The Ultimate Beginners Guide to Sculling and Rowing

The Ultimate Beginners Guide to Sculling and Rowing

As another addition to our outdoor sporting series on the water, we wanted to cover the grounds on sculling and rowing. With fantastic jargon such as sweep, cox, catching a crab and more, you’ll really need to knuckle down with this beginner’s guide to sculling and rowing (A.K.A. sweep rowing) before you can head into the regatta. 

As the hub for everything hobby-related, our team here at The Hobby Kraze want to cover the water in terms of rowing and sculling. So, we’ll be explaining everything from the history of the popular sport to the types of stroke you’ll need to know. Here’s what you can expect to find out in this rowing VS sculling guide to boating:

  1. A Brief Introduction in this Beginner’s Guide to Sculling and Rowing
  2. The Benefits of Rowing Techniques
  3. Common Terms to know throughout your Sculling Drills 
  4. Rowing VS Sculling and The Two Techniques
  5. Starting on a Journey for a Single Scull for Beginners
  6. Everything You Need to Know About British Rowing Guidelines

Here’s a little fun fact for you to contemplate about now but understand when the ultimate beginner’s guide to sculling and rowing has done its job. When you’ve nailed your rowing techniques and won a race, there’s a customary tradition to please the gods of rowing you should probably get in on. Victoriously throw your coxswain off the deck end. 

A Brief Introduction to the History in this Beginner’s Guide to Sculling and Rowing

A Brief Introduction to the History in this Beginner’s Guide to Sculling and Rowing

While it can be argued that the motions of rowing techniques have been a part of human history in it’s entirety where water was present for fishermen hunters, rowing as we see it today began with the Ancient Egyptians. Boats named Galleys were used as part of a war effort on the Nile as well as to transport goods. Then, the Ancient Roman Empire would adopt the same usages in the Mediterranean. 

This spread of rowing wooden vessels on the water for war and goods movement carried across into the Atlantic and beyond. The Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, Danes and Norwegians would all come to use rowing as part of their militant forces. However, it is the Viking longboats that left the lasting note on the British. 

Thinking back to 13th Century Britain, the River Thames was the most popular trading route for all goods drivers; be it the large ships and the smaller independent merchants. At this time, the creation of British canal boats and barges would come about, allowing watermen to drive passengers up and down the Thames. 

However, the competitive streak of the British in a busy shipping lane would create the first rowing races. In 1715, the Doggett’s Coat and Badge was established, allowing the – then – 40,000 watermen to compete in these programmes of racing called regattas.

Eventually, the esteemed Redbrick Universities, Oxford and Cambridge, would nominate the newfound sport as part of their extracurriculars. But, it wasn’t until 1839 that the two famous institutes would compete against each other to create the ongoing Henley Royal Regatta. It is held each year for four days in the first week of July on the River Thames at Henley-on-Thames.

Finally, we get to the sporting gold for sculling drills and rowing techniques. As of 1900, Rowing became an entry to the Olympics and in 1976, the invitation was finally extended to include women, too. 

The Benefits of Rowing Techniques

The Benefits of Rowing Techniques

As a sport with very little contact or room for bruises, it is one of the best sports to offer benefits that will get you in ship-shape both for body and mind. And, although it may depend on the weather being good, it can be done all year round; alone or as part of a team. In fact, there are far more benefits to engage in sculling drills. So, this ultimate beginner’s guide wanted to give you a taste of what you could enjoy if you take up a hobby in rowing:

  • It improves cardiovascular health
  • It improved mental clarity
  • It provides a sense of belonging 
  • Teamwork abilities will benefit
  • You’ll know how to blindly listen to instructions
  • There are options to solo single scull for beginners 
  • You can row and scull wherever you’d like
  • Your stamina will increase
  • It will help you lose weight
  • You will gain muscle mass
  • All of your happy hormones and endorphins will come out to play
  • You don’t have to spend a fortune on kit
  • You can row in whatever outfit feels comfortable
  • There are ways to practice your rowing techniques on land with ergometers
  • It’s great for back strengthening
  • It can be done with friends or family
  • There are chances to become part of a Redbrick university through scholarship
  • You can win money by competing
  • You get to throw your coxswain off the deck end if you win
  • It is a sport for life
  • Rowing vs sculling can be great for shrugging stress
  • It’ll help you to develop key breathing techniques for any walk of life

Common Terms to know throughout your Sculling Drills

Common Terms to know throughout your Sculling Drills

Before the real beginner’s guide to sculling and rowing takes off, we need to consider all the rowing jargon and glossary of terms you’ll come across throughout your rowing VS sculling hobby experience. After this, you might have a good idea about what we mean in the fun-fact from earlier. 

