Glossary

Blade
The wide part of the oar that is used to move the boat through the water. The blade is painted with the school's colors and is a way to distinguish among boats at a distance and is a better way to identify boats as they pass (instead of looking at uniforms, which can often look alike).

Boat Party
A Friday night gathering at a rower's house held for carb loading for the next day's regatta. Parents take turns sponsoring the party, and the rest of the boat brings the food.

Boats (Shells)
The lineups that row in shells are commonly referred to as “boats.” The physical boat is itself called a “shell” or a “hull” – never a boat!

Rowers with only one oar are called sweep rowers. Rowers with two oars (one in each hand) are called scullers. Yorktown generally rows sweep shells, with oars alternating from either side of the hull. The various types of sweep shells include pairs, fours with and without coxswains (without are also called “straight fours”), and eights with a coxswain. At the high school level, you will normally only see fours with coxswains and eights with coxswains. Coxswains normally sit in the stern, where they can see the whole boat and communicate face-to-face with the stroke, but you may also see shells with the coxswain in the bow, lying nearly prone. This inhibits communications somewhat but reduces wind resistance and improves the weight distribution in the boat.

Here are some symbols you will see and what they mean:

  • Coxed Pair (2+) are two sweep rowers with a coxswain.
  • Coxless Pair (2-) are two sweep rowers without a coxswain.
  • Coxed Four (4+) are four sweep rowers with a coxswain.
  • Straight (or Coxless) Four (4-) are four sweep rowers without a coxswain. Steering is usually accomplished via a rudder that is attached to a cable that is connected to one of the rower's foot stretchers (this an adjustable bracket to which the rower's feet are secured). The coxless pair has a similar type of rudder setup.
  • Eight (8+) are eight sweep rowers with a coxswain. Eights are 60+ feet long and weigh about 250 pounds. A new, quality eight costs upward of $40,000.

Sculling shells are usually designated with an “x” instead of a “+” or “-”:

  • Double Sculls (2x) are two sculling rowers.
  • Quadruple Sculls (4x) are four sculling rowers.
  • Octuple Sculls (8x) are eight sculling rowers – faster than a sweep 8!
  • Because scullers carry two blades and are easier to steer by adjusting strength from one oar or the other, a coxswain is never required in these shells.

Bow
The front of the boat. Also the term used for the rower whose back is closest to the front of the boat, that is, the first rower to cross the finish line. This is also the #1 seat.

Button
A wide collar on the oar that keeps it from slipping through the oarlock.

Check
Any interruption in the forward motion of the shell. When this happens, you might see the coxswain fly forward. The most common culprit is when a rower rushes his/her slide (the moving seat), since the direction of that movement is opposite that of the shell.

Cox Box
An electronic amplifier for the coxswain's voice that plugs into a speaker system built into the shell, so that each rower can hear instructions. It also contains a stroke meter, which works from the magnet under the stroke's seat and measures the cadence, or strokes rowed per minute (also called “rating”).

Coxswain
The person who steers the shell and is the on-the-water coach, cheerleader, and strategist. Pronounced "cox-n." A knowledgeable coxswain can also serve as a coach for the rowers and can be the difference between winning and losing a race.

Crab
A problem encountered by a rower when the oar gets stuck in the water, usually right after the catch or just before the release. Called “catching a crab,” the problem is caused by improper squaring or feathering of the blade. The momentum of the shell can overcome the rower's control of the oar. The oar handle drives into the stomach and has the potential to throw a rower out of the boat entirely! Even if not that disastrous, “catching a crab” will interrupt or ruin the flow of the boat through the water.

Crew
Crew is the term for the rowing team, so you don't need to ask about the crew team – that is redundant! When the nine people that comprise a crew are in a shell, it is then a boat. You do not refer to an empty shell as a boat.

Deck
The portion of the bow and stern that is covered with fiberglass cloth (on older shells) or thin carbon-fiber (modern composite shells). Also called the “canvas,” again referring to the old material shells were made from. One might say that a boat beat another “by a canvas” or “by a deck.”

