Learn to Row

The Cambridge Rowing Club runs two “Learn to Row” programmes each year for those who are completely new to the sport. A level of basic fitness is helpful for anyone who wants to learn to row as rowing is a physically demanding sport. The boats are heavy to lift in and out of the water and good flexibility is also very important.

In March/April we run a “Learn to Row, Ready to Race” programme which is aimed at recruiting rowers who wish to row competitively in the sport at “club” adult level and race the summer season of 2km regattas. This programme usually involves 10 weeks of intensive coaching followed by athletes joining the racing squad. Sessions are usually 6:00PM on Thursday and Friday evenings.

In September/October we run a “Learn to Row for Recreation” programme which is aimed at rowers who want to row for health, fitness and social reasons. This programme also generally takes 10 weeks and includes the first 4 weeks of indoor rowing and general fitness, followed by a combination of on water and on land training. Rowing development continues in our Roll Up and Row sessions at the conclusion of this programme. Sessions are usually 6pm on a Wednesday evening and 9:30AM on a Saturday morning.

If you are interested in finding out more information about Learn to Row at Cambridge Rowing Club, please contact Louise Beaumont (Club Captain) by emailemail or by ☏ phone

Glossary of Rowing Terms

For a more extensive list, see Glossary of Rowing Terms on Wikipedia.

The athletes

  • Bow (or bow seat)The rower closest to the front or bow of a multi-person shell. In coxless boats, often the person who keeps an eye on the water behind them to avoid accidents.
  • Coxswain or "cox"The oar-less crew-member, usually included, who is responsible for steering and race strategy. The coxswain either sits in the stern or lies in the bow of the boat, and faces in the direction of travel.
  • NovicesRowers who are in their first year of rowing.
  • ScullerA rower who rows with two oars, one in each hand.
  • Seat numberA rower's position in the boat counting up from the bow.
  • Stroke (Seat)The rower closest to the stern of the boat, responsible for the stroke rate and rhythm.
  • WashThe wake from a motorized boat, disliked by rowers as the wash affects the boat stability and can cause water to flood over the gunwales.

The boats

  • Quad (4x)A shell having 4 rowers with two oars each. Can be coxed (4x+) but is usually coxless (4x-).
  • Double (2x)A shell for two scullers generally without a coxswain.
  • Single (1x)A shell designed for an individual sculler.

Equipment / parts of the boat

  • BackstopThe stop mechanism on the seat slides which prevents the rower's seat from falling off the sliding tracks at the back end (towards the boat's bow) of the slide tracks.
  • BladeThe spoon or hatchet/cleaver shaped end of the oar. Also used to refer to the entire oar.
  • BowThe front section of a shell and the first section of the shell to cross the finish line.
  • Collar / ButtonA wide plastic ring placed around the sleeve of an oar. The button stops the oar from slipping through the oarlock.
  • Ergometer (also ergo or erg)An indoor rowing machine.
  • Foot stretcherAn adjustable footplate, to which a pair of shoes is typically attached, which allows the rower to easily adjust their physical position relative to the slide and the oarlock. The footplate can be moved (or "stretched") either closer to or farther away from the slide frontstops.
  • FrontstopThe stop mechanism on the seat slides which prevents the rower's seat from falling off the sliding tracks at the front end (towards the boat's stern) of the slide tracks.
  • GateBar across the top of oarlock, secured with a nut, which prevents the oar from coming out of the oarlock.
  • Gunwales (pronounced: gunnels)The top rail of the saxboard.
  • HandleThe part of the oar that the rowers hold and pull with during the stroke.
  • Leather/sleeveA thick piece of leather (plastic on modern oars) around the oar to keep the oar lock from wearing out the shaft of the oar (typically wood or carbon fiber).
  • OarA slender pole which is attached to a boat at the Oarlock. One end of the pole, called the "handle," is gripped by the rower, the other end has a "blade," which is placed in the water during the propulsive phase of the stroke.
  • OarlockThe rectangular lock at the end of the rigger which physically attaches the oar to the boat. The oarlock also allows the rower to rotate the oar blade between the "square" and "feather" positions.
  • PinThe vertical metal rod on which the oarlock rotates.
  • RiggerRowing slang name for an outrigger. It is a projection from the saxboard/gunwale of a racing shell. The oarlock is attached to the far end of the rigger away from the boat. The rigger allows the racing shell to be narrow thereby decreasing drag, while at the same time placing the oarlock at a point that optimizes leverage of the oar.
  • RollerThe wheels upon which the seat travels along its track.
  • SaxboardThe sides and top edge of a boat, to which the riggers attach.
  • ShellThe boat used for rowing.
  • Skeg (or fin)Thin piece of flat metal or plastic that helps stabilize the shell in the water, and is often positioned so that it protects the rudder.
  • Slides (or tracks)Hollow rails upon which a rower or sculler's sliding seat will roll.
  • SternThe rear section of a shell.