Another thing to mention would be that the parts of a rowing boat or sculling boat are classified in the same way as a canoe or kayak would be. As part of this water sporting series from the crew at The Hobby Kraze, we suggest having a look at The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Kayaking and The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Paddle Boarding. These will help you get to grips with the parts of a boat and they’ll be able to help you in your decision to start a water sporting hobby!

Without further ado, here’s the ABC’s of rowing and sculling:

  • Backstop

This is a type of rowing technique where you would generally start. Your legs will be extended, your arms will be towards your chest and the spoon of the oar is flat on the water’s surface. 

  • Bow Pair and Stroke Pair

When rowing (not sculling) there is a bow pair and a stroke pair. At the front of the boat (in the direction of travel) you have person one. This person rows on the bow side (right-hand side). The second person rows on the stroke side of the boat, they are then called a bow pair. The third person rows on the bow side and the fourth on the stroke, this is called a stroke pair. After both pairs sits the cox. 

  • Catch

The catch is the moment when the spoon touches and enters the surface of the water. And, in order to engage in maximum power and efficiency, the entire crew needs to catch at the same time. So, a top tip from The Hobby Kraze crew would be to ensure your hand-eye coordination and teamwork are on point, first.

  • Catching a Crab

After the oar catches the water, there is a chance that something in the water could then catch on the oar. For example; a plastic bag, a fish, a cable, seaweed, etc. In this case, it can often jerk on the spoon of the blade and cause the rower to swing out of rhythm. 

  • Checking

Checking a rowboat means to stop or swiftly turn by using an oar. The oar is plunged into the water with the blade and spoon squared for maximum control of the water. In sculling, you’ll only use one of your two oars. While rowing will use every oar user for one-specific side (i.e. all lefts).

  • Cox/Coxswain

The cox (also called the coxswain) is that random person you see facing the rowers and the direction of travel while screaming random words at the crew. Actually, the cox is the coach of the team, making sure they steer in the right direction, avoid obstacles, make the right stroke and catch at the same time. They are only present in sweeping rowing and not in sculling events.

  • Crew

This is the slang term used to see if you’re a part of the rowing practice group. For example; “Are you on the crew team” would be the same as asking if someone rows. As well as this, it is how individuals would refer to the team; crewmates.

  • Drive

The drive is the entire propelling motion, no matter whether rowing vs sculling or the rowing technique, when then spoon is in the water. So, the drive forces the boat to manoeuvre in a particular direction.

  • Easy

In this position, the blade is held perpendicular to the boat. The spoon is feathered and off the water waiting until the cox gives the order to ‘drop’.

  • Feather

A feather is the way the spoon is held in relation to the water’s surface. It is parallel and flat meaning when the blade is going through recovery, the spoon can hastily cut through as little wind resistance as possible. It also means the blade can very easily travel through the water if it accidentally skims the surface.

  • Frontstop

Again, a seated rowing technique but it is the opposite to the backstop. It is a starting position for a race or simply to go. Your legs are bent, your arms are extended behind you, the spoon of the oar is squared in the water and behind you. This position allows you to expel maximum force to increase the MPH of travel.

  • Gate

The gate is the part of the boat that hangs off the rigger and holds the oar in place. The gate not only holds the oar in place but also orientates to suit the needs of the stroke.

  • Jetty

This is the name given to the wooden walkway that heads out into the water. The boats will often be moored onto the jetty and it is where you will embark and disembark the vessel as per the command of the cox. 

  • Loom

With rowing vs sculling being different, it means that the rower will have different numbers of oars. In sculling, the rower has two oars and in rowing, the rower has one. The handle of an oar (everything apart from the spoon) is called the loom. 

