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6 Different Types of Row Boats

A photo of women rowing backwards.

There are two categories of rowing boats, crew/sweeping and sculling, and three types of rowing boats to choose from based on the type of activity you’re looking to embark on. The three kinds of rowing boats also known as shells are open water shells, flat water shells, and traditional skiffs. 

What began as a mode of transit in ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece has evolved into one of the most popular sports in the United States: rowing. Many colleges and universities still participate in competitive rowing because it is the country’s first team sport.

Rowers can now compete as individuals or as part of crews of two, four, or maybe even eight. Also, rowing became the first American sport that was governed by a national organization. In this article, we’ll discuss the various types and categories of rowboats.

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Categories of Rowing Boats

Types Of Crew Boats

Rowing teams can employ a variety of boats, including the following:

Coxless pair

A photo of two men rowing.

This boat has two rowers outfitted with oars on the left and right sides, each with one oar apiece. There is no coxswain, in this case, so the rudder is attached to the boat through cables.

Coxed Pair

There are two rowers in this coxed pair; however, the coxswain directs the athletes and steers the boat using cables.

Coxless four

A group of people rowing in sea.

This shell contains four rowers, including one oar apiece, two on each side of the boat. A rower is normally responsible for steering the boat because there is no coxswain on board.

Cox Four

A coxswain steers the boat with the help of four rowers, each of whom possesses a single oar.

Coxed Eight

A coxswain steers an eight-person rowing shell with four oars on each side.

Boats Used For Sculling

Four women athletes rowing in lake.

In sculling, athletes use two oars, referred to as sculls, rather than one, and there are specialized boats for this type of rowing. There are several different types:

Single Scull

As the name suggests, a single-scull boat holds one rower who steers the vessel by manipulating the pressure exerted on its blades by adjusting the amount of force exerted on each scull.

Double Scull

A photo of two men rowing for competition.

Two individuals, each with two sculls, maneuver the boat by using an identical strategy in a “double scull,” which is also called the “double or 2x.”

Coxed and Coxless Quad

Four-person sculling boats such as the coxless as well as coxed quads are available. When rowing a coxed quad, the coxswain steers the boat while the crew steers a coxless quad using their feet.

The coxed quad is normally reserved for novices and youngsters in the sport of rowing.

Octuple Scull

A photo of women athletes.

Typically used by novice rowers, the Octuple Scull is one of the rarest boats. There are eight rowers in this boat, which all come with a cox.

Types of Rowing Boats

Flat Water Shells

Solely on steady and smooth water, rowing boat enthusiasts can use their flatwater racing shells to their full potential. For experienced rowers, they’re the finest choice. For the sake of speed, these vessels give up everything.

They are extremely light, extremely narrow, and extremely long (usually a single is 27 feet), rendering them quite difficult to spin. They use outriggers and sliding seats, which are frequently part of the boat itself. Sculls are another name for these boats.

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Open Water Shells

A photo of three white boats.

Using open water shells for workouts is a lot of fun. When matched with flat water shells, you can utilize these shells in rougher waters. Rowing these boats is a blast because they’re small, light, and speedy.

In terms of recreational shells, a closer study reveals a wide range of designs, from relatively stable, slow models to newer designs with 24-foot-plus lengths, and 12 to 14-inch maximum waterline beams.

Their weights range between 31.5 and 40 pounds, and they’re made of kevlar, fiberglass, or carbon fiber. A real long-distance race on the ocean requires a good sculling strategy.

However, these modern designs can handle tough conditions. It is no longer “recreational” rowing, but “open water” rowing as a result of these performance attributes becoming the norm.

Are these open water shells being used by anyone in particular? There are a lot of “leisure rowers” out there who would like to get out on the river and get some exercise.

You can also get competitions when there are two or more people out there willing to challenge themselves to the limit.

Moreover, these shells are especially suitable for endurance competitions where the routes are recorded in miles (between 5 and 30 +) instead of meters, and even where stroke frequencies, as well as speeds, are a little less, to handle the greater range.

Traditional Skiffs

This type of skiff is best suited to novices and those who wish to enjoy the sport of rowing for recreational purposes. They’re dependable and secure in their position.

Rowboats for Touring

A photo of tourist boat in china.

