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

What Is a Crew Boat Called?

what is a crew boat called

Hi everyone! It’s Petra, and today’s article is going to tell you more about what a crew boat is called, different boat types, and more rowing lingo that can be a bit confusing to newcomers.

But first, let’s answer your question.

The boat used in crew (the term used by American schools to refer to the sport of rowing) is called a shell. There are other names for it, such as scull or skiff, but shell is well understood universally.

Whether you will be attending or participating in your first collegiate sport, or you plan on going further and watching world rowing championships, you’ll want to become a bit familiar with the lingo so that you don’t wonder what the heck is going on.

What Is the Rowing Boat Called?

While you can call the boat a row boat or a rowing boat or just a plain boat, you’ll realize that people call the boat used in racing many names.

A true rowing boat is something you might take your girlfriend out for a day on the lake. it’s nearly as wide as it is long, and you have room for a picnic basket, fishing gear, or what have you.

crew boats sitting on the grass

When speaking of racing, you will find that the majority of people call the boat a shell, a scull, or even a skiff.

The racing shell is aptly named. In fact, your first collegiate boat club boat was most likely called a shell.

If you’ve ever used one, especially for sculling, you will find that it is extremely narrow, with some sculls no wider than 18 inches!

This is not surprising since in the rowing sport, weight means everything. You don’t want one extra pound that you don’t need. The lighter a boat is, the faster it can skim across the water.

The boat that you would take your girlfriend on is probably 25 feet long and 3 or 3.5 feet wide! Compare that to the 18-inch wide shell!

Also, shells are very thin, with most being only 1/4 to 1/8 of an inch thick! This makes them very lightweight and requires a measure of balance to just sit in one, let alone row!

If there is a boat with a motor, such as a coach’s boat or a judge’s boat, that boat is called a launch. Don’t get that confused with “launching” a boat into the water!

Of course, if you can’t remember the name, you can always call it a boat. That is a perfectly acceptable word.

Why Do I See Much Bigger Shells in Regattas?

sculling and sweeping

In the same way that you might see a heavyweight boxing match and a lightweight or featherweight boxing match, you will also see shells of all different sizes.

Keep in mind that there are actually two types of rowing.

  1. Sculling. This is where each person in the boat holds two oars. You can have a single scull, double, quad, or octuple.
  2. Sweep Rowing. This is where each person in the boat holds only one oar. You need pairs to do sweep rowing, and the minimum number of rowers is two. For this type of rowing, you can have 2 (called a pair), 4 (called four), or 8 (called eight) rowers in a shell.

Both sculling and sweep rowing will have different-sized shells depending on how many people are on the crew boat.

A sculling boat tends to be very narrow, while a sweep boat will be a bit wider, but not much.

Also, sweep boats often have a coxswain to steer the boat and give coaching advice or plan out a race strategy. This means that there needs to be a seat for the coxswain as well as the rowers. Overall, this will lead to a wider, bigger boat.

Scullers generally do not use a coxswain. In events when the rowers are children, you may find a coxed quad or coxed octuple, but those are rare occasions.

Since scullers can sit one rower behind the other, the boat can be very narrow.

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Are the Oars the Same in Both Sculling and Sweep Rowing?

red rowing shell sitting on the grass

No, the oars are also different for these two rowing types.

Sculling oars are different from a sweep oar. Since sculling shells are much more narrow, the oars also help in balancing the boat.

Sweep rowing oars have a handle long enough for two hands and sculling for only one hand ( learn about rowing vs sculling ). The oar blade of both oar types have similar hatchet-like shapes, but sweep oars are about 2 feet longer than a sculling oar.

The average sweep rowing oar is 12 feet long, while a sculling oar is 10 feet long.

Oh, by the way, never call the oar a paddle. A paddle is what you use on a kayak or in a canoe. Think of Davey Crockett or the native Americans paddling a canoe. (Read more on the difference between oar and paddle )

Paddles are very short, perhaps only 3 or 4 feet long. Compare that to the 10 or 12-foot oar you use in rowing.

So while you can call a shell a boat, don’t call the oar a paddle!

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How Long Are Most Regattas?

ladies quad group rowing

This will depend on the type of race.

For example, high school or local (city or county) races are generally 1,500 meters.

Intercollegiate races and Olympic games are often 2,000 meters, but you can find 500-meter races.

Head races, such as the Head of the Charles in Boston, are often 5,000 meters and involve obstacles.

There is often more than one race happening during a regatta. Each classification has its own race, and many offer both a lightweight category and a regular (or open) category for everyone else.

Regatta Race

So you might have 8 or 15 races scheduled for a single regatta, since each age group gets to race, lightweights for each age group have a race, and there are often adaptive groups that will also race.

Don’t imagine going to a regatta for an hour to watch one race! I guarantee that you will be watching several boat classes and age groups to see who crosses the finish line first!

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, if you can’t remember the name of a boat or even what they call the two types of rowing, it’s OK. No one will kick you out for calling the shell a boat or calling scullers “rowers’.

The more involved you become, the more these terms will become familiar to you. Welcome to the world of rowing, my friends. It’s an exciting sport to say the least!

Make learning fun, my friends, and enjoy rowing!

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