Below is a list of common terms that may be unfamiliar to anyone who is new to the boating world or the sport of rowing.

A diagram depicting the various rowing terminology based on a diagram from

USRowing also maintains a Glossary of Rowing Terms


  • Bow: The rower closest to the front/bow of the boat.  
  • Coxswain: The person in the boat responsible for steering, safety, motivating the crew, and race strategy. Pronounced “Cox’n.” 
  • Engine room: The middle rowers in the boat. In an 8+ seats 6, 5, 4 and 3. Often the biggest and/or strongest rowers.  
  • Sculler: A rower who rows with two oars.
  • Seat number: A rower’s position in the boat counting from the bow. In an eight, the person closest to the bow of the boat is “bow,” the next is 2, then 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and finally 8 or “stroke.”  
  • Stroke (“Stroke Seat”): The rower closest to stern of the boat, responsible for stroke rate, cadence and rhythm.  
  • Sweep rower: A rower, either port or starboard, who rows with one oar.

Boat Types

  • Eight (8+): A sweep boat with eight rowers and a coxswain. The plus sign indicates with a coxswain. 
  • Four (4+): A shell with four rowers. 4+ means a four with (with a coxswain).
  • Quad (4x): A four-person sculling boat.  In a sculling boat, each rower has two oars.
  • Double (2x): A sculling boat with two rowers.  
  • Single (1x): A scull with one rower. 

Boats and Rowing Equipment

  • Bow: The front section of the boat.
  • Cox Box: The electronic system for the boat; it functions as a microphone voice and displays stroke rate and times.  
  • Ergometer (erg): The indoor rowing machine, that you use when you can’t get on the water. 
  • Launch: The boat that the coach drives to accompany the crew. It contains necessary safety gear as well as any materials the coach needs for practice. 
  • Port or port side: The left side of the boat when facing forward towards the bow.
  • Rigger: The framework projecting from the side of the shell. The oarlock is attached to the end of the rigger.
  • Skeg (or fin): Flat piece of metal or plastic that extends down from the keel and helps stabilize the shell in the water.
  • Starboard or starboard side: The right side of the boat when facing forward.
  • Stern: The rear of a shell.  


  • “Back it down”: Place the oar blades at the release position, squared, and push the oar handle towards the stern of the boat.
  • “Check it down”: Square the oars in the water to slow and/or stop the boat.  
  • “Hands on”: A coxswain says this when their crew should go to their boat and get it off the boat rack or slings. 
  • “Heads Up”: Pay attention, watch out.  
  • “Hold Water”: Place the oars firmly in the water, on the square, to stop the motion. Similar to Check it down, but often more urgent.  
  • “Paddle”: Row with just enough pressure to move the boat. 
  • “Power 10”: Take 10 strokes with intensity and focus. Used for passing and moving in a race.
  • “Ready all, Row”: Begin rowing.  
  • “Sit ready”: Move to the catch with blades buried and be ready to start the rowing.
  • “Weigh enough”: The command to stop whatever you’re doing, whether it be rowing or walking with the boat on shore.

General Rowing Terms

  • Catch: The part of the stroke when the oar blade enters the water and the rower starts to apply power to move the boat.
  • “Catching Crabs”: When the oar gets stuck in the water and can disrupt the flow of the boat and/or cause the oar handle to go over the rower’s head. 
  • Drive: The propulsive portion of the stroke from the time the oar blade enters the water (‘catch’) until it is removed from the water (‘finish’). This part of the stroke is intense! 
  • Feather: To turn the oar so that its blade is parallel with the water (opposite of square).  
  • Finish: The very end of the stroke when the rower takes the blade out of the water and starts to move up the recovery to do it all again. 
  • Piece: What rowers call a component of their workout. A body of work, measured by time, distance or number of strokes. “We did four 2-minute pieces today.” 
  • Rating (or stroke rate): The number of strokes executed per minute by a crew or sculler. 
  • Ratio: The speed of the recovery relative to the drive. 
  • Recovery: The part of the stroke where the rower is moving up to the catch and the blade is out of the water. 
  • Sculling: A boat in which each rower has two oars, a single, double or quad.
  • Set: The balance of the boat. Affected by handle heights, rowers leaning, conditions, and timing, all of which affect the boat’s balance.  
  • Square: To turn the oar so that its blade is perpendicular to the water (opposite of feather).  
  • Stroke: One complete cycle including the drive and recovery.  
  • Sweep: A boat in which rowers each have one oar.
  • Swing: A magical feeling in the boat when the rowers are driving and moving the boat as one unit. What all rowers strive for.