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What Is Coastal Rowing? Our Complete Guide

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What is coastal rowing - our complete guide

Hi friends! If you’ve ever heard the term coastal rowing, you were either confused as to how this differs from regular rowing, or you pictured yourself rowing along a beach or lake coast, enjoying the scenery and eating a picnic lunch on the boat.

My name is Petra, and in this article, I want to clear up any confusion you might have regarding this term and maybe break your little dream of eating a cheese sandwich on your rowboat.

There’s a lot to cover, so let’s dive right in, shall we?

What Exactly Is Coastal Rowing?

Coastal rowing is also called open water rowing, which is a more accurate term for a sport that involves rowing on rough water. Coastal rowers navigate tides and surf their boats over the waves in oceans, inland seas, or even fast-moving rivers. To do that, they must have a deep understanding of the water’s behavior.

Coastal rowing has been popular in Europe for many years, and it’s been gaining more attention here in the US in the past decade or so.

If you’re imagining sunning yourself as you gently row, row, row your boat close to shore, that’s really more of a tourist or pleasure boat trip and not what we are referring to.

So rather than picturing a leisurely boat ride as you can do with flat water rowing, think of rowing in rippling tidewaters like you might experience while fishing in a bay.

Yes, you do row alongside the shore, but the truth is that if you get too close to the water’s edge, the waves will knock you and your expensive boat right into someone’s sandcastle, and no one wants that, right?

Someone once called coastal rowing the mountain biking of rowing, and I think that sums it up pretty well.

How Are Coastal Rowing Boats Different from Other Row Boats?

a boat docked on a sandy shore

On the surface, coastal rowing boats may not look very different from regular shell boats, but since they will encounter swells, waves, and choppy water, coastal boats need to be more stable than standard row boats.

Coastal rowing boats are all scull boats, and they can be used by a single scull or multiple sculls, even a coxswain can be onboard!

Coastal rowing requires boats that are more stable than their flat water rowing cousins. Many of these coastal boats have a more positive center of gravity and have a self-bailing system in place.

This is an adventurous sport as opposed to the relaxing exploration most people picture when you say the words “coastal rowing”.

Are There Coastal Rowing Races?

You bet!

I think anytime you put someone in a row boat, no matter who or where, the urge to race someone comes into play!

several boats seen near the coast of white sand beach

There are World Rowing Coastal Championships, World Rowing Beach Sprint Championships (which involve pushing your boat off the beach and into the water as part of the race), and European Rowing Coastal and Beach Sprint races!

If you are interested in watching or participating, you can call your local rowing club. If they don’t hold coastal rowing races themselves, they will be able to tell you the closest race to your area.

What Is the Standard Racing Distance of Coastal Rowing?

As you can see from the above, there are two distinct types of races.

The first is coastal rowing, which usually involves a length of 6-8 kilometers (3.7-5 miles). Most races involve rowing around a buoy and then returning to start.

Beach sprints have all participants line up their boats on the sand. When the race is called, rowers must push their boats into the water, row out to sea about 250 meters (820 feet), go around a buoy, then back to the beach.

Since coastal rowing involves the ocean, it’s not unusual to see many boats lined up for the race, and since there are no lanes, expect lots of boat traffic. This makes the racing exciting, similar to car races, where boats can cut off each other and maneuver for a better position.

If I Decide to Try Coastal Rowing, What Should I Wear?

This depends on the season and the weather at the time.

Generally speaking, you should always wear a thin but tight-fitting base layer. When I say tight, I don’t mean so tight that you can’t breathe. Think of wearing something close to the skin, like the way a bathing suit fits.

a male rower in a single scull, wearing blue and yellow suit and a red cap

Then you can dress in layers and remove them as you get warm.

For most coastal rowers, you will find that as you are rowing, you warm up very quickly, and if it’s a sunny day, you’ll want to wear a hat or visor. However, once you stop rowing, the ocean breeze and spray from the waves will cool you down fast.

Synthetic fabrics are best since they wick away sweat and dry quickly. You might want to consider wearing a windproof outer layer since nearly all oceans experience wind 24/7.

In the winter, you may want to change that hat or visor for a wooly hat that will keep your ears warm!

As for shoes, most coastal rowers wear either those “croc” type sandals or cross-training tennis shoes minus socks.

In the winter, opt for the cross-trainers with waterproof synthetic material socks to help keep your feet warm!

Carry a simple but lightweight (and waterproof is a big plus) bag to store your extra clothes as you remove them or when you need to put them back on.

Last, may I suggest waterproof sunscreen? Many people forget this simple step until after they have experienced a severe sunburn!

Apply it liberally on your ankles, face, ears, and hands about 20 minutes before you head out.

Trust me, this small item is something you will never regret remembering to use!

Tips and Tricks

Women preparing for coastal rowing
Women’s Coastal rowing by Mauricio V. Genta

It helps a great deal if you can start your coastal rowing journey by pairing up with a more experienced partner.

Even if you plan to do solo sculling on coastal and open water, try to find someone who has experience to guide you in the beginning.

While you might think that your rowing skills are excellent, coastal rowing is a different type of water sport, and I think everyone can benefit from the experience of others.

Also, be aware of weather conditions before you go. If there is a possibility of heavy storms, hurricanes, or very high winds, consider postponing your trip or stay closer to the docks or shore than you normally would. Yes, you want to have fun, but you need to be safe.

Last, I would recommend that you keep your blades in the water, let the boat go with the wave, and don’t try to fight the sea. That is one battle that you will lose.

The Bottom Line

Coastal rowing or open water rowing is a fun and exciting experience, but it’s not for everyone.
Don’t feel badly if you find the sport too taxing. You can always watch the coastal racing regattas and row yourself on quiet, flat water.

Always remember that fun and exercise are important, but that safety comes first!

Stay healthy and happy, people, and have fun coastal rowing!