The boats (or shells) are basically of two types and reflect the two forms of rowing – sweep rowing and sculling. In sweep rowing each rower handles a single oar (about 12.5 ft or 3.9 m long) in sculling a rower uses two oars, or sculls, (each about 9.5 ft or 3 m long). The word shell is often used in reference to the boats used because the hull is only about 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick to make it as light as possible. These shells are also rather long and racing shells are as narrow as possible while recreational ones can be rather wide. Most shells today are made of composite materials such as carbon fiber, fiberglass, or kevlar. A few manufacturers still build wooden boats.
Each rower has his back to the direction the shell is moving and power is generated using a blended sequence of the rower’s legs, back and arms. The rower sits on a sliding seat with wheels on a track called the slide.
Each oar is held in a U-shaped swivel (oarlock) mounted on a metal pin at the end of a rigger. The rigger is an assembly of tubes that is tightly bolted to the body of the shell. The subtypes of rowing shells are classified according to the number of rowers in the shell.
Sweep Boats (each rower has one oar)
These shells can have a coxswain—a person who steers the shell (using a rudder) and urges the rowers on. I have included in parenthesis the symbol used for each subtype along with some dimensions and weights.
- Coxed Pair (2+) – Two sweep rowers with a coxswain.
- Coxless Pair (2-) – Two sweep rowers without a coxswain.
- Coxed Four (4+) – Four sweep rowers with a coxswain.
- Straight (or Coxless) Four (4-) – Four sweep rowers without a coxswain. Steering is usually accomplished via a rudder that is attached to a cable that is connected to one of the rower’s foot stretchers (this an adjustable bracket to which the rower’s feet are secured). The coxless pair has a similar type of rudder setup.
- Eight (8+) – Eight sweep rowers with a coxswain. Eights are 60+ ft (~18.5 m) long and weigh about 250 pounds (~114 kg).
Sculling Boats (each rower has two oars)
Only in rare cases do these boats have a coxswain. Steering is generally accomplished by applying more power or pressure to the oar(s) on one side of the shell. The hands overlap (usually left over right in the US) during part of the rowing cycle, or are always left in front of right.
- Single (1X) – One rower or sculler. Singles are about 26 ft (8 m) long and less than a foot (0.3 m) wide. Racing singles can weigh as little as 30 pounds (~13.5 kg). There are heavier (~45 to 50 pounds), shorter and wider versions often referred to as recreational singles.
- Double (2X) – Two scullers. Most racing doubles can be also used as a pair with a different set of riggers designed for sweep oars. When used as a pair a rudder is usually added. There are also recreational versions of sculling doubles.
- Quadruple or “Quad” (4X) – Four scullers. Often referred to as a `quad’ and usually has a rudder attached to one of the sculler’s foot stretchers as in the straight four. Most quads can also be rigged as a straight four using a different set of riggers.