Rowing is the act of propelling a boat using the motion of oars in the water by displacing water to propel the boat forward. Rowing and paddling are similar but the difference is that rowing requires oars to have a mechanical connection with the boat, while paddles (used for paddling) are hand-held and have no mechanical connection.

This article focuses on the general types of rowing, such as the recreation and the transport rather than the sport of competitive rowing which is a specialized case of racing using strictly regulated equipment and a highly refined technique.[1]

Palokkajarvi (2095922016)
Typical Finnish rowing boats on the shore of Palokkajärvi, Jyväskylä
Three members of a student rowing club in a coxed pair in the Amstel River.
Woman rowing sampan with her feet in Ninh Bình Province of northern Vietnam
Woman rowing sampan with her feet in Ninh Bình Province of northern Vietnam

History of rowing

Abraham Willaerts, Galley and men of war.jpeg
A French galley and Dutch man-of-war off a port

In the Ancient World, all major ancient civilizations used rowing for transportation, commerce, and war.[2]. It was considered a way to advance their civilization during war and peace.

Development of Rowing

Ancient Egypt

The beginning of rowing is clouded in history but the use of oars in the way they are used today can be traced back to ancient Egypt. Whether it was invented in Egypt or something learned from Mesopotamia via trade is not known. However, archaeologists have recovered a model of a rowing vessel in a tomb dating back to the 18-19th century BC.[3]

From Egypt, rowing vessels, especially galleys, were extensively used in naval warfare and trade in the Mediterranean from classical antiquity onward. Galleys had advantages over sailing ships: they were easier to maneuver, capable of short bursts of speed, and able to move independently of the wind.

Ancient Greece

During the classical age of oared galleys, the Greeks dominated the Mediterranean while the Athenians dominated the other Greeks. They used thousands of lower-class citizens to serve as rowers in the fleet. [4] The Classical trireme used 170 rowers; later galleys included even larger crews. Trireme oarsmen used leather cushions to slide over their seats, which allowed them to use their leg strength as a modern oarsman does with a sliding seat. Galleys usually had masts and sails, but would lower them at the approach of combat. Greek fleets would even leave their sails and masts on shore (as being unnecessary weight) if possible.[5]

Northern Europe

The use of oars in rowing instead of paddling came rather late to northern Europe, sometime between 500 BC-1 AD. This change might have been hastened by the Roman conquest of Northern Gaul. However, between 500-1100 AD, combined sailing and rowing vessels dominated trade and warfare in northern Europe in the time that has come to be known as the Viking Age.[6]

Galleys continued to be used in the Mediterranean until the advent of steam propulsion.

Rowing in War

Rowing was also used during war in the ancient world. The victorious in the sea would be those who could out-maneuver their opponents. Because the Greek and the Athenians developed the Trireme, they were able to win against their enemy ships with great speed powered by the 170 oarsmen. [7]

Rowing as a Sport

Types of rowing systems

In some localities, rear-facing systems prevail. In other localities, forward-facing systems prevail, especially in crowded areas such as in Venice, Italy and in Asian and Indonesian rivers and harbors. This is not strictly an "either-or", because in different situations it's useful to be able to row a boat facing either way. The current emphasis on the health aspects of rowing has resulted in some new mechanical systems being developed, some (such as the Rantilla rowing method) very different from the traditional rowing systems of the past.

Rearward-facing systems

This is probably the oldest system used in Europe and North America. A seated rower pulls on one or two oars, which lever the boat through the water. The pivot point of the oars (attached solidly to the boat) is the fulcrum. The motive force is applied through the rower's feet. In traditional rowing craft, the pivot point of the oars is generally located on the boat's gunwale. The actual fitting that holds the oar may be as simple as one or two pegs (or thole pins) or a metal oarlock (also called rowlock - "rollock"). In performance rowing craft, the rowlock is usually extended outboard on a "rigger" to allow the use of a longer oar for increased power.