Erg
Short for “ergometer,” an erg is a rowing machine that closely approximates the actual rowing motion. The verb “to erg” means to work out on an ergometer. An “erg piece” is a particular set of work on the ergometer, such as rowing 2,000 meters. Erg tests are used by coaches to determine a rower’s aerobic and endurance capabilities. Ergathons are fundraisers that involve the rowers getting pledges for every meter rowed. Rowers use the Concept II rowing ergometer, which costs about $800-$1,100 new.

Feathering
When the blades are brought out of the water, they should all move horizontally at the same height, just above the water. Feathering is controlled by the rower’s wrist on the hand closest to the rigger and blade. The rower is “skying” if the hands are dropped too low before the catch, causing the oar blade to rise before it drops into the water. Proper feathering is always difficult, but is almost impossible in choppy water. The main reason that boats feather is to diminish wind resistance, even if just for a split second on every stroke’s recovery.

Foot Stretcher
An adjustable bracket in a shell to which the rower's feet are secured in some sort of shoe or clog. Modern shells include full sneakers that fit most rowers up to size 13 shoes. If your child has feet larger than size 13, contact a coach – we can order larger shoes!

Gate
The bar across the oarlock that keeps the oar in place. Novice rowers will often be reminded, “righty tighty, lefty loosy!”

Hatchet
A newer design of oar blade that has a bigger surface area than the standard (Macon, or Spoon) blade and has a hatchet or meat cleaver shape. The hatchets are a bit shorter than the standard blades but offer a firmer connection to the water.

Heads Up
An eight is 58 feet long, so it takes a lot of room to maneuver it. If you hear “Heads up!” someone is trying to move a boat in your vicinity, and you need to move! (Despite the phrase, it is usually a better idea to duck.

Jumping the Slide
Another problem encountered by a rower when the seat becomes derailed from the track during the rowing cycle.

Missing Water
The rower starts the leg drive before the catch has been completed (or even started in some cases). This is also termed "rowing into the catch". Rowers are taught to let the blade fall into the water using gravity, AND THEN begin to push the legs.

Oarlock
A U-shaped swivel that holds the oar in place. It's mounted at the end of the rigger and rotates around a metal pin. A gate closes across the top to keep the oar in.

Oars
Oars propel the boat through the water. Sweep oars are about 12-13 feet long. The shaft is made of composite fiberglass/carbon-fiber and the handles are either made of wood (sturdy) or composite rubber (lighter). They cost about $250 each.

Port
The left side of the boat when facing the bow—although rowers generally row either the port or starboard, it is a good idea to try to master both, if possible.

Race Rules
Crews are expected to be in the marshalling area above the course at least 10-15 minutes before their event, and at their starting stations 2 minutes before the scheduled time of the race. Once the boats are “locked on” (if there is a stakeboat), the referee at the start will supervise the alignment process. When there is no stakeboat to hold the shell’s stern in place, a “floating start” procedure is followed to try and align all the crews’ bow balls. When all crews are level, the aligner will raise a white flag and say, “We have alignment.” If a crew is not ready, its coxswain and bowperson should raise their hands. This time is also used for the coxswain to make corrections to the crew’s point. When all crews have been polled, and all hands are down, the starter raises a red flag, gives the commands “Are You Ready? GO!” and at the command “GO!” drops the red flag. Crews may break the plane of the starting line once the flag begins to move. Since the coxswain cannot see the starter, it is imperative that all rowers watch for this red flag – and begin the first stroke in unison!

In windy conditions, the starter may skip with polling the crews and use a “quick start.” Here, the starter says “Attention!” and if no crew responds, immediately raises the red flag and gives the starting commands. The starter will still recognize hands. In cases with urgent river conditions, when alignment proves difficult, a “countdown start” may be used. In this case, the starter begins a countdown, saying “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … Attention … GO!” During the countdown, hands are no longer recognized. A coxswain must make any last adjustments before the word “GO!”