The term “gentleman’s rowboat refers to a light-built boat designed for recreational rowing. Touring rowboats are now the norm. Smaller, lighter, and more maneuverable than a traditional rowing skiff.

In the earlier days, the oarlocks were fastened to the gunwales; today, they are attached to the outriggers of the boat with sliding seat rigs. This enables the use of relatively long oars because of the sliding seat’s longer hand reach.

They are also referred to as wherries, skiffs, and towing vessels.

Rowboats for Work

Boats with oar locks situated on the gunwales are designed to carry high loads and are typically broad-beamed (referred to as oar-on-gunwale rowing).

Rowboats with one or two oarsmen, each utilizing two oars, are common in smaller traditional rowboats (one in each hand). Skiffs, dories, dinghies, and yacht tenders are a few examples of this type of vessel.

Skiff and Dory were originally two distinct terms for flat-bottomed boats, with the bottom boards extending lengthwise and across, but both phrases have lost their significance through time and now nearly any small boat can be termed a dory or perhaps a skiff.

In these boats, the oarlocks are separated by about 4½ feet at the gunwales so that the oarsman can sit on the midline of the boat while rowing.

The average length of the oars is 7½ feet. Rowing boats with multiple oarsmen use one oar gripped by each oarsman with both hands. Whaleboats and concerts are two examples.

Every pair of oarsmen on a whaleboat had one oar to work with, and the vessels were 28 feet long as well as 6 feet wide. The oars’ lengths range from 16 to 18 feet. Six oarsmen sit single file in 32-foot-long pilot gigs with a 4-1/2-foot beam.


When it comes to rowing, there’s no reason not to use oars instead of paddles. Large canoes were often rigged with oarlocks on the gunwales for rowing in the old days.

Traditional (facing the rear) sliding-seat setups for dual recreational canoes are occasionally equipped with outriggers to increase the distance between the oarlocks.

Flat Water Rowing Vs Open Water Rowing

A photo of a yellow boat.

Rowers have to constantly adapt their procedures in open water because of the constantly changing conditions. Because the water isn’t flat, your boat will continually be bouncing, causing your stroke to be inconsistent.

You’ll notice that when you’re rowing parallel to the wave, your oars will be at various heights from your hand.

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For fitness as well as stroke skills, interior rowing equipment is a good option. Professionals, on the other hand, suggest that the only way of learning to row in open water is to practice innocent water.

A more powerful swing and arm action are employed when rowing in open water. In open-water rowing, the leg muscles are not as active as they are in flat-water rowing.

Compared to flat-water sculling boats, open-water boats are shorter, stronger, and have a wider hull to withstand the force of the surf.

When the water is calm, it still poses a threat. If your boat flips, keep your hand on the edge of the vessel so you don’t lose consciousness. Moreover, your oars won’t sink; they’ll float.

Finding the Right Rowing Boat

It is possible to grow in long, tapered canoes built of carbon fiber or composite materials at high speeds and with impressive glides. Boats are rowed with their crew members facing away from the boat’s path of movement on a rotating seat (a slide). The oars drive the boat forward.

Rowers have used a single oar when doing sweep rowing, as well as two oars for sculling, due to the type of rowing.

On a lake, river or the sea, people can carry out this activity.

There might or might not be a coxswain in a given boat and tournament (the person responsible for steering and heads of the crew and boat). We’ll go over the most important things to keep in mind when shopping for a rowing boat in this tutorial.

Sculling vs Sweep Rowing

A photo of four men rowing.

A boat can be moved over the water in one of two strategies. To move the boat, a rower can use one oar, a method called sweeping, or two oars known as sculling. It’s the most fundamental difference between both kinds of rowing.

The coxswain is the only significant distinction between the two styles of rowing. In a sweep boat, the coxswain is the individual who does not have an oar but is the race planner, pace-setter, and navigator of the boat.

If your child is considering a career as a coxswain, don’t worry. The coxswain’s duty is just as significant, or maybe even more than the rowers’ role.

What to Look for When Choosing a Row Boat

There are several important factors to take into account while looking for the ideal rowing boat that meets your needs.

The kind of rowing movement you’ll be participating in, whether it’s a competition or a recreational one, as well as whether you’ll be rowing in seawater or calm lake water, will all play a role in the type of rowing boat you choose.

