Section I: The Basics

Getting into the Boat and Launching

Step 1: After removing your shoes (take them with you in the boat), stabilize the boat by pushing both oars all the way out with blades flat. Hold both handles with your right hand. Place your right foot on the plate between the tracks. Never place your foot on the fragile boat anywhere but between the tracks, on the plate.

Step 2: Place your left hand on the gunwale to steady yourself. Put your left foot in the boat's left shoe. Lower yourself onto the seat. Once you are in the boat, you must keep the boat from rolling over by keeping control of both oars at all times.




Step 1

While holding both handles with your right hand, with blades flat and knees flat, position the stern of the boat against the dock so that the bow will be aimed away from the dock.

Step 2

Using your left hand, firmly shove your boat away from the dock and forward at an angle heading approximately 30 degrees away from the dock. As your left hand loses contact with the dock, lean a little toward your right-hand oar, so that the boat will pivot gently on that oar and draw away from the dock.


Holding the HandleshandsCross

Position your left hand over your right.

Place your hands at the ends of the handles for maximum leverage.

Keep your thumbs over the butts and apply light lateral pressure.

Carry the handles in your fingers, with a light touch and without squeezing, so that the oars will settle easily into their designed flat (feathered) positions.


The Elements of the Stroke:

The Catchcatch

Square your blades before the catch.

Knees together, between elbows.

Chest up, head up, face perpendicular.

Hands relaxed on the ends of the handles, thumbs over butts, wrists flat.

Drop blades into water, guiding with thumbs.

The Drive



Power sequence: legs, then back, then arms.

Bury only the blades and submerge as little of the shafts as possible. Keep your grip relaxed. Pull the blades through the water at the depth at which they float. The deeper your blades are buried in the water, the more difficult your finish will be.


The Finish


Body laid back 20 to 30 degrees.

Hands near the bottom of your rib cage.

Flatten (feather) the oars as you remove them from the water, so that they skim the water easily if they touch on the recovery. The handles will roll out under your fingers as you feather.


The Recovery



Get your hands past your knees before your knees come up.

As your hands approach your ankles, square your blades in preparation for the catch.

Keep your blades off the water.

Patience on the recovery! Let the boat glide.



all drawings by Ellen Kennelly from Dan Boyne's book "Essential Sculling"


Sculling Drills

Your progress toward sculling proficiency will be dramatically accelerated by regular practice and sculling drills.

Square Blades

Try rowing with arms only - no slide, no back - never feathering the blades. Keep your legs straight, and tighten the muscles in your stomach. Row moving your oar handles in a quick but relaxed oval motion. When you have done this, gradually work your back into the stroke. From the time your blades enter the water at the catch, you should use your back first and then your arms. When your blades come out of the water at the finish, you should hold your back in the bow until the arms have extended most of their range again. When this motion is mastered, begin to slide your seat.

Initiate the stroke with your legs, then untuck your back. The square blades drill teaches you balance and how to finish out of the water correctly.

Pause Over the Knees

This drill is designed to teach you that the stroke does not end at the finish, but just past the finish, when your oars have completed a clean exit from the water and are perpendicular to the hull, where they provide the best balance. To perfect this idea, stop your stroke over the knees and balance the boat with the blades feathered. Pause briefly before taking another stroke. Repeat.

Practice Catch

Find a calm, uncrowded part of the river and stop your boat. From over the knees, go up to the catch and place the oars in the water. Do not pull the oars. The purpose is to learn how to place the oars in the water as part of coming forward on the recovery, instead of rowing them in. If you watch a crack crew, they all make little backsplashes as they pull their oars in. They are pushing them into the water, not pulling them in. This works in a moving boat because the timing is split-second. Just as the water piles up and starts trouble, the legs change direction and pull the oar.

Eyes Closed

Try rowing four or five strokes at a time with your eyes closed. Feel the balance and relax.

No shoes

Take your feet out of the shoes and place them on top. Row this way, and it will help you learn to pull forward with your feet. Properly done, you want your hands to move away and lead the rest of your body to the catch in a controlled fashion. Avoid rushing forward during the slide, which would slow the glide of the boat.




Once you master the basic rowing skills described above, and you begin to demonstrate self-sufficiency and understanding of boat etiquette, you'll be ready to begin your advancement through the ranks toward qualification to row a competition single. When you feel that you are totally comfortable and able in your present-level boat, ask a sculling instructor to watch you row to determine whether you are ready to go on to the next level.

The Order of Boat AdvancementtrainerSquare


Everyone begins with a wherry.

Broad Comp

Short for "compromise" between a wherry and a single.

Narrow Comp

Club Single

Competition Single

To achieve the level of competition single, a sculler must so completely have absorbed the contents of this manual that the skills, drills, and procedures described here will seem instinctive. A sculler at this level must know all the safety rules of the Charles River, so that he or she may then safely venture below the Weeks Footbridge. As further proof of self-sufficiency, scullers at this level must learn to carry their singles balanced on their head and without assistance.

Sculling is a sport that rewards tenacity and good sense, and it will reward you. Bring these qualities and a generous measure of good will to this puruit, and you will soon find yourself at home both in sculling and in the company of scullers.

Good luck.

Daniel Boyne
Director of Recreational Rowing