  • Recovery

The recovery phase of a stroke is when the blade is out of the water, feathering and moving from bow to stern. This is when the oar needs to head to the back in order for the rower to get back into the frontstop position.

  • Regatta

A regatta is the name given to a series of boating races. For example, a regatta is an event that will hold the races of rowers and competitive yachting over a specific period such as the four-day Henley Royal Regatta.

  • Rigger

To aid with the handling of the boat, embarking, disembarking and a loose grip, the sculling and rowing boats have riggers. These are special protrusions from each side of the boat with a gate on the end. This holds the oar in place and are often made of lightweight metal.

  • Spoon

The spoon is the name given to the blade of the paddle or oar. It sits at the end of the loom and is shaped to allow for maximum power and thrusting benefit (it is flat to aid with feathering and catching).

  • Stretcher 

The foot stretcher is the area on the boat where the rower’s feet will go. Instead of stretching feet, it’s purpose it to provide a stable platform to push off. This is adjusted to suit the height of the rower by simply loosening the stretcher nut.

Rowing VS Sculling and The Two Techniques

Rowing VS Sculling and The Two Techniques

In this ultimate beginner’s guide to sculling and rowing, we couldn’t just talk about one type of stroking the water in this hobby. The rowing vs sculling debate is actually all down to personal preference, comfortability and accessibility.

There are a few differences between the two sports and it’s not just the sculling drills and rowing techniques that will set them apart. For example; A coxswain is only present in rowing and not sculling. 

In sweep rowing, each rower will only have one oar. And, with this there is always a bow pair and a stern pair. Sometimes, there is a coxswain. Often, the coxswain is required for traditional races, regattas and events such as the Henley Royal Regatta.

In rowing, you’ll often find a crew of 2+, 2-, 4+, 4- and 8+ where the ‘+’ indicates the addition of a coxswain and the ‘-‘ is without. 

However, in the sculling side of operations, there is no coxswain and all rowers have two oars to contend with. Also known as sculling for one, the single scull for beginners is the best way to get used to the vessel, the water and the feel of oars. In terms of crew, sculling is flexible to allow 1, 2 and 4 rowers also called the single, double and quad. 

The reason you can’t sweep row alone would be entirely down to the or situation with rowing vs sculling. As there is only one oar in rowing, having one person aboard would make it so you’re either going in a circle or kayaking backwards. Check out The Hobby Kraze’s Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Kayaking if you’re looking to go into a water sporting hobby alone. 

Either way, if you’re looking to better your catch and drive you should always think about being in a tub of ice cream and trying to scoop the biggest portion you can imagine. However, the team here at The Hobby Kraze would like to not be held accountable for any ice cream cravings after your sculling drills and practice rowing techniques are over for the day.

Starting on a Journey for a Single Scull for Beginners

Starting on a Journey for a Single Scull for Beginners

If you’ve decided that rowing vs sculling is for you, then you’ll want to begin practicing your sculling drills and rowing techniques such as the backstop, checking, catch, recovery and frontstop. And, a top tip from the team here at The Hobby Kraze would be to begin your journey by finding space to single scull for beginners. 

Even if it’s rowing you want to do as a full-time hobby with a crew, using a single scull for beginners has many benefits to help get your talents going.  A single scull is a much smaller boat built to hold only one rower. It has two oars and two riggers as well as two controls for the rudder. 

Here’s a list of useful steps you can use to get into your single scull for beginner’s boat:

  • Place the boat on the water with the bow facing the current
  • Ensure the oars in the proper position of being perpendicular to the boat
  • Adjust the foot stretchers to make sure they fit your height
  • Make sure the rigger is over the jetty
  • Extend the oars to increase your balance
  • Hold both the oar ends in one hand
  • Place one foot in the boat and shift the weight slowly
  • Sit into the seat and bring the other leg on board
  • Adjust the foot stretcher shoes to fit (don’t have them too tight)

Once you’ve gotten into your single scull for beginner’s, you can push off. As you’re near the jetty and also likely near other vessels, you need to manoeuvre out of the bay as slowly and carefully as possible, otherwise your hobby might turn into an expensive past-time. 