When purchasing a rowing boat, the most important factors to keep in mind are:

  • A variety of vessels suited to a various uses
  • Sweep or sculling rowing
  • The number of people expected to board the vessel
  • A hull’s material

Sculling or Sweeping: Which Is Better For You?

A photo men rowers in lake.

For sculling or sweeping purposes, a rowing boat has one, two, four, or eight seats, depending on how many people are in the boat. Sculling and sweep rowing are the two most common types of rowing. Scullers are rowers who use two oars, one on each side.

Sweep rowers are those who only use one oar at a time. Sculling is divided into three categories: single (1x), double (2x), as well as a quad (4x) (four people). One-oared rowing sweep boats might or might not have a coxswain’s seat.

Besides steering, this individual can be an on-the-water instructor as well. In rowboats with no coxswains, the rudder is moved by one of the rowers’ feet.

Sweeping rowers pair with a coxswain (2+) and pairs without a coxswain (2-). They also have four rows plus a coxswain (4+) as well as (4-). The last set is right rowers (8+) with a coxswain.

There are no other boats on the water faster than the eight that always have a coxswain in it. Men’s eights can reach speeds of about 14 mph when playing competitively.

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Two oars (sculls) are used by each rower, one on each side (length = 3 m).

Sweeping: Each rower uses a single oar, which they hold with both hands.

Exactly How Many Seats Will You Need in Your Rowboat?

Depending on the number of rowers you’ll have, you’ll need to purchase a rowing boat that has enough seats.

There are a few terms to bear in mind when it comes to rowing boats with numerous rowers. The seats in the boat are used to identify the rowers. Seat No. 1, or the bow, is reserved for the rower in the front of the boat, who will be the first to finish.

The guy in front of the bow is number two, followed by number three, number four, number five, number six, and number seven.

The boat’s stroke must be a powerful rower with outstanding technique, as the stroke establishes the rhythm and the number of strokes per minute that the other crew members must follow.

What Kind Of Rowing Boat Hull Material Should You Use?

With the lightest, thinnest boats feasible used in rowing comes a challenge for resilience that can only be overcome by the precise coordination of all the crew members’ movements.

A rowing boat’s performance is influenced by its lightness and rigidity, which necessitates the use of high-technology materials (kevlar, and carbon fiber, among other varieties of blended materials).

Wood and composite are the primary building materials used in the construction of rowing boats.


A photo of wooden boat construction.

Compared to Kevlar Composites (carbon fiber, etc.), wood is the most costly but very rigid.


more robust and manageable in terms of maintenance and portability

Factors Affecting Rowboat Design

There have been hundreds of years of trial and error to perfect the traditional rowboat forms. Among the things to think about are the following: waterline beam width and length, the fullness or fineness of the ends, and trimming.

Compromises must be made when designing a product.

Height and width

An unsteady boat with a narrow waterline beam puts its passengers at risk of slipping overboard, while an unsteady boat with a wide waterline beam is more resistant to waves. Beam (width) is a critical consideration.

The oars will be difficult to handle if the rowlocks are too close together. Rowing will be inefficient if the rowlocks are too far apart, wasting a rower’s work if the boat is too large.

For rowboats that are narrow and quick in sheltered waters, outriggers may be installed to help separate the rowlocks.

If the freeboard (the height of the gunwale above the waterline) is too high, the boat will be caught by the wind and the rower will not be able to manage the boat in high winds because of the excessive windage.

To prevent flooding, make sure your freeboard is as high as possible. Only one rowing position is needed if the boat is made for a single person. Having a person in the back of the boat will cause the boat to be stern heavy, resulting in a skewed trim.


The rowing boat’s length must strike a balance between two elements that have an impact on its speed. Having a boat that is too short will limit the boat’s speed. Friction and wet surface area increase with increased boat length.

Therefore, a minimum length of 16 feet is recommended. To balance a boat that is longer than the recommended length can be challenging, even if the boat is quicker than the recommended speed.


A weight can be placed on the bow of the rowboat to provide the necessary breadth and height, or the boat can provide a second rowing position further forward. Because of the rowboat’s weight, there are certain advantages and disadvantages.

As soon as the oar stroke is over, a very light boat will begin to slow down. A heavier boat, on the other hand, is more likely to keep moving forward. Compared to traditional clinker-built rowboats, modern rowboats are significantly lighter.