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Good Rowing Starts With Good Rigging

Good Rowing Starts With Good Rigging

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good rigging drives rowing performance - ssrs

Correctly set up Rigging is important for overall boat performance. Photo credit: Carlos Dinares

When it comes to rowing boat performance, there are a large number of variables that determine whether you have a fast racing rowing boat. Often the physicality of the rower, strength, endurance et cetera, or the quality of the rower’s technique take center stage of the boat speed equation.

Let’s not forget another important variable that also contributes to overall boat performance – the rigging configuration!

How does good rigging impact on the performance of the boat?

Can good rigging distinguish good rowing from bad rowing?

How to find out if your rowing boat is rigged correctly:

  1. Equal Catch Angles (between all rowers in the boat)
  2. Equal Finish Angles (between all rowers in the boat)
  3. Equal blade depth on the drive when the oars are under the water
  4. Manage Load Factor (the perceived work load on the athlete’s body)
  5. Maximize Ability to Apply Force (balanced with comfort)
  6. Manage Weight Distribution in the Boat (fore and aft pitch of the hull)

There are many distinct adjustments that can be made to the boat, but all come back to the six things talked about above.  Now let’s look at each adjustment individually and how it relates with the six above.

And a few definitions to clarify:

The ARC: the catch angle plus the finish angle (somewhere around 100 degrees or more, if you’re getting numbers like 70 degrees or 150 degrees or anything more extreme, then you’re doing something wrong).

BUTTON: The thing that rests against the rowlock or “oarlock”. More commonly called a “collar”.

REACH: The distance a rower can cover with their hands (relatively parallel with the hull) from the catch position all the way to the finish position. I.E. short rowers have less “reach” than tall rowers.

LOAD FACTOR: How heavy it feels to the rower.


The spread is the distance from the center of the boat to the center of the pin.  In sculling it is called “span” and is the distance between the centers of both pins.  This adjustment directly controls stroke arc (finish and catch angles) and indirectly affects the load factor, or heaviness felt by the athlete. Moving the pin(s) towards the center of the boat (or said another way, a smaller number) will give greater stroke arc, steeper catches and finishes, and without changing the length of the oar, will cover more total distance per stroke, thus increasing the load factor.  Adjusting is simple and involves loosening the bottom of the pin and usually the backstay as well, and adjusting in or out from the boat center line accordingly.

Recommendation: Find the desired arcs you want to row at. Find a general number to start at based on the average crew height, set everyone the same, knowing you will have to make adjustments. Then, make adjustments from there to accommodate rowers that have very short “reach” or very long “reach”.


For the most part everyone measures just overall oar or scull length, and then inboard.  If you want to be different you can measure overall length and outboard instead.  If you feel the need to measure all three then there is something wrong with you (you can’t do subtraction!).  The video below shows the standard places to measure from on the oar, you can choose any place you like, just be consistent and realize almost everyone does it the way the video shows.

So why change length or inboard?  It changes the load factor or “gear ratio” like on a bicycle.  In rowing you can change gears but not during a race, its going to be preset on land so choose your gear wisely (too light and you’ll row at a crazy high stroke rate and go nowhere, too heavy and your crew will tire quickly and have difficulty getting the rate up).

Think shorter oar = low gear (light), longer oar = high gear (heavy).
The main reason to change inboard is really just to keep the handle in the center of the boat when you are changing the spread/span.  This means athletes won’t have to move their foot stretchers if you do change the gearing.
Changing overall oar length is the other way to re-gear but don’t forget if you change the length then you also need to move the button or “collar” to reset the inboard to where it was before.
To keep the handle in a comfortable (and efficient) spot for the rowers, you should generally add 30cm to your spread, or aim for a 18-22cm overlap in sculling boats.

Content courtesy of Jon Kotwicki – RowINTEL

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