Racing boats (often called shells) are long, narrow, and broadly semi-circular in cross-section in order to reduce drag to a minimum. Originally made from wood, shells are now almost always made from a composite material (usually a double skin of carbon-fibre reinforced plastic with a sandwich of honeycomb material) for strength and weight advantages. FISA rules specify minimum weights for each class of boat so that no individual will gain a great advantage from the use of expensive materials or technology. Many adjustments can be made to the equipment to accommodate the physiques of the crew. Collectively these adjustments are known as the boat’s rigging. Single and double sculls are usually steered by the scullers pulling harder on one side or the other. In other boats there is a rudder, controlled by the coxswain, if present, or by one of the crew. On international courses landmarks for steersmen, consisting of two aligned poles, are provided. Oars are used to propel the boat. They are long (sculling: 250–300 cm; rowing 340–360 cm) poles with one flat end about 50 cm long and 25 cm wide, called the blade.
Head races are time trial / processional races that take place from autumn (fall) to early spring (depending on local conditions). Boats begin with a rolling start at intervals of 10 – 20 seconds, and are timed over a set distance. Head courses usually vary in length from 2,000 m to 12,000 m, though there are longer races such as the Boston Rowing Marathon and shorter such as Pairs Head. Competitors will be divided into racing categories which might be determined by age, gender, experience. As a spectator you are unlikely to know who has won until the results are published on the race organiser’s website. Heads are raced over a longer course than regattas, with the younger rowers sometimes rowing a ‘short course’.
A third type of race is the bumps race, In these races, crews start lined up along the river at set intervals, and all start at the same time. The aim is to catch up with the boat in front, and avoid being caught by the boat behind. If a crew overtakes or makes physical contact with the crew ahead, a bump is awarded. As a result damage to boats and equipment is common during bumps racing. To avoid damage the cox of the crew being bumped may concede the bump before contact is actually made. The next day, the bumping crew will start ahead of any crews that have been bumped. Bumps races take place over several days, and the positions at the end of the last race are used to set the positions on the first day of the races the next year.
The stake format was often used in early American races. Competitors line up at the start, race to a stake, moored boat, or buoy some distance away, and return. The 180° turn requires mastery of steering. These races are popular with spectators because one may watch both the start and finish. Usually only two boats would race at once to avoid collision.
While rowing, the athlete sits in the boat facing backwards (towards the stern), and uses the oars which are held in place by the oarlocks to propel the boat forward (towards the bow). All forms of rowing force the large muscles of your upper body to work rhythmically for a continuous period.
Traditional or Fixed-Seat Rowing is practiced as a competitive sport in England, but fixed-seat rowboats are also used as recreational craft or transportation in many countries. Fixed-seat rowers usually sit on a bench, with two oars fixed in oarlocks to either side of the boat
Even since the earliest recorded references to rowing, the sporting element has been present. An Egyptian funerary inscription of 1430 BC records that the warrior Amenhotep (Amenophis) II was also renowned for his feats of oarsmanship. In the Aeneid, Virgil mentions rowing forming part of the funeral games arranged by Aeneas in honour of his father. In the 13th century, Venetian festivals called regata included boat races among others. The first known “modern” rowing races began from competition among the professional watermen that provided ferry and taxi service on the River Thames in London. The oldest surviving such race, Doggett’s Coat and Badge was first contested in 1715 and is still held annually from London Bridge to Chelsea. During the 19th century these races were to become numerous and popular, attracting large crowds. In America, the earliest known race dates back to 1756 in New York, when a pettiauger defeated a Cape Cod whaleboat in a race. The first five mile rowing race from one inn to another took place on the Thames in 1716. In 1829, the first eight-seater boat races involving Oxford and Cambridge universities were held; this date signifies the beginning of rowing as an official sport. The rowing champion, Ned Hanlan of Canada, is famous for becoming the first world champion in all branches of the sport. As a result of the increasing popularity of this sport, more had to be done to make boats move faster. Founded in 1818, Leander Club is the world’s oldest public rowing club. The second oldest club which still exists is the Der Hamburger und Germania Ruder Club which was founded 1836 and marked the beginning of rowing as an organized sport in Germany.