Sculling involves a seated rower who pulls on two oars or sculls, attached to the boat, thereby moving the boat in the direction opposite that which the rower faces. In some multiple-seat boats seated rowers each pull on a single "sweep" oar, usually with both hands. Boats in which the rowers are coordinated by a coxswain are referred to as a "coxed" pair/four/eight. Sometimes sliding seats are used to enable the rower to use the leg muscles, substantially increasing the power available. An alternative to the sliding seat, called a sliding rigger, uses a stationary seat and the rower moves the oarlocks with his feet. On a craft used in Italy, the catamaran moscone, the rower stands and takes advantage of his body weight to increase leverage while sculling.[8]

Forward-facing systems

Articulated or bow facing oars have two-piece oars and use a mechanical transmission to reverse the direction of the oar blade, enabling a seated rower to row facing forward with a pulling motion. Push rowing, also called back-watering if used in a boat not designed for forward motion, uses regular oars with a pushing motion to achieve forward-facing travel, sometimes seated and sometimes standing. This is a convenient method of manoeuvring in a narrow waterway or through a busy harbour. The "Rantilla" system of frontrowing oars uses inboard mounted oarlocks rather than a reversing transmission to achieve forward motion of the boat with a pulling motion on the oars.

Another system (also called sculling) involves using a single oar extending from the stern of the boat which is moved side to side underwater somewhat like a fish tail, such as the Chinese yuloh, by which quite large boats can be moved.[9]

Sampans are rowed by foot in Ninh Bình Province of northern Vietnam.[10]

Venetian rowing

A Gondola in Venice

In Venice, gondolas and other similar flat-bottomed boats[11] are popular forms of transport propelled by oars which are held in place by an open wooden fórcola.[12] The Voga alla Veneta[13] technique of rowing is considerably different from the style used in international sport rowing, due to the oarsman facing forward in a standing position. This allows the boat to maneuver very quickly and with agility - useful in the narrow and busy canals of Venice. Competitive regattas are also held using the Venetian rowing technique by using both gondolas and other types of vessels.

There are three styles of Venetian rowing, each slightly different. The first consists of a single oarsman with one oar, standing near the stern of the boat where the oar also acts as a rudder. The second style consists of one or two oarsmen, each with two crossed oars (known as a la valesàna). The third style has two or more oarsmen, rowing on alternate sides of the boat. [14]

Design factors

The classic shapes of rowboats reflect an evolution of hundreds of years of trial and error to get a good shape. Some factors to be considered are waterline length, speed, carrying capacity, stability, windage, weight, seaworthiness, cost, waterline beam, the fullness or fineness of the ends, and trim. Design details are a compromise between competing factors.

Width and Height

If the waterline beam (width) is too narrow the boat will be tender and the occupant at risk of falling out, if the beam is too wide the boat will be slow and have more resistance to waves. Overall beam (width) is important. If the rowlocks are too close together the oars will be difficult to use. If the rowlocks are too far apart then the boat will be overly large and rowing will be inefficient, wasting a rower's effort. Sometimes on narrow, faster rowboats for protected waters outriggers are added to increase rowlock separation.

If the freeboard (height of the gunwale above the waterline) is too high then windage will be high and as a result, the boat will be caught by the wind and the rower will not be able to control the boat in high winds. If the freeboard is too low, water will enter the boat through waves. If the boat is designed for one person then only a single rowing position is required. If the rower is to carry a passenger at the stern then the boat will be stern heavy and trim will be incorrect.


When it comes to how long the rowing boat should be, it is a compromise between two factors that will affect the speed of the boat. If the boat is too short, the boat will reach a very low maximum speed. If the boat is too long, there will be more friction and more wet surface. Therefore, the minimum recommended length should be around 16 feet. If the boat is longer than that recommended length, the boat is usually narrower and although faster will generally be more difficult to balance.


To have good width and the height that ensures the balance of the rowboat, a weight can be added in the bow, alternatively, the boat can supply a second rowing position further forward for this purpose.

