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Words to Row By

Boat and Seat Layout

Terms to Know


Sweep rowing vs. sculling:  The two disciplines in the sport of Rowing. In sweep rowing, each rower holds only one oar (think of sweeping with a broom). In sculling, each rower holds two oars ('rowboat style'). Whitman's crews participate in sweep rowing.

Head Race:  Held mainly in the Fall, head races are long (between 4 and 10 km).  The boats are launched one after the other rather than side by side and results are based on elapsed time after all boats have finished the race.

Sprint Race:  Held mainly in the spring and summer, sprint races are usually 1.5 km or 2 km long. Teams race side by side in numbered lane positions.

Set:  This is the balance of the boat in the water. A boat that is not "set" leans to one side or the other due to rower error.

Catch, Finish, Feather, Recovery: These are the different parts of a rowing stroke. The catch is when the blade enters, or catches, the water. The point at which the blade exits the water is called the finish. Feathering is when the blade is out of and moving parallel to the water on the way back to the catch. The rower “feathers” the blade after its extraction from the water, and then “squares” it up (bringing back to perpendicular) in between each stroke. The point between the extraction and the catch is called the recovery.

Power 10: A call for rowers to do 10 of their best, most powerful strokes. It’s a strategy used to pull ahead of a competitor.

Swing: The hard-to-define feeling when near-perfect synchronization of motion occurs in the shell, enhancing the performance and speed.

Rush:  The opposite of 'Swing.' When the rowers do not row in unity, thereby causing the boat to slow down.

Crab: (the dreaded "catching a crab") When an oar gets stuck in the water and either slows down or stops the boat.

Swamping: When the boat has taken on too much water to move and must be bailed before continuing.


Shell: The boat. You can have an 8, 4 or 2 person shell. Whitman Crew rows 8s (approx. 60 feet long) and 4s (approx. 45 feet long).

4+ or 8+: The number refers to how many seats are in a shell.  The + indicates that there is a coxswain in the shell. Whitman Crew rows 8+ shells as Novices, and both 4+ and 8+ shells as Varsity.

Gunwales: (pronounced “gunnels”):  The top rim of the shell.  (If your rower says “the waves came over the gunwales,” well, then give them a hug and some hot chocolate).

Slide: The track on which the rowers' seats slide back and forth.

Stretcher or Foot-stretcher: Where the rower’s feet go. The stretcher consists of two inclined footrests that hold the rower’s shoes. Rowers get into the shell (boat) in socks because rowing shoes are bolted into the footrests and stay fixed to the boat.

Rigger: The large triangular protrusion on the side of the shell on which the oars are locked.

Oarlock: The lock that attaches the oars to the riggers.

Oar: Used to drive the boat forward: rowers do not use paddles. Oars are approximately 12 feet long, from the tip of the handle to the end of the blade.

Blade: The part of the oar that dips in the water.  Fun fact: Each school has a different design on the blade, which allows for easy identification during regattas. Whitman’s Varsity blades have a black and white checkerboard design.


Starboard: Right side of the boat while facing the direction of the boat's movement (i.e., as seen by the coxswain's view in an 8+ setup).

Port: Left side of the boat, while facing the direction of the boat's movement (i.e., as seen by the coxswain's view in an 8+ setup).

Starboard-rigged or Port-rigged: Indicates whether the "stroke seat" is set up for a starboard or port rower (See: "Stroke" in "Positions in the Boat").


Bow: The part of the boat that crosses the finish line first.

Bow Number: Each shell is assigned an identification number at a regatta. This is another way to identify a team’s boat. The number can be seen on the back of the 1 seat rower (aka “bow seat”).

Stern: The last part of the boat to cross the finish line.


Coxswain: ("Cox") The crew member who steers the shell and is the on-the-water coach for the crew, utilizing a piece of equipment called a "cox-box" (a headset/microphone linked to speakers inside the boat) — or just yelling really loudly during equipment failures. Coxswains do not row.

Stroke: The rower who sits closest to the stern (and to the coxswain in an 8+ setup) that all the other rowers in the boat sit behind. The stroke sets the rhythm for the boat; others behind him must follow his cadence.

Bow 4 or Bow Pair: Seats 1 thru 4 (bow 4) and seats 1 and 2 (bow pair).

Stern 4 or Stern Pair: Seats 5 thru 8 (stern 4) and seats 7 and 8 (stern pair). The "Stroke" (Seat 8) always is part of the Stern Pair.


Erg:  Short for ergometer. A stationary rowing machine.

PR: (Personal Record) Refers to achieving a personal best time on an erg for a set piece (distance as directed by the coaches).

Trou: The spandex shorts rowers wear.

Uni: Short for Unisuit, this combined tank and shorts outfit is the preferred garment for rowers.  The men often roll the top down to their waist during training (or use it as a kangaroo pouch to hold their water bottles).