printed with permission from http://www.rowinghistory.net/questions.htm .
Some modifications made to make it specific to NT Rowing Club)

There are many rowing terms. Most are easily understood but a few are confusing. Some proper terms are being used less regularly and inaccurate terms and expressions are finding their way into conventional use. The following descriptions, explanations and definitions should be helpful. 1. The term crew is used in American schools and colleges to designate the sport of rowing, such as Yale Crew or St. Andrew's Crew. When outside of the academic sphere, the sport is known as rowing , as in the United States Rowing Association or Philadelphia Girl's Rowing Club. The British and European universities and schools have rowing clubs and not crew clubs or varsity crew.

2. When you use the term crew you shouldn't use the term team . Traditionally, crew means a team of rowers. To say crew team is redundant. You may say rowing team .

3. Rowing can be a general term to mean rowing a boat with one oar per person or two oars per person. To be more specific, when a person is rowing with one oar then he/she is rowing using a sweep oar , and when rowing with two oars, he/she is sculling with a pair of sculls . Pulling is rowing on open-water (ocean, open bays, etc). To date, NTRC has always competed in sweep events.

4. It is perfectly correct to call a rowing or sculling boat a boat . Another term that is used is racing shell or just shell . Either term is commonly used when referring to a boat that is used for racing .

5. The rowing stroke can be divided into four distinct actions:

  1. Putting the oar in (the catch)
  2. Pulling the oar through the water (the drive)
  3. Taking the oar out (the finish)
  4. Getting ready to repeat the previous actions (the recovery)

6. A crab is an event when a rower or sculler is unable to extract the oar blade from the water at the finish of the drive (pulling phase of the stroke) and a sloppy stroke occurs. This can happen when a rower loses grip of the handle , makes an error in judging when to extract or release the blade from the water, or if the boat tips to the side and there's nowhere for the rower to lower his/her hands to extract the blade. The result is usually a falter and some timing problems for a few strokes. However, an over-the-head crab is more serious. It's when the oar handle forces the rower onto his or her back and the handle goes over his/her head. This usually causes a great deal of disruption in the boat and in most cases the crew must stop rowing, recover the oar, and then proceed.

7. The boat orientation terms are simple: the boat usually travels forward and the forward end of the boat is called the bow . The trailing end of the boat is called the stern . When facing forward in the boat (like the coxswain but not the rowers) then the left side is port and the right side is the starboard . A rower just beginning to row may get switched from side to side, but at some time may row and develop his/her skills on one side. The side chosen has nothing to do with a person being right-handed or left-handed. It's chosen to make a near equal number of port and starboard rowers and to balance the potential skill levels. A crew/coach wants to have an equal quality of rowers on each side.

8. The positions in the boat are numbered according to the seating. The seat closest to the bow is #1 , next #2 , and so on. The rowing seat closest to the stern is #8 in an eight or #4 in a four and is also called the stroke seat . The person rowing in this seat is the stroke-oar or stroke .

9. The coxswain is the person that steers the boat. He/she is a coxswain or cox'n or cox and he/she is coxing a boat. A cox'n usually uses an electronic amplifier system called a CoxBox™ . It not only amplifies the cox'n's voice through a speaker system, but it has a built in stroke rate meter and a timer. Some boats, usually fours, may have a lie-down coxswain's position in the bow loaded instead of the sit-up position in the stern.

He/she is very light so that the crew need not carry extra weight on the race course. Most school and collegiate leagues, as well as international rowing events, have a minimum weight for coxswains. The minimum weights are different for girls'/women's crew and boys'. Also, minimum weights may differ from schools to colleges, from league to league, and at international events. A cox'n below minimum weight can still cox but must carry a bag of sand or other deadweight to compensate for the weight deficiency.

10. Boat designations
Sweep Boats ( To date, NTRC has always uses these boats):

Coxless-pair (2- or pair/wo or pair/without) - two rowers/no cox'n
Coxed-pair (2+ or pair/w or pair/with) - two rowers with cox'n
Coxless-four (4- or four/wo or four/without) - four rowers/no cox'n
Coxed-four (4+ or four/w or four/with) - four rowers with cox'n
Eight (8) - eight rowers always with cox'n

Sculling boats:
Single-sculls or single (1x) - one person sculling (w/pair of sculls)
Double-sculls or double (2x) - two people sculling
Quadruple-sculls or quad (4x) - four people sculling
Octuple-sculls or octapede (8x) - eight scullers (usually for "fun" events)

11. Racing Formats

Head Races usually 2.5 to 3 miles (NTRC Fall Season)
In the fall season there are head races . The name comes from a traditional English race called the Head of the River . The first head race in the US was the Head of the Charles Regatta in Cambridge/Boston begun in 1965. These are usually open regattas with many events defined in any way the regatta committee wishes to. A junior in one regatta could be anyone under 19 years old, in another it could be defined as a high school student.