There are some advantages and disadvantages that are attributed to the weight of the rowboat. A very light boat will most likely start to slow down as soon as the oar stroke has ended. In contrast, a heavier boat will likely continue to move forward. [15]

Most modern style rowboats are considerably lighter than traditional clinker-built style. [16]


Spring in the keel or rocker influences how a rowboat performs. Longer, slender race boats have less rocker of about 7.6 cm (3 in). A short 2.4-meter (8 ft) pram dinghy has a rocker of 15–18 cm (6–7 in). Boats with less rocker are easier to row and faster in flat or nearly flat water. However, in any waves a boat with 13–15 cm (5–6 in) of rocker will be more seaworthy—rising over waves rather than going through them. A boat with more rocker can change direction easily whereas a straight keel boat will track well in a straight line but resist turning. High sided and fine-ended boats, such as dories, are affected by wind. Their trim can be altered by using a plastic container of water attached to a rope that can be moved to the bow or stern as need be. Long-distance rowers can keep up a steady 20 strokes per minute compared to a racing shell which can be rowed at 32–36 strokes per minute by fit athletes. A rower can maintain 40 strokes per minute for only a brief period. Longer, narrower rowboats can reach 7 knots (13 km/h; 8.1 mph) but most rowboats of 4.3 m (14 ft) can be rowed at 3–4 knots (5.6–7.4 km/h; 3.5–4.6 mph).[17]

Many old rowboats have very full ends (blunt ends); these may appear at first glance to be bad design as it looks slow, not fast. However a full-ended rowboat will rise to a sea and not dig in as a finer hulled boat might do, thus a compromise needs to be made between the factors of speed and of seaworthiness. This style of rowboat was designed to carry a bigger load and the full sections gave far more displacement. Also older boats were often very heavily constructed compared to their modern counterpart, hence weighed far more. A rowboat designed as a tender carrying occupants to a boat on a mooring might tend to be short, whilst a rowboat for use on rivers and to travel long distances might be long and narrow.

Sunnmørsfæring - Herøy kystmuseum
A Sunnmørsfæring; a Norwegian four-oared rowing boat, from the region Sunnmøre (Herøy kystmuseum, Herøy, Møre og Romsdal, Norway)


Over time the design, of both the oars and the blades, has significantly changed. Typically, the oars part that is inboard of the rowlock stayed the same length but the outboard part got shorter. The different lengths of the oars affect both the energy that the rower has to put in as well as the performance, in terms of speed of the rowboat. [18]

A short oar makes quick but short strokes possible. A short oar is easier to use in a narrow creek or a crowded anchorage. This is important in a small tender which may be heavily laden with passengers, limiting the swing of the oars. A short, quick stroke prevents the bow being driven under in choppy waters while heavily laden. Longer oars can be used to produce longer, slower strokes, which are easier to maintain over long distances. Designers may match oar length to the amount of space provided for oar storage in the boat. Wooden oars are generally made of a light, strong wood, such as fir or ash. The blades can either be flat for general use or spooned for faster propulsion.

Whitehall rowboats

The origins of this distinctive and practical craft are unclear. In earlier times, however, builders were often sailors or seafaring men. Successful designs for large and small craft alike evolved slowly and as certain desirable qualities were attained and perfected they rarely changed.

Some hold that the Whitehall rowing boat design was introduced from England. However the famed nautical historian Howard I. Chapelle, cites the opinion of the late W. P. Stephens that in New York City there is a Whitehall Street and this was where the Whitehall was first built. Chapelle, Stephens and others agree that the design came into existence some time in the 1820s in New York City, having first been built by navy yard apprentices who had derived their model to some extent from the old naval gig.

