Rowing Terminology – Part 1

When you first get into rowing and sailing it is hard enough to grasp the techniques and how to actually row. But an added complication is the terminology used when sitting in a boat. The terms vary depending on what type of craft you are sailing in, but for this purpose here are some common terms used in rowing.

Cox / Coxwain

Watching your favorite regatta, you cannot have failed to see a person sitting in the rear of the boat but facing the front. This person is called the cox or sometimes the coxwain and has two responsibilities. The cox has to steer the boat, but he also has to encourage the rowers to produce more effort therefore determining the speed of the boat.


Related to the cox, the cox-box is a piece of equipment that monitors the stroke rate, plus any time that has elapsed, and it also has a microphone so the rowers can hear the instructions better. The cox-box keeps an eye on the performance of the rowers, to help direct them on the pace they are rowing.

Fine Boat

Fine-boat is the terminology that is used when describing the shape of the boat. A finer-boat will cut through the water effortlessly. Sometimes in the UK this terminology is called the rowing scull, or rowing shell.

Forward Facing Rowing Systems

Many people rowing a boat like to see where they are going, and there are several ways this can be achieved. In the case of fishermen, they quite often use long oarlocks, used in conjunction with extra-long oars. This means they can stand up in the boat whilst rowing it. This method of rowing is useful in busy waters or when there are many obstacles, as the rower can direct the craft accurately not to hit anything, sometimes it is termed as push-rowing or back-watering. There are other systems that allow the rower to sit facing the way that he is facing, and some date back hundreds of years.


Basically, the freeboard is the height of the sides of the boat that are above the waterline. There are advantages and disadvantages of having a big freeboard. Normally boats with a big freeboard are more stable in choppy water, but they are also adversely affected by wind as it catches the extra height.

Gunwales / Gunnels

Gunwales and gunnels are basically the same thing and they do the same job. Their purpose is to add strength to the boat. They are the horizontal boards that are attached to the sides of the boat and can normally be seen in the bow, stern and the middle of the boat where the oarlocks are situated.


In rowing boats often long and narrow oars are used than the usual ones, the oarlocks are widened and scull extensions are placed in the oarlocks called outriggers. These outriggers are to hold the narrow oars in place as the oarlocks cannot be mounted directly on the hull. In part two we delve into more rowing terminology, and find out all about rear facing rowing and the different rowing commands.