The distance can vary, but usually in the 3 mile range. Sometimes the race course is over a winding river. The race is a timed event with each crew in a single file. It begins with an "on the fly" running start. The goal is to negotiate the race course as fast as possible. The start time and finish times are recorded and the elapsed time calculated. The fastest time wins. Sometimes in masters events there is an age adjusted handicap. Crews passing each other is usually exciting, particularly on a narrow river or tight bend. Crews don't really know how they placed until a printout of the times is posted. A certain number of top starting positions are given to crews who placed well in the prior year's race.

Match Racing usually 2,000 meters /1 ¼ miles (NT Spring Season)
Most schools and colleges have a match racing season (Spring). This is when two or three schools agree to race side-by-side on a straight, or as straight as possible, course that can fit on the local lake/river/bay. The boats lineup abreast, standing still and a referee/starter, when satisfied that the crews are level and ready to start, will give the commands Attention... Go . The boats start from a "dead stop" and race in a lane either imaginary or marked by buoys for a set distance. First boat to reach the finish line is the winner.

The international (Olympic) distance is 2000 meters (1¼ mile). High schools may race 1500 meters and master rowers 1000 meters.

A time is usually taken and the margin between boats is recorded when a flag at the finish is dropped or raised when the bow of each boat crosses the line. Many times the margins are given in lengths . A length is a boat-length. Visually, it is easy to estimate the distance by boat-lengths. One boat-length would be when the bow (front tip) of one boat is about even with the stern (aft tip) of another boat. There could be multiples and fractions of a length: ¼ length, ½ length, ¾ lengths, 1½ lengths, 3 lengths , etc. (At the Henley Royal Regatta after a race with a margin of 4 or 5 lengths the result is recorded as easily .)

A boat length is relative to the size of the boat in the race. In an eights race one length , about 58 feet, is different from one-length in a fours race, about 40 feet. When a boat is more than 1 length ahead it is referred to as open-water .

When the margins are less than a length, then sometimes people use seats as a measurement. A seat is the length of one station where the rower sits, approximately 4½ feet. Example: the #2 rower in X boat was even with the #1 rower in Y boat, then X boat is one seat ahead of Y boat. You may hear that a crew won by three-seats , about 13-14 feet. One more term is deck . The deck is the unmanned, covered bow section of the boat (about 10 feet for an eight). Again, it is a visual cue. When the bow-ball of X boat is barely ahead of the #1 person in Y boat, then X boat is a deck behind of Y boat. These decks were once covered with a canvas material and so the old term was a canvass rather than a deck . If you visit Henley Royal Regatta they officially record a deck length as a canvass .

Race times are recorded and it is usually a mistake to compare times from one race to another or from different days. An imperceptible difference in wind conditions can make a noticeable difference in times, unlike swimming competitions where pool conditions are constant and times can be compared.

Championship Regattas
A Championship Regatta will usually have a maximum of about six boats in a race at a time. Since Championship Regattas may have more than six entries, a system of selecting the faster crews is used. There will be qualifying heats to begin to sort the crews out. One format is the first or first few crews go directly to the grand final (1-6 places), the next or next few crews go to the petite (small) final (7-12 places). In another more formal format, there will be repechage races to give the non-qualifying crews from the heats a second chance to qualify for the Grand and Petite Finals.

Henley Races
Henley races are named after a style of racing conducted at the famous Henley Royal Regatta on the River Thames in England. The river is narrow at Henley so only two boats race at a time and the loser is eliminated and the winner goes on to the next round. This format is popular for narrow and/or short race courses in the U.S.

The Judge Dunne Regatta, held in Skokie sponsored by Loyola Academy Rowing Association, takes this format. This is due to the limitations of the narrow North Shore Channel of the Chicago River where the race is held annually in spring.

12. Who makes the ideal rower?

From a physical standpoint, height is an absolute advantage. Strength, endurance and experience with stroke are also need to be successful at rowing.

13. Who makes the ideal coxswain?

Ideally they are lightweight, which usually means they are shorter than the rowers. They must have the ability to motivate, coach and think fast during a race.