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

Rowing Vs Sculling: Which Is Right for You?

sculling vs rowing, which is right for you

Rowing vs Sculling. If you are a real newbie, you might be wondering what the heck we are talking about.

If you know the difference, you might wonder which one is right for you.

Everyone has a preference, and if you’re still on the fence or if you’ve tried one but are considering the other, this article is for you.

My name is Petra, and today’s article is about rowing vs sculling. Hang on tight, we’ve got a lot of ground (or should I say water) to cover.

Rowing Vs Sculling- The Main Differences

For anyone new to the sport, these two terms might be confusing. Isn’t rowing and sculling the same thing? This is easy to figure out. Check out how many oars each rower is holding.

  • If each rower uses only one oar and holds it with both hands (read more on toughing up rowers hands ), it’s a rowing event (also called sweep rowing).
  • However, if each rower holds two oars (one in each hand), then it’s a sculling event.

Besides the number of oars, there are other differences between sculling and sweep rowing, such as:

  • You can have a single sculler, but you can’t have a single sweep rower (unless you plan on turning in circles endlessly).
  • The rowing setup (called rigging) also slightly differs between sweep rowing and sculling.
  • Most colleges don’t teach sculling.
  • You can see eight rowers in a sweep rowing boat, but an 8-person sculling boat (called octuple) is quite rare in competitions.
  • A more common name for a rowing boat is shell. If the boat is designed for sculling, you might hear it called a scull. They are both boats, however, so if you are worried about making a mistake, just call it a boat.

Competitive rowing almost always includes both rowing and sculling, Maybe about now you are sitting back and thinking, “Wow! All this time I’ve been following sculling thinking that it was the same as rowing (or sweep rowing)!”

Don’t worry, no one is born knowing the difference.

Which Is Faster, Rowing or Sculling?

which is faster, rowing or sculling

Hands down, the fastest boat on the water is an 8-person rowing shell.

However, if you match apples to apples, (e.g., you would race a 4-person sculling boat against a 4-person sweep rowing boat), you would find that sculling boats win nearly every time.

Of course, there are exceptions to that rule, but generally speaking, it’s true.

However, you probably won’t see any races like that since we do try to match rowers by age, weight, sex, and type of rowing.

How Long Does It Take to Learn to Scull?

male single sculler

That would depend on whether you’ve already been rowing, your age, and how much time you intend to practice.

On average, I would say that if you have never rowed before, you’re 30 and under, and you were to devote yourself to practice at least two hours a day, 3 days a week, you can probably master the skill in two to four weeks.

Older individuals take longer to master this type of skill, and if you can’t devote a minimum of 6 hours a week, it will take you even longer.

Yes, there are exceptions to every rule. I’m sure that there are people who have powerful concentration and focus capabilities who pick up sculling in less than two weeks, but I’m talking about averages here.

Why does it take so long just to learn to scull? Mainly it’s because sculling requires balance. The shells are quite narrow, often only 11-12 inches wide. This doesn’t leave you much space for sitting, let alone using the sliding seats to move back and forth.

a single sculler

Even after you’ve learned balance, you need to learn how to effectively use the oars and master your rowing stroke so that you are at your most efficient.

If you really aren’t interested in competitive rowing and simply want to enjoy the water, the wildlife, the peace and tranquility of the great outdoors, then buy a recreational scull.

A recreational sculling boat is wider and deeper (also heavier). You can even take along an ice chest and an umbrella so you can enjoy your time outdoors.

What Is the Difference Between Rowing and Sculling Oars?

Rowing and Sculling Oars differ in length

As you can imagine, the oars for rowing and sculling are quite different from one another, although they may look the same.

Sculling oars are about 9.5 feet long, while sweep rowing oars are 12.5 feet in length.

When sculling, most people will pass their left hand over their right hand as the oar handles come together. This will prevent your hands from knocking against one another.

Depending on your height, you may have to adjust the height of the left oar blade by making adjustments to the collar that holds the oar in place.

There is also something called the “spread”.

For sculling, the spread is the space from the center of one pin to the center of the opposite pin. The typical distance is 61-63 inches, but it can be adjusted to suit the rower.

For rowing, the spread is the distance from the center of the pin to the center of the boat.

It’s a bit of a complicated system, but if you should become involved in either rowing or sculling, the boat is usually setup in advance, and you probably won’t have to worry about it unless you own your own shell.

Which Events Have Coxswains – Sculling or Rowing?

Coxed 8 Men's sweep team racing

If you’ve ever seen someone sitting, hunkered down, or sometimes even lying down with just their head looking out at the water, you’ve seen the coxswain.

While sculling events CAN have a coxswain (pronounced cox’n), they rarely do. Scullers usually steer the boat themselves, and they don’t seem to need coxes.

In comparison, sweep rowing events usually have a coxswain, who is always the lightest person in the boat.

Since they don’t row, you want the coxswain to be very light. You also don’t want them to cause extra drag from the wind. This is why you might see the coxswain hunched over or even lying down to reduce drag.

Men's 8 rowing team training with their cox

It is also quite common to see a female coxswain on a male crew team. Women tend to be lighter than most men, but I have seen my fair share of guys so short and light that they could have been horse jockeys!

The coxswain doesn’t row, but they do steer the boat. They also act as a coach and determine the overall racing strategy.

Deciding to use a coxswain is a team’s personal choice, but in competitive rowing, a good coxswain is worth their weight in gold.

Which Is Harder, Sculling or Sweep Rowing?

Sculling vs Sweep Rowing, which is harder

Everyone has their own opinion here. I think sculling is harder to learn. but sweep rowing is harder to win.

As I said, before you can even concentrate on rowing in a scull, you’ll have to first learn to balance your boat.

If you haven’t seen an actual sculling boat, don’t let the rowers you see on TV give you the impression that this is a stroll (or a row) in the park.

These shells are very, very narrow, making it difficult to find your balance. This becomes even more pronounced if there are two or four rowers.

Once you find your balance, then you need to learn to balance with other crew members, and it’s only then that you can focus on your strokes, timing, and coordination with others on your team.

However, it seems to me that most scullers, once they have the hang of it, tend to go into “automatic rowing.”

Let me explain. Remember when you first learned to drive a car? You had to pay attention to everything, and it seemed overwhelming at first. You wonder how your parents drove while playing the radio and talking to you in the back seat.

coxless sculling and sweep rowing

After you had been driving for a few years, you may find yourself pulling up in front of your house and wondering how you got there. You may have been thinking of something else, and you did it on auto-pilot, so to speak.

It seems to me that sculling works the same way. It’s not that they aren’t focused on the race, but they just don’t seem to work as hard at it as sweep rowing crews do.

I haven’t done too much sculling myself so perhaps I’m wrong, but this is my opinion.

Whether you choose to learn sweep rowing or sculling, you’ll quickly discover that you love one of them and merely tolerate the other.

The Bottom Line

Sculling and sweep rowing are two similar but very different types of competitive racing that will have you completely enthralled if you catch the rowing bug.

Remember that in sweep rowing (or just rowing), the rower uses only one oar, while in sculling, the rower uses two oars. That’s really all that a beginner or observer needs to know to tell the difference.

Check out our article on rowing terminology if you want to learn more words and phrases used in sweep rowing and sculling.

Stay fit, everyone, and have fun rowing or sculling!