The stroke

  • Air strokeTo take a stroke without the blade having been placed in the water, resulting in a complete lack of power.
  • BacksplashWater thrown back toward the bow direction by the blade as it enters the water. Less is best. This indicates that the blade has been properly planted before the rower initiates the drive.
  • Body angleAmount of forward lean of rower's body from hips at the catch.
  • Bury the bladeSubmerge the blade totally in the water.
  • CatchThe part of the stroke at which the oar blade enters the water and the drive begins. Rowers conceptualize the oar blade as "catching" or grabbing hold of the water.
  • Catch pointWhere the blade enters the water.
  • CheckThe amount of interruption of the forward movement which usually occurs at the catch and sometimes at the release.
  • CoverThe distance between one set of puddles and the next set of puddles.
  • Crab, or Catch a crabA rowing error where the rower is unable to timely extract (release) the oar blade from the water and the oar blade acts as a brake on the boat until it is extracted from the water. This results in slowing the boat down. A severe crab can even eject a rower (colloquially an "ejector crab") from the shell or capsize the boat (unlikely except in small boats). Occasionally, in a severe crab, the oar handle will knock the rower flat and end up behind them, in which case it is referred to as an "over-the-head crab."
  • DriveThe propulsive portion of the stroke from the time the oar blade enters the water ("catch") until it is extracted from the water ("release").
  • FeatherTo turn the oar so that its blade is parallel with the water (opposite of square).
  • FinishThe portion of the pull-through just as the oar is taken from the water.
  • Hands awayAt the close of the drive phase, the hands move away from the body.
  • Hanging at the catchThe blade is hesitating at the catch point, before entering the water.
  • LaybackWhat the rowers have when they sit with their legs flat and lean towards the bow of the boat with their body.
  • Leg drivePower applied to the stroke, at the catch, by the force of driving the legs down.
  • Missing waterA technical fault where the rower begins the drive before the catch is complete.
  • Over reachFault done by a rower when they come to their full reach forward and then attempt to obtain even greater length by releasing their grasp on the handle with their outside hand or by bringing their outside shoulder further forward.
  • Pause paddlingRowing with a pause between each stroke. The coxswain or rower giving commands will indicate where in the stroke this pause should be taken.
  • PuddlesDisturbances made by an oar blade pulled through the water. The farther the puddles are pushed past the stern of the boat before each catch, the more “run” the boat is getting.
  • Pull throughThe portion of the stroke from the catch to the finish (when the oar is in the water). This is the propulsive part of the stroke.
  • Rating (or Stroke Rate)The number of strokes executed per minute by a crew.
  • RatioThe relationship between the time taken during the propulsive and recovery phases of a rowing or sculling action.
  • RecoveryThe non-work phase of the stroke where the rower returns the oar from the release to the catch.
  • ReleaseAt the end of the drive portion of the stroke. It is when the oar blade(s) is extracted (released) from the water.
  • RunDistance a shell travels during each stroke.
  • RushingWhen rowers move too quickly along their tracks into the catch. The boat will lose the feeling that it is gliding or "running out."
  • SetThe balance of the boat. Affected by handle heights, rowers leaning, and timing, all of which affect the boat's balance, after which the coxswain tells rowers to "set the boat".
  • Shooting your slideWhen a rower's seat moves toward the bow faster than their shoulders.
  • SkyingA blade that is too high off the surface of the water during the recovery. The rower's hands are too low causing an upset to the balance of the boat.
  • Split time (split)Amount of time it takes to row 500 meters.
  • SquareTo turn the oar so that its blade is perpendicular to the water (opposite of feather).
  • SwingA feeling in the boat when the rowers are driving and finishing their strokes strongly and getting good layback.
  • Three-quarter/Half/Quarter slideShortened strokes, often used during the start of a race or in a warm-up.
  • Washing outWhen an oar blade comes out of the water during drive and creates surface wash that causes the shell to lose power and become unsteady.


  • Scratch crewA crew which has not rowed with each other before.