Recreational Rowing Technique

by John Boyd

With its focus on recreational rowing, ONEC has a unique character which is quite different from many other clubs.

At ONEC, we are primarily interested in perfecting sculling technique, and we have all the time in the world since there are no race deadlines to meet.

EVERYONE can learn better technique!


Sculling is All About the Hands

Having level hands through the stroke means better control and better balance during the recovery.

Right-handed folk have a tendency to ignore the left hand and focus solely on the right hand through the stroke. The left hand is ignored and, unattended to, can cause a host of problems from poor timing at the catch to lazy finishes, and may add to difficulties in rough water.

At the crossover during the power part of the stroke, your right knuckles should touch your left palm, giving you sure knowledge that the oars are at the same depth.
On the recovery, your left hand leads away, and the right knuckles again touch your left palm at the crossover point, again indicating to you that the oars are level and clear of the water.


The footstops should be adjusted so that at the finish position you just graze your thumbs past your body. This allows for a strong finish and room to clear your hands for the recovery.

The shins at the catch should be vertical.

The oars at the crossover point should be adjusted so the overlap is no greater than the handles.
The gates and the buttons on the oars can be adjusted so that the optimum amount of leverage is achieved. Too much overlap shortens the arc of the oars and causes a certain clumsiness at the crossover. Too little or no overlap means that work increases on the end of the oar, which will affect rate and speed.

The Stroke Cycle

  • Catch
  • Drive
  • Finish
  • Poise

Find the post in the water. Imagine that your oars find a post in the water and that you kick the boat through those points. The objective is to cleanly lock the oars in place, without any slippage, and transfer the momentum to the legs for the power part of the stroke.

Your legs are locked on, and your thighs are driving the boat forward. Your back is firm and straight. Your hands are level and move parallel to gunnels. Then your arms draw the oars to your body in a race to the finish with your legs. You are slightly leaning back.

Extract the oars square, then leading with the sinister left hand, feather the oars, and send the boat away. Move your hands quickly away and over your knees before your knees are allowed to rise.

At this point the run of the boat is at its fastest and the less you do to interrupt it the better. As you slowly move toward the catch your hands are level and your weight is transferring to the balls of your feet for the next catch. Your shins become vertical. Your head should be up and looking to the wake of the boat.


Even the best of us need drills to remind us of correct technique.

  • Catch Drill
  • Balance Drill
  • Finishing Drill
  • Pause Drill

Catch Drill
The catch drill is practiced at the mid-point, with legs flat. Lean forward at the waist, square the oar, and flick in the catch, which locks the oars in the water. You should be able to hear the “bell note” as a partial vacuum is formed behind the oar.

Balance Drill
The balance drill is practiced at the mid-point, with legs flat. Your right knuckles should be in the palm of your left hand, and your legs flat. Leaning forward just slightly, crisply push the hands down until the oars are parallel to the water. Adjusting the hand heights is the only way to balance the boat.

Scullers will try to lean or adjust the pressure on the feet, and this will have only limited effect, and may leave lasting bad habits. The philosophy is that the less you interfere with the boat, the better (consider, that a well made single will float level if there is no one in it.)

Finishing Drill
First, sitting in the finish position with the oars squared and buried, pop the oars out and in repeatedly. This shows you the amount of room you have at the end of the stroke to get the hands down.

Then, from the mid point and using arms only, practice the extraction by squeezing the finish and popping the oars out and away.

Pause Drill
Best practiced during a row, pause rowing gets you to slow down on the recovery and set up for the catch. Begin the drill by speeding up your hands around the turn at the finish, and then pause at the mid point with legs flat, body leaning slightly forward. Then while the boat is beginning to slow, slowly move down the slide to the catch. This should give you a new sense of relaxation and rhythm.