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  • Boats are divided into two classes: shells and sculls. In both kinds of racing boats, rowers feet are tied into shoes built into the boat (they wear socks not shoes to race). They move back and forth on seats that roll on a track about 2.5 feet long and have swivel oarlocks allowing them to power their oars.
  • Athletes with two oars — one in each hand — are called scullers. There are three sculling events: the single, the double, and the quad. Shorthand for these events are “1x,” “2x”, and “4x”, etc. In a scull, each rower has two oars that are approximately 9.5 feet long.
  • Athletes with only one oar are sweep rowers who race in shells. In a shell, each rower has only one oar that is 12 feet long. Sweep events are the pair, four, and eight. Pairs and fours can come with a coxswain (2+ and 4+) and without (2- and 4-). Eight (8+) always carries a coxswain. The eight is the fastest boat on the water.
  • Eight-oared shells are about 60-feet long – that’s 20 yards on a football field.
  • An “eight”, which carries more than three-quarters of a ton (1,750 pounds), may weigh as little as 200 pounds. The boats are made of fiberglass composite material.
  • “Singles” may be as narrow as 10 inches across, weigh only 23 pounds, and stretch nearly 27-feet long.






In the sport of rowing, each rower is numbered by boat position in ascending order from the bow (front) to the stern (back) (with the exception of single sculls).

  • The coxswain (pronounced “cox-in”), or “cox”,  steers the boat with a rudder and serves as the in-the-boat coach, carrying out the coach’s plan. To carry out the race (or training) plan, the cox calls “power pieces” (e.g., 20 hard strokes) and stroke rate, which the rower facing the coxswain (“the stroke“) must instigate. And the cox also serves as chief motivator, calling out encouraging information (e.g., “I’ve got Edgewater’s stroke” or “Give me Lyman’s bow ball!”).
  • Stern Pair. The “stroke” is the rower closest to the stern of the boat. Everyone else follows the stroke’s timing – placing their blades in and out of the water at the same time as stroke. The stroke can communicate with the coxswain (when in a stern coxed boat) to give feedback on how the boat feels. During a race, it is the stroke’s responsibility to establish the crew’s rate (number of strokes per minute) and rhythm. (In coxed boats, the coxswain will assist the stroke in establishing the rate). Because of the great responsibilities, the rower in the stroke seat will usually be one of the most technically sound members of the boat.The next rower (“seven” in an eight) sits directly behind stroke and is typically both fit and skilled: this rower acts as a buffer between the stroke and the rest of the crew. They closely follow the rhythm set by the stroke and help transmit this rhythm to the rest of the boat, and particularly to the rowers rowing on the same side as seven, since rowers tend to look at the blades on their side of the boat to check their timing. If the strokeman increases or decreases the stroke rate it is essential that seven follows this change so that it is translated to the rest of the crew. Number seven usually watches the back of number 8 so that they can time when to move up the slide and copy their rhythm.
  • Middle Crew. The middle rowers of a crew (numbers 2 and 3 in a four, and 3, 4, 5 and 6 in an eight) are normally the most powerful and heaviest rowers, colloquially known as the Fuel Tank, Engine Room, Power House or Meat Wagon. The boat pitches and yaws less in the middle, and the rowers there have less effect on these movements, being closer to the centre of mass and centre of buoyancy. Therefore the rowers in the middle of the boat do not have to be as technically sound or reactive to the movements of the boat, and can focus more on pulling as hard as they can. It is common practice among crews to put the most technically proficient rowers at the bow and stern and the physically strongest and heaviest rowers in the centre.

  • Bow Pair. The rower closest to the bow of the boat, is usually called either “bow” or the “bowman”. In coxless boats, the bowman is often responsible for giving calls to the crew. The bow pair of bow and “two”, who are the two rowers closest to the boat’s bow, are more responsible for the stability (called “set“) and the direction of the boat than any other pair of rowers, and are often very technical rowers. The bow of a stern-coxed boat is subject to the greatest amount of pitching, requiring the bow pair to be adaptable and quick in their movements.

    Boats that are bow coxed rely on communication between the bowman and the cox – as the cox cannot see boats coming up from behind. Bowmen tend to be the smallest of the rowers in the boat.


  • The average female rower on the U.S. Olympic team is close to 6-feet tall, while the average man 6-foot-6. They do not have weight restrictions unless they are rowing in the lightweight categories.
  • Coxswains are petite, but not too petite. The FISA (International Rowing Federation) requires that coxswains in men’s crews weigh a minimum of 55 kilograms (121.25 lbs) in racing uniform. For women, the weight minimum is 50 kilograms (110.23 lbs) in racing uniform. If a cox is underweight, he/she must carry sandbags to bring them above the minimum.
  • Lightweight men cannot weigh more than 155 pounds and the average weight of the entire boat cannot exceed 150 pounds.
  • Lightweight women cannot weigh more than 135 pounds and the average weight of the entire boat cannot exceed 120 pounds.
  • Coxwains and competitors in the lightweight category must weight in for ever race.


In coxless pairs, quadruple sculls and coxless fours, one of the rowers will be designated to steers. They will control the rudder using lines attached to the toe of one shoe, which pivots around the ball of the foot. The rower who steers is chosen according to experience and the nature of the course on which the boat is rowing: bow has a clear view ahead when looking over one’s shoulder, whereas stroke may be able to steer well on a straight course by pointing the stern at a reference point. A rower steering in the middle of a four or quad is not uncommon, since bow and stroke have other duties already.


Traditionally a boat is organized so that alternate rowers row on port and starboard (or strokeside and bowside), with stroke on port side (having their blade to their own right) (strokeside). This is sometimes reversed, so that stroke is on the other side (having their blade to their own left); such a boat is usually described as ‘bow rigged’.

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