You’ll begin in the backstop position where the legs are extended and the oars are pushed forward, feathering the water. As you’re ready to begin your strokes, think about having a beat that you can abide by in order to get to your intended 30 strokes per minute. Push your arms forward to recover the stroke, use your legs and core to push the seat forwards on the slider and begin the frontstop. Thrust the oar’s spoon into the water to catch and pull your arms back (oars forward) to initiate the drive. 

Complete these sculling drills as you row, making sure to look and be vigilant of other rowers. No matter whether it is an open lake, the sea or a river, there could always be a hazard awaiting.

The beauty of operating a single scull for beginners is the freedom you have as a rower and water sporting enthusiast like Olympians Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent. While the experiences between rowing vs sculling might be different, using a single scull for beginners can help you develop the necessary skills, muscles and drive rhythms in order to become part of a rowing team with a coxswain. 

Not only this, but most water sports centres will have all the tools and equipment you’ll need to get started at a very reasonable hiring price. The only things you’ll need are warm layers to battle the brisk British waters. A top tip from the team here at The Hobby Kraze is to make sure you’ve got many layers instead of a couple of large layers. This will allow you to have higher control and flexibility of layers as you begin to warm up through the vigorous rowing techniques and sculling drills.

Otherwise, here’s a list of places for you to try out your new hobby from the ultimate beginner’s guide to sculling and rowing:

  • Rutland Water
  • Alton Water Watersports Centre
  • Grafam Water
  • Pitsford Water
  • Brighton Marina
  • Sale Waterpark
  • Hove Lagoon
  • Newquay Activity Centre
  • Adventure Park Snowdonia
  • Hayling Island
  • Foxlake Dundee
  • Galloway Activity Centre
  • Liverpool Watersports Centre

Everything You Need to Know About British Rowing Guidelines

Everything You Need to Know About British Rowing Guidelines

Here in the UK we have an organisation named British Rowing that helps to keep us safe while out in the cold British waters. And, because we are responsible hobby-givers, The Hobby Kraze wanted to introduce you. 

According to British Rowing; collisions and accidents happen far too often and pose a great impact for serious injuries. But, there are ways to stay vigilant. For one, if you’re rowing with a coxswain, they act as the eyes and ears while steering the vessel. However, if there’s no coxswain, you’ll need to make sure there’s one or more people looking over your shoulder every 5 strokes while travelling at 30 strokes per minute (which is much faster than you think!). 

You’ll need to incorporate this into your sculling drills. This way you can be sure to avoid other people, vessels, obstacles and animals that might cause harm to you, them and your boat. 

However, if you are out in the water and witness an incident, you should report it to benefit the advice that is given. Other than this, there are some key etiquette guidelines you should revise and carry with you wherever you go. 

    1. Abide by the Circulation Plan
    2. Always Keep Clear of Oncoming Traffic
    3. Always Keep Starboard Side (Left-to-Left)
    4. Overtake Quickly
    5. Stay close to the Embankment when Overtaking
    6. Verbally Communicate Effectively (i.e. ‘look ahead pair!’ Or ‘hold it hard’)
    7. Report Incidents
    8. Check Local Boating Houses for Local Rules
    9. Leave and Approach Landing Areas with the Current


And, there you have it. The ultimate beginner’s guide to sculling and rowing. But, of course, the team at The Hobby Kraze would never let this article end without giving you the ins-and-outs about victoriously throwing your coxswain off the deck end. 

There are a few choices to hand, the most popular include the land-swing and the water wake. To complete and effective land-swing, the crew needs to be out on the jetty and four members need to grab the cox at each limb. Then, swing by counting the crew. Where the first sits at the top in the direction of travel named the bow and the cox is the end after the eighth rower: 









And, into the water. The other option is to rock the boat while the crew is still in the water and the coxswain is stood up. As the countdown begins, the boat begins to rock side to side. If the ship capsizes then everyone gets to enjoy a cool dip.

But, if dunking the cox is not a hobby for you, consider some other hobbies here at The Hobby Kraze. Our fun-filled team have touched ground on just about everything. So, for the Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Sewing, the Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Metal Detecting and Collection, the Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Aquascaping and Hydroponics, and more, check

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.

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