Crews can be assessed a warning for a false start, for being late to the start, or for traffic rules violation. A crew that receives two warnings in the same race is excluded from the event. However, a crew that does not start the race FOR GOOD REASON (e.g. they would have proceeded unsafely and collided with another crew) are told NOT to row at the start. If they had legitimate reason not to row, the starter will restart the race with no penalty to the non-moving crew.

If a crew breaks equipment in the first 100 meters of the race, it should stop rowing and signal to the umpire, who will then stop the race. Broken equipment does not include a crab or jumped slide, but does include a broken oar handle, backstay or other rigger part, or rudder failure.

Once the race has begun, the referee follows in a launch. The referee will instruct a crew only to avoid a foul or safety hazard. If a crew is about to interfere with another crew, the referee will raise a white flag, call the crew's name, and drop the flag in the direction where the crew should move. If a crew is about to hit a known obstruction (such as a bridge abutment), the referee will raise a white flag, call the crew, and yell “Obstacle!” or simply “Stop!” If the referee needs to stop the entire race, he or she will ring a bell or sound a horn, wave a red flag, and call out “Stop!” if necessary.

A crew that wishes to protest the race must raise a hand after it crosses the finish line and lodge the protest with the referee.

Racing Distance, Set-Up, and Duration
The standard racing distance is 1,500 meters and usually has six shells racing against each other in separate designated lanes, which may or may not be marked by buoys. These races can take anywhere from 5 1/2 to 8 1/2 minutes, depending on boat class, weather conditions, water current, and the physical condition and experience of the rowers.

Race Divisions
The races have separate divisions—Men's (M), Women's (W), heavyweight (HWT – for men), openweight (OWT – for women), or lightweight (LWT), etc., and are then divided up into 8+s, 4+s, 1xs, 2xs and so on. For a typical regatta, you might see separate races scheduled for M8+, W8+, M4+, W4+ down to W1x and M1x. There are also divisions for varsity categories, such as 1V, 2V (or JV), 3V and so on. There may be separate heavyweight and lightweight divisions that require a weigh-in for the lightweights some time before the start of the regatta.

Races
There are two types of races: head races and sprints. Head races are usually held in the fall, and sprints in the spring. Sprints are 1,500 meters for high school teams and 2,000 meters for college teams. In sprints, boats race directly against each other in lanes on a marked straight or nearly straight course. In larger meets, there will usually be qualifying rounds, a semifinal or repêchage (second chance race) then petite finals for non-qualifying boats and grand finals for the top finishers in the qualifying rounds. Qualification is by placement, not by time, that is, a second place boat in one heat will qualify before a fourth place boat in another, even if the fourth place boat had a better time. Head races are longer, usually 2.5 to 3.5 miles, and are timed events. Boats start typically at 15-second intervals and all race the same course, often with many turns, following the course of the river.

Regattas
Regattas are organized boating competitions. Yorktown’s regattas are held around the area in Georgetown, the Occoquan, and Anacostia; water training is run out of Thompson Boat Center on the Potomac River. Regattas are usually held on Saturdays and last most of the day. Rowers generally leave before 7 a.m. on the bus and return before 5 p.m. The regatta schedules are usually available a night or two before a race and will be posted on the website. Rowers will be notified of their race schedule on the day before the event. Volunteers staff the regattas. Please be courteous and supportive — it may be you working the next one!

Rigger
The triangular-shaped metal device that is bolted onto the side of the boat and holds the oars. For all you budding physicists, this is the load-bearing mechanism that takes your energy and converts it into boat-moving power! The rigger acts as a gigantic lever, with the oarlock as the fulcrum.

Rowing Cycle
Starting with the rower at rest with legs fully extended with the oar blades immersed in the water (ideally) perpendicular to the water's surface.

Release — A sharp downward (and away) motion of the hand which serves to remove the oar blade from the water and start the rowing cycle. Well, there is some discussion on when the stroke cycle really starts ...