See also


  1. ^ "Speed Rower, Competitive Rowing". Retrieved 2009-02-05.
  2. ^ "Row Like an Egyptian: A History of Rowing Throughout the Ages". January 31, 2017. Retrieved 10 March 2019.
  3. ^ "BBC - A History of the World - Object: Egyptian funerary boat". Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  4. ^ The Lost Technology of Ancient Greek,John R. Hale, Publisher: Scientific American, Vol. 274, No. 5 (MAY 1996), pp. 82-85.
  5. ^ The Athenian Trireme: The History and Reconstruction of an Ancient Greek Warship. J. S. Morrison, J. F. Coates, N. B. Rankov. Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 2 edition (20 Jul 2000), ISBN 0-521-56456-5, ISBN 978-0-521-56456-4
  6. ^ "Drakkar Viking Ship 9th -13th century". Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  7. ^ "History of Rowing and Henley".
  8. ^ Remando in piedi sul moscone. (Rowing standing up on the moscone).
  9. ^ The Junks and Sampans of the Yangtze G. R. G. Worcester. Publisher: Naval Institute Press; 1971, ISBN 0-87021-335-0, ISBN 978-0-87021-335-9
  10. ^ Matthew Pike (January 30, 2018). "How Vietnamese Guides Row With Their Feet". Retrieved 2018-10-12. They row with their feet. As Mrs. Gấm puts it: “Rowing boat by feet is much quicker and less exhausting than by hands.”
  11. ^ Le barche at ‹See Tfd›(in Italian)
  12. ^ La forcola - le barche per la Voga alla Veneta at ‹See Tfd›(in Italian)
  13. ^ Venetian rowing technique at
  14. ^ url=
  15. ^ url=
  16. ^ url=
  17. ^ Backyard Boatbulder. p 158–160. J. Welsford. Reed. Auckland 1999.
  18. ^ Murray, John. “Efficient Rowing.” Ash Breeze, vol. 35, no. 1, Spring 2014, p. 6. url=
1974 World Rowing Championships

The 1974 World Rowing Championships was the 4th World Rowing Championships. It was held in 1974 at Rotsee in Lucerne, Switzerland. The event was significantly extended from the 1970 edition, with the addition of both women's and lightweight men's events. Six women boat classes were added, three lightweight men classes, plus quad scull for men, increasing the number of boat classes from seven in 1970 to seventeen in 1974. This was also the last World Championships held on a quadrennial cycle – from this point, World Championships were held annually.

1986 World Rowing Championships

The 1986 World Rowing Championships were World Rowing Championships that were held from 17 to 24 August 1986 at Nottingham in the United Kingdom.

1987 World Rowing Championships

The 1987 World Rowing Championships were World Rowing Championships that were held from 29 to 30 August 1987 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

1989 World Rowing Championships

The 1989 World Rowing Championships were World Rowing Championships that were held from 2 to 10 September 1989 at Lake Bled near Bled in SR Slovenia, Yugoslavia.

1991 World Rowing Championships

The 1991 World Rowing Championships were World Rowing Championships that were held from 19 to 25 August 1991 in Vienna, Austria. The regatta was held on the New Danube.

1998 World Rowing Championships

The 1998 World Rowing Championships were World Rowing Championships that were held from 9 to 18 September 1998 in Cologne, Germany. The World Rowing Championships are organized by FISA, the International Rowing Federation.

2003 World Rowing Championships

The 2003 World Rowing Championships were World Rowing Championships that were held from 25 August to 1 September 2003 on the lake Idroscalo at Milan, Italy. The international rowing season usually ends with the World Championship regatta. Apart from the Olympic Games this is the most prestigious international rowing event, attracting over 1000 rowers.

2005 World Rowing Championships

The 2005 World Rowing Championships were World Rowing Championships that were held from 29 August to 4 September 2005 at the Nagaragawa International Regatta Course in Kaizu, Gifu Prefecture, Japan. The international rowing season usually ends with the World Championship regatta. Apart from the Olympic Games, this is the most prestigious international rowing event attracting over 1000 rowers. The 2005 championships were the first championships to be held in Asia.

2006 World Rowing Championships

The 2006 World Rowing Championships were World Rowing Championships that were held from 20 to 27 August 2006 at Dorney Lake, Eton, Great Britain.

2009 World Rowing Championships

The 2009 World Rowing Championships were World Rowing Championships that were held from 23 to 30 August 2009 at Lake Malta, Poznań, Poland. The annual week-long rowing regatta was organized by FISA (the International Rowing Federation), and held at the end of the northern hemisphere summer. In non-Olympic years it is the highlight of the international rowing calendar.

