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“We Don’t Just Talk About Rowing – We Actually Row!”

Crewing Vs Rowing – What Is the Difference?

crewing vs rowing

Hi everyone! It’s your favorite rowing blogger Petra.

Are the words crewing and rowing the same thing? If you’re interested in learning to row or watching rowing events but find the terminology confusing ( learn more on rowing terms and phrases ), don’t worry! No one is born knowing these things! We all had to learn at one time!

“Rowing” and “crewing” are often used interchangeably, referring to the same thing—the action of propelling a boat using oars. However, rowing is a general term used in both sport and non-sport contexts, while crewing refers to the rowing sport and is the term often used in American schools and colleges.

If you’ve seen or heard the words crewing, rowing, sculling, shells, or regattas and wondered what they all mean, I’m going to clear up all the confusion.

Give me just a few minutes of your time, and I will bring you up to speed and sounding like a real sculler the next time you attend a racing event!

Crewing? Rowing? What’s the Difference?

This seems more complicated than it really is, and it’s because of the way we talk and how words evolve.

A crew is actually the people who are in the boat. However, over the years, we’ve made it a habit to call the rowing sport “crewing,” and so the word caught on.

crew sport boat rowing on water

In nautical terms, the crew is the team rowing the boat, but it’s not uncommon, especially at regattas in the USA, to hear announcers talk about crewing when they mean rowing.

This slang probably got started because we actually have two types of rowing.

One is sweep rowing, which is when each member in the boat is holding one oar. The other is sculling, which is when each member (called a sculler) in the boat (called a scull) is holding two oars (also called sculls).

One reason we call them scullers and not rowers is to distinguish them from sweep rowing athletes.

If you hear announcers talking about crewing, they are usually referring to the rowing sport itself.

So Are Rowing and Crew the Same?

Pretty much, yes, they are.

The more you become involved in the sport, you will become accustomed to hearing some terms being used that can mean more than one thing, but it will soon become obvious to you which they are talking about.

For example, if you hear an announcer at a regatta saying that crews should be ready to take their positions, you know that they are talking about the actual people who are going to be racing.

rowing team on water training

However, if you should hear someone talking about their last split while crewing, they are talking about their 500- meter time when they were rowing.

It sounds more confusing than it actually is. Once you join a rowing club or attend international rowing events, it won’t take you very long to understand what people are talking about.

Related Post:  Where Did Rowing Originate From?

Is a Regatta and a Head Race the Same Thing?

I hate to say it, but yes and no.

rowing vs crew

Regattas and head races are both rowing competitions, but they are different from each other.

Yes, a head race is a race, but it is much longer and more of an obstacle course type of race. The most popular head race in the USA is the Head of the Charles Race, which is held each fall in Boston.

Most regattas are held during the spring and summer months. There may be several races going on during each regatta, with each race being 1,000 or 2,000 meters.

Head races are usually held in the fall, and they involve a 3-to-4-mile race where crews need to pass under bridges, go around rocks or statues, and avoid trees or bushes that may have grown.

You might also hear a regatta being called a sprint race. Sprint races are not head races.

Is a Rowing Team Called a Crew?

Yes, generally, rowing teams are called crews.

If the crew is doing sculling, then don’t be surprised to hear these people being called scullers.

team of rowers rowing on river

In my experience, I often hear teams of people who are in sculling boats called scullers and those who are doing sweep rowing as crew (read more on rowing vs sculling ), but the term crew and rowers are fairly interchangeable.

If you are watching events sponsored by the United States rowing association, you will hear the term crew used much more often than in international events or by announcers who are from other countries.

American schools and colleges, especially, like to use the term “crew” for rowing. Side Note:  If you are thinking about joining Crew check out an article I wrote about how much does a crew boat cost so you fully understand all the costs involved

How Hard Is It to Do Crew Rowing?

Rowing is extremely taxing, and it uses every major muscle in your body. This includes the arms, legs, glutes, core muscles, and even your hands and fingers! Every movement and every muscle counts!

Rowers must push with their legs as hard as possible, pull with their arms, and remain strong and steady through their core muscles.

scull team rowing on river

Every little thing matters in rowing! A simple but sudden tilt of your head can offset the boat and cause it to dip to one side.

Working with a crew means that you not only need strength and speed but also must learn to coordinate with everyone else on the boat.

Sculling is the same, but it requires a tremendous sense of balance! Each shell (which is what racing boats are called) can be as small as 10 inches wide! This means you need to have a great sense of balance and still do everything mentioned above in sweep rowing.  Side Note:  Learn the difference between rowing lightweight vs heavyweight

What Is the Ideal Body Type for Crew?

Believe it or not, it’s similar to modeling!

The perfect crew member is quite tall, very thin, with long arms and legs. Regardless of your rowing experience, those with this type of body are often the ones you see at regattas and even in Olympic rowing clubs.

single scull rower training on river

Taller is usually preferred because the taller the athlete the more potential there is for a greater stroke length. When you combine this with stroke frequency you can get greater efficiency and, therefore, greater speed across the water.

Most professional rowers have very low body fat levels. Men may have body fat as low as 8 percent and women about 10 percent. To put this in context, the average population has body fat levels between 18 and 25 percent.

Deadweight, such as excess body fat, is detrimental in regattas. The less weight a shell carries, the easier it is to get it across the finish line first!

The Bottom Line

When all is said and done, it doesn’t matter whether you call someone rowing a boat a sculler, a crew, or a rower. What matters is that the boat crossing the finish line first wins the race!

When speaking of professional regattas, such as the famous Henley Royal Regatta, or world rowing championships, only the tall, strong, powerful, well-conditioned athlete will compete. Imagine the training and conditioning that goes into winning a gold medal at the World Championships!

You can call the rowers a crew or scullers, you can call the event crewing or rowing (learn more on crew rowing positions ), it really doesn’t matter. A rose is still a rose no matter what name you give it, right?

Enjoy rowing and rocking, crew!

3 thoughts on “Crewing Vs Rowing – What Is the Difference?”

  1. Pingback: What Does a Coxswain Do & Say? | Rowing Crazy

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