The Basics of Competitive Rowing

Safety First
Like all other aquatic sports, Rowing has some basic necessities in order to prevent loss of life or serious injury. The "Ten Commandments" are :

  1. Rowers should be able to swim at least 100 metres or wear a "Personal Flotation Device" at all times (a type PFD 2 or 3 is recommended).
  2. Study, understand and obey the traffic rules, restrictions and hazards of all waterways on which you intend to row, train or race. If in doubt keep to the right side of the waterway when facing in the direction you are travelling in.
  3. Never go rowing unaccompanied by a coaching launch on waters where the temperature of the water is below 13 degrees Celsius.
  4. Asses the weather conditions before rowing. Do not row if a lightning storm appears iminent or where visibility is poor e.g. fog, heavy rain.
  5. All shells navigating between dusk and sunrise must carry a white light clearly visible over 360 degrees. Coxless boat crews should check their course regularly and be wary of craft that might change course without notice. Coaches must hold current Waterways Boat Driver's Licence.
  6. Review the weather forecast before rowing in inclement conditions. If in doubt always seek the advice of an experienced coach or rower.
  7. Protect yourself from the effects of extreme heat and sun. Avoid training in temperatures in excess of 30 degress Celsius; drink water up to the rate of 250ml per 15 minutes of exercise; wear a hat, long sleeve training top, water resistant sun block & sunglasses (with an Australian Standard AS rating).
  8. In cold weather, dress to retain body warmth in order to prevent injuries and/or illness e.g. hat, tights, thermal long sleeve tops.
  9. Make sure you have adequately warmed up prior to any strenuous training session or race.
  10. Shower after each outing and only wear freshly laundered attire for each training session. Hygiene is of paramount importance.

The Boats
Boats or shells were traditionally made from wood, but are now mostly fabricated from carbon fibre and plastic (eg. kevlar). Boats are from 7.2 metres in length. A small fin is fitted at the bottom for stability. A rudder is attached to the fin or the stem (except on sculling boats). A white ball is attached to the bow (safety measure, photo-finish). A washboard prevents waves from splashing water aboard. Seats are fitted with wheels which roll on tracks called slides.

Boat Classes
There are nine classes of boat, of which five are for sweep-oared rowing in which the rower uses one oar with both hands, and three are for sculling in which two sculls are used, one in each hand.
Some classes carry a coxswain who either sits in the stern or lies in the bow to steer the boat. The boat classes are:

Sweep Oared Boats Approx. Length Minimum Weight Sculling Boats Approx. Length Minimum Weight
2- = Coxless Pair Oar Boat 10.4m 27kg 1x = Single Sculling Skiff 8.2m 14kg
2+ = Coxed Pair Oar Boat 10.4m 32kg 2x = Double Sculling Boat 10.4m 27kg
4- = Coxless Four Oar Boat 13.4m 50kg 4x = Quadruple Sculling Boat 13.4m 52kg
4+ = Coxed Four Oar Boat 13.7m 51kg 4x+ = Coxed Quadruple Sculling Boat 13.7m 53kg
8+ = Coxed Eight Oar Boat  17.4m 96kg      

Eights are constructed in two sections which bolt together (to facilitate transportation). The maximum length of a section of an Eight is 11.9 metres.

The Oars
Oars are hollow to reduce weight, attached to the boat by adjustable outriggers. The size and shape of oars is unrestricted, the average length of a sweep oar being 3.75 m and of a scull being 2.9 m.

The Rowing Stroke
The stroke is made up of the catch, in which oars are placed in the water; pull through or drive, in which the legs are extended and the body opens up to make maximum use of the slide, levering the boat forwards; the finish, in which oars come out of the water; and recovery, in which the rower's body moves towards the stern in preparation for the next stroke. Oars are rotated onto the feather parallel to the water surface at the finish to minimise air resistance and to the vertical at the catch to maximise water resistance.

Check out the following YouTube video from World Rowing breaking down the Essential Sculling Technique.

Club & School Regatta Races 
The boats are aligned from the side of the course by the starter who gives instructions over a loud speaker to either touch (take small strokes) the boat forward or to back down. The starter when satisfied that crews are on the line gives the command <> which is followed by a horn blast which is the starting signal. A false start is indicated by the Umpire waving a red flag and the crews are then recalled to the start.
The jurisdiction of the Umpire (who supervises the race from a speedboat) extends from the time the crews are assembling at the start until the coxswain's weight (if applicable) has been checked at the finish. All directives of the Umpire must be obeyed and failure to do so can lead to disqualification and other disciplinary sanctions being imposed.

At the finish as each crew crosses the line a horn is sounded and the finishing order and margins are recorded by the Judges.
All crews and scullers must carry approved lane numbers fitted to the bows of their boats.

The Referee together with the Jury (all other Boat Race Officials) are responsible for receiving, hearing and adjudicating on any protest, appeal or unforeseen matter in accordance with the Laws of Boat Racing.

Championship Races
Racing takes place at Sydney International Regatta Centre which is an Olympic standard course.

The boats are held by the stern from starting pontoons and the bows are aligned on the start line. The rower in the bow seat may raise his/her hand to indicate the crew is not ready, up until the time when the Starter conducts a roll call of the crews. After the last crew has been named in the roll call, the Starter raises his red flag and gives the warning command <>, and after a pause, simultaneously an indicator turns from red to green and a electronic ring is broadcast. In case of a false start, an electronic ring will be broadcast and the Starter & Umpire wave a red flag to recall the crews. Crews are allowed only one false start each before being eliminated.

Straying from a lane is punishable by the Umpire with removal from the race if interference takes place to another boat.
The winner is the boat whose bow touches the finish line first, monitored by Judges and a photo-finish (video caption) system. All crews receive a horn blast as they cross the line.
The Umpire must raise his white flag at the end of a race to signify that it has been completed in accordance with the rules and that there has been no protest.

Lightweight Competitors & Coxswains
Lightweight men cannot weigh more than 72.5 kg and the average of the crew cannot exceed 70 kg (single sculler 72.5 kg).
Lightweight women cannot weight more than 59 kg and the average weight in the whole boat cannot exceed 57 kg (single sculler 59 kg).
Variations may occur in line with National Selection Requirements.
In open age and weight competition coxswains must weigh a minimum of 55 kg.
Age & lightweight variations may apply. Refer to the Laws of Boat Racing.

The Olympic Regatta 
Men's rowing in the program of the Modern Olympic Games dates from 1896, women's from 1976 and lightweights from 1996. Rowing was added to the Paralympics in 2008. In 2016 a change to the program was made including a removal of the Men's Lightweight Coxless Four. This was to make way for a women's four and equal oppurtunity for Men's and Women's Competitors.  The Olympic & Paralympic rowing programme:

Men Women Para Rowing
Single Scull (M1x) Single Scull (W1x) PR1 Women's Single Scull (PR1W1x)
Double Scull (M2x) Double Scull (W2x) PR1 Men's Single Scull (PR1M1x)
Lightweight Double Scull (LM2x) Lightweight Double Scull (LW2x) PR2 Mixed Double Scull (PR2Mix2x)
Quadruple Scull (M4x) Quadruple Scull (W4x) PR3 Mixed Double Scull (PR3Mix2x)
Coxless Pair (M2-) Coxless Pair (W2-) PR3 Mixed Coxed Four (PR3Mix4+)
Coxless Four (M4-) Coxless Four (W4-)  
Coxed Eight (M8+) Coxed Eight (W8+)  

FISA World Championship Regatta
Since 1962 Federation Internationale des Socieities d'Aviron "FISA" has held World Rowing Championships, at the beginning every four years and since 1974 every year. Olympic years include non-Olympic events only, and are combined with the World Rowing Junior Championships. Para-Rowing events were added in 2002.
The current World Rowing Championships Programme (24 events):

Men Women Para Rowing
Single Scull (M1x) Single Scull (W1x) PR1 Women's Single Scull (PR1W1x)
Double Scull (M2x) Double Scull (W2x) PR1 Men's Single Scull (PR1M1x)
Quadruple Scull (M4x) Quadruple Scull (W4x) PR2 Women's Single Scull (PR2W1x)
Coxless Pair (M2-) Coxless Pair (W2-) PR2 Men's Single Scull (PR2M1x)
Coxless Four (M4-) Coxless Four (W4-) PR2 Mixed Double Scull (PR2Mix2x)
Coxed Eight (M8+) Coxed Eight (W8+) PR3 Mixed Double Scull (PR3Mix2x)
Lightweight Single Scull (LM1x) Lightweight Single Scull (LW1x) PR3 Women's Coxless Pair (PR3W2-)
Lightweight Double Scull (LM2x) Lightweight Double Scull (LW2x) PR3 Men's Coxless Pair (PR3M2-)
Lightweight Quadruple Scull (LM4x) Lightweight Quadruple Scull (LW4x) PR3 Mixed Coxed Four (PR3Mix4+)
Lightweight Coxless Pair (LM2-) Lightweight Coxless Pair (LW2-)  

FISA World Rowing Under 23 Championships are conducted annually in the following boats:

Men Women
Single Scull (BM1x) Single Scull (BW1x)
Double Scull (BM2x) Double Scull (BW2x)
Quadruple Scull (BM4x) Quadruple Scull (BW4x)
Coxless Pair (BM2-) Coxless Pair (BW2-)
Coxless Four (BM4-) Coxless Four (BW4-)
Coxed Four (BM4+) Coxed Four (BW4+)
Coxed Eight (BM8+) Coxed Eight (BW8+)
Lightweight Single Scull (BLM1x) Lightweight Single Scull (BLW1x)
Lightweight Double Scull (BLM2x) Lightweight Double Scull (BLW2x)
Lightweight Quadruple Scull (BLM4x) Lightweight Quadruple Scull (BLW4x)
Lightweight Coxless Pair (BLM2-) Lightweight Coxless Pair