Choosing the right rowing boat

Rowing is a sport of speed and gliding in long, tapered boats made of carbon fiber, wood or composite materials. The rower sits above the water level on a rolling seat (a slide) and turns his back to the direction of travel of the boat. The oars are used to propel the boat. The number of oars used depends on the type of rowing: rowers use a single oar for sweep rowing and two oars for sculling.

This sport can be practiced at sea, on a river or a lake. Depending on the type of boat and competition, the crew may or may not include a coxswain (the steersman in charge of the boat and crew). In this guide, we will discuss the main points to consider when choosing a rowing boat.

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  • How to choose the best rowing boat?

    Rowing Sport Boats racing shell

    To choose the best rowing boat for your needs, there are a number of key criteria to consider. Your choice of rowing boat will depend not only on the type of activity you’ll be doing, i.e. competition or leisure, on whether you’ll be rowing on seawater or calm lake water, but it will also depend on whether you will be rowing solo or with other people and whether you want to sweep or scull.

    The key elements to consider when choosing a rowing boat are:

    • The different types of boats for specific activities
    • Type of rowing: sweep rowing or sculling
    • How many people will be in the boat?
    • Hull material
  • What type of rowing boat should you choose for your activity?

    Wintech Racing racing shell

    There are three types of rowing boats to choose from depending on what kind of activity you’re planning to do. The boats are also called shells. Flat water shells are made for racing; they’re graceful and sleek and can only really be used on flat and calm water. They’re best suited for experienced rowers. Open water shells are fun boats for exercise. They can be used on rougher water compared to flat water shells. They’re light, fast and exciting to row. Traditional skiffs are easy to row; they’re mainly for beginners and rowers who want to row for leisure. They’re stable and safe.

    Flat water shells:

    • For racing
    • Used on flat calm water
    • Best suited for experienced rowers

    Open water shells:

    • For exercise
    • Can be used on much rougher water than flat water shells
    • Can handle the ocean, depending on the rowers’ experience
    • Light, fast and exciting to row

    Traditional skiffs:

    • Easy to row leisure boats
    • Stable
    • Good for beginners
  • What type of rowing should you choose, sweeping or sculling?

    Wintech Racing racing shell

    Rowing boats have one, two, four or eight seats and are classified according to the number of rowers and whether they’re for sweeping or sculling. You’ll need to choose between sweep rowing and sculling, the two main categories of rowing. Rowers with two oars, one in each hand, are scullers. Rowers with only one oar are sweep rowers. There are three types of sculling: the single—1x (one person), the double—2x (two people) and the quad—4x (four people).

    For one-oared rowing, sweep boats may or may not have a seat for the coxswain. This person not only steers but can also be the on-the-water coach. In boats without coxswains, one of the rowers steers by moving the rudder with his or her foot. Sweep rowers come in pairs with a coxswain (2+) and pairs without (2-), fours with a coxswain (4+) and fours without (4-) and the eight (8+). The eight, which always carries a coxswain, is the fastest boat on the water. A competitive men’s eight is capable of moving almost 14 miles per hour.

    Sculling: Each rower has two oars (or sculls), one in each hand (length = 3 m)

    Sweeping: Each rower has one oar held with both hands (length = from 3.6 m to 4 m)

  • How many seats will you need in your rowing boat?

    Filippi racing shell

    Rowing boats can have one, two, four or eight seats so you’ll need to choose a rowing boat that fits with the number of rowers you’ll have.

    For rowing boats with multiple rowers, there are some terms to keep in mind. Rowers are identified by their seat in the boat. The rower in the bow is seat No. 1, a.k.a. the bow, the one who will cross the finish line first. The person in front of the bow is No. 2, then No. 3, No. 4, No. 5, No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8, a.k.a. the stroke. The stroke of the boat must be a strong rower with excellent technique since the stroke sets the rhythm and number of strokes per minute the rest of the crew must follow.

  • What hull material should you choose for your rowing boat?

    Row&Sail GmbH racing shell

    The sport of rowing is practiced in the lightest, thinnest boats possible, which poses a problem for stability that can only be obtained by the perfect mastery of the movement of all the teammates. Boat performance is linked to two often conflicting characteristics: lightness and rigidity, requiring builders to use high-tech materials (carbon fiber, Kevlar and other various composite materials). Rowing boats are built from two main materials: wood and composite.


    • most expensive
    • more rigid than Kevlar

    Composite (carbon fiber, Kevlar, etc.):

    • more durable and easier to maintain
    • easier to carry the boat around
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