Feathering — The act of turning the oar handle so that the blade goes from a position perpendicular to the surface of the water to a position parallel to the water. This is done in conjunction with the release.

Recovery — Part of the rowing cycle from the release up to and including when the oar blade enters the water.

Squaring — A gradual rolling of the oar handle so that the blade goes from a position parallel to the water to a position (almost) perpendicular to the surface of the water. This is accomplished during the recovery portion of the rowing cycle and is done in preparation for the catch.

Catch — The point of the rowing cycle at which the blade enters the water at the end of the recovery and is accomplished by an upward motion of the arms only. The blade of the oar must be fully squared at the catch.

Drive — The part of the rowing cycle when the rower applies power to the oar. This is a more (or less) blended sequence of applying power primarily with a leg drive, then with the back, and finally with the arms. Rowers are taught to push the legs when initiating the drive, rather than pulling the arms.

Finish — The last part of the drive before the release. The power is still mainly coming from the pressure of the legs against the foot stretchers; although the movement at the finish appears to come from the back and arms, these are merely sustaining the energy begun by the leg drive.

Layback—The amount of backward lean of the rower's body at the end of the finish.

Seat
In an 8, each seat has its character and responsibility. Seats are counted from the farthest from the cox’n (1) to the closest (8). Seat 1 leads the travel and crosses the line first.

  • Seat 1 - Bow (see description above).
  • Seat 2 - Seats 1 & 2 are generally the quickest and lightest and help steer the boat.
  • Seat 3 -6 - Strongest rowers giving power and speed to the boat.
  • Seat 7 - Seats 7 & 8 set and maintain the rate of stokes.
  • Seat 8 - Stroke (see description below).
  • Cox’n - Adjusts technique and strategy during race.

Set (of a Boat, a.k.a. the Keel)
The balance and feel of the boat. The most efficient boats are balanced evenly over the center line and remain so throughout the strokes. Things that can affect the set of the boat are the rower's posture, hand levels, rigging, timing at the catch and release, and outside conditions such as the wind. If rowers are not aligned properly, or a rower swings off center as part of his or her motion during a stroke, or if rowers on one side of the boat are pulling with more or less force than the other side, the set of the boat can be altered, introducing drag into its motion. It is not unusual for rowers within a shell to disagree on what needs to be done to establish a “good” set, that is, a level, stable shell that will provide the basis for this poetry of motion.

Skeg
A small fin located underwater along the stern section of the hull. This helps to stabilize the shell in holding a true course when rowing. All racing shells have a skeg. The skeg should not be confused with the rudder, which is usually connected to the shell just behind the skeg.

Skying
The mistake of carrying the hands too low during the recovery, which consequently causes the oar blade to “sky” into the air. This occurs especially when a rower dips his or her hands just prior to the catch (i.e., a sort of winding up followed by a “hard” catch). This usually results in the blade being too high off the water's surface, requiring over-compensation to correct in the split second before the catch.

Slide
The tracks in which the slides are set, allowing the seats to move back and forth as the rower completes his or her movement.

Slings
Collapsible/portable frames with straps upon which a shell can be placed temporarily.

Starboard
The right side of the boat when facing the bow.

Stern
The back of the boat.

Stretcher
Where the rower's feet go. The stretcher consists of two inclined footrests that hold the rower's shoes. The shoes are bolted into the footrests. (Socks not included!)

Stroke Rate
The number of strokes per minute that the team is rowing. At the start of the race, the rate can be as high as 40 for an eight, then settles to the low 30s for the body of the race, and then may move back to the low 40s for a finishing sprint.

The Stroke
The rower sitting nearest the stern (and the coxswain). The stroke is responsible for setting the stroke length and cadence (with the coxswain's input).

Weight Classifications
There are basically two weight classes for rowers: heavyweight (HWT) and lightweight (LWT). For men’s lightweight boats, there is a 160-pound individual limit. For women’s lightweights, the individual limit is 130 pounds.