2013 World Rowing Championships

The 2013 World Rowing Championships were World Rowing Championships that were held from 25 August to 1 September 2013 at Tangeum Lake, Chungju in South Korea. The annual week-long rowing regatta was organized by FISA (the International Rowing Federation). In non-Olympic Games years the regatta is the highlight of the international rowing calendar.

2015 World Rowing Championships

The 2015 World Rowing Championships were World Rowing Championships that were held from 30 August to 6 September 2015 at Lac d'Aiguebelette, Aiguebelette in France. The annual week-long rowing regatta was organized by FISA (the International Rowing Federation). In non-Olympic years the regatta is the highlight of the international rowing calendar, and as 2015 was a pre-Olympic year, the championships were also the main qualification event for the following year's Olympics and Paralympics.

Eight (rowing)

An eight is a rowing boat used in the sport of competitive rowing. It is designed for eight rowers, who propel the boat with sweep oars, and is steered by a coxswain, or "cox".

Each of the eight rowers has one oar. There are four rowers on the port side (rower's right hand side) and four on the starboard side (rower's lefthand side). The cox steers the boat using a rudder and is normally seated at the stern of the boat. Because of the speed of the boat, it is generally considered unsafe to row coxless or to have a bowloader cox.

Racing boats (often called "shells") are long, narrow, and broadly semi-circular in cross-section in order to reduce drag to a minimum. Originally made from wood, shells are now almost always made from a composite material (usually carbon-fibre reinforced plastic) for strength and weight advantages. Eights have a fin towards the rear, to help prevent roll and yaw and to help the rudder. The riggers are staggered alternately along the boat so that the forces apply asymmetrically to each side of the boat. If the boat is sculled by rowers each with two oars the combination is referred to as an octuple scull. In a scull boat, the riggers apply forces symmetrically. A sweep oared boat has to be stiffer to handle the unmatched forces, and so requires more bracing, which means it has to be heavier and slower than an equivalent sculling boat. However octuple sculls are not used in main competitions.

"Eight" is one of the classes recognized by the International Rowing Federation and one of the events in the Olympics. The first Olympic eights race was held in 1900 and won by the United States.

Henley Royal Regatta

Henley Royal Regatta (or Henley Regatta, its original name pre-dating Royal patronage) is a rowing event held annually on the River Thames by the town of Henley-on-Thames, England. It was established on 26 March 1839. It differs from the three other regattas rowed over approximately the same course, Henley Women's Regatta, Henley Masters Regatta and Henley Town and Visitors' Regatta, each of which is an entirely separate event.

The regatta lasts for five days (Wednesday to Sunday) ending on the first weekend in July. Races are head-to-head knock out competitions, raced over a course of 1 mile 550 yards (2,112 m). The regatta regularly attracts international crews to race. The most prestigious event at the regatta is the Grand Challenge Cup for Men's Eights, which has been awarded since the regatta was first staged.As the regatta pre-dates any national or international rowing organisation, it has its own rules and organisation, although it is recognised by both British Rowing (the governing body of rowing in England and Wales) and FISA (the International Federation of Rowing Associations). The regatta is organised by a self-electing body of Stewards, who are largely former rowers themselves. Pierre de Coubertin modelled elements of the organisation of the International Olympic Committee on the Henley Stewards.The regatta is regarded as part of the English social season. As with other events in the season, certain enclosures at the regatta have strict dress codes. The Stewards’ Enclosure has a strict dress code of lounge suits for men; women are to wear dresses or skirts with hemlines below the knee and hats are encouraged.

International Rowing Federation

The Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d'Aviron (FISA) is the International Rowing Federation which is the governing body for international rowing. Its current president is Jean-Christophe Rolland who succeeded Denis Oswald at a ceremony held in Lucerne in July 2014.

The Rowing World Cup, World Rowing Championships, and other such competitions are overseen by this organization.

Rowing (sport)

Rowing, sometimes referred to as crew in the United States, is a sport whose origins reach back to Ancient Egyptian times. It involves propelling a boat (racing shell) on water using oars. By pushing against the water with an oar, a force is generated to move the boat. The sport can be either recreational for enjoyment or fitness, or competitive, when athletes race against each other in boats. There are a number of different boat classes in which athletes compete, ranging from an individual shell (called a single scull) to an eight-person shell with a coxswain (called a coxed eight).

Modern rowing as a competitive sport can be traced to the early 17th century when races (regattas) were held between professional watermen on the River Thames in London, United Kingdom. Often prizes were offered by the London Guilds and Livery Companies. Amateur competition began towards the end of the 18th century with the arrival of "boat clubs" at the British public schools of Eton College, Shrewsbury School, and Westminster School. Similarly, clubs were formed at the University of Oxford, with a race held between Brasenose College and Jesus College in 1815. At the University of Cambridge the first recorded races were in 1827. Public rowing clubs were beginning at the same time; in England Leander Club was founded in 1818, in Germany Der Hamburger und Germania Ruder Club was founded in 1836 and in the United States Narragansett Boat Club was founded in 1838 and Detroit Boat Club was founded in 1839. In 1843, the first American college rowing club was formed at Yale University.

The International Rowing Federation (French: Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d'Aviron, abbreviated FISA), responsible for international governance of rowing, was founded in 1892 to provide regulation at a time when the sport was gaining popularity. Across six continents, 150 countries now have rowing federations that participate in the sport.Rowing is one of the oldest Olympic sports. Though it was on the programme for the 1896 games, racing did not take place due to bad weather. Male rowers have competed since the 1900 Summer Olympics. Women's rowing was added to the Olympic programme in 1976. Today, there are fourteen boat classes which race at the Olympics:

Each year the World Rowing Championships are staged by FISA with 22 boat classes that race. In Olympic years, only the non-Olympic boat classes are raced at the World Championships. The European Rowing Championships are held annually, along with three World Rowing Cups in which each event earns a number of points for a country towards the World Cup title. Since 2008, rowing has also been competed at the Paralympic Games.

Major domestic competitions take place in dominant rowing nations and include The Boat Race and Henley Royal Regatta in the United Kingdom, the Australian Rowing Championships in Australia, the Harvard–Yale Regatta and Head of the Charles Regatta in the United States, and Royal Canadian Henley Regatta in Canada. Many other competitions often exist for racing between clubs, schools, and universities in each nation.

Rowing at the Summer Olympics

Rowing at the Summer Olympics has been part of the competition since its debut in the 1900 Summer Olympics. Rowing was on the program at the 1896 Summer Olympics but was cancelled due to bad weather. Only men were allowed to compete until the women's events were introduced at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal which gave national federations the incentive to support women's events and catalysed growth in women's rowing. Lightweight rowing events (which have weight-limited crews) were introduced to the games in 1996.

Qualifying for the rowing events is under the jurisdiction of the International Rowing Federation (or FISA, its French acronym). FISA predates the modern Olympics and was the first international sport federation to join the modern Olympic movement.

Steve Redgrave

Sir Steven Geoffrey Redgrave (born 23 March 1962) is a retired British rower who won gold medals at five consecutive Olympic Games from 1984 to 2000. He has also won three Commonwealth Games gold medals and nine World Rowing Championships golds. He is the most successful male rower in Olympic history, and the only man to have won gold medals at five Olympic Games in an endurance sport.Redgrave is regarded as one of Britain's greatest-ever Olympians. As of 2016 he was the fourth-most decorated British Olympian, after cyclists Sir Chris Hoy, Jason Kenny and Sir Bradley Wiggins. He has carried the British flag at the opening of the Olympic Games on two occasions. In 2002, he was ranked number 36 in the BBC poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. He received the BBC Sports Personality of the Year – Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

World Rowing Championships

The World Rowing Championships is an international rowing regatta organized by FISA (the International Rowing Federation). It is a week-long event held at the end of the northern hemisphere summer and in non-Olympic years is the highlight of the international rowing calendar.

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