to lose control of the oar and to allow the oar to be pulled down by the water. The oar handle moves backward into the rower’s body.


When the boat fills with water. Boats are designed to remain on the surface and provide flotation for the rowers even when full of water.

Common Coxswain Calls

Most coxswains’ calls have two parts. They will tell the rowers what to do, and then they will tell them to do it. Coxswains will, with time and practice, develop a rhythm or cadence to their commands, so the rowers will how long to wait for the second part of the command.

“In 2”

Usually a coxswain will give you a couple of strokes warning. So the command will be “Way’nuff in 2” and then the coxswain will count the next two catches before calling “Way’nuff”


Contraction of Way Enough. This is from the archaic English term “give way”, which meant “start rowing.” It means stop whatever you are doing, whether it’s rowing, walking…

“Hold Water”

This means drag your oar in the water to slow or turn the boat. This usually has more urgency than “check it”, and may not always have a way’nuff before it.

“Check It”

Similar to “hold water” but usually without the same urgency. Often used while docking, and may be used on one side of the boat to steer to that side without moving the boat forward.

“Sit Ready”

Usually followed by “at the catch/finish”. Rowers should come to the desired stroke position and be ready to row.

“Ready All, Row”

The command to start rowing once the rowers are prepared. “Row” should never be said if the rowers are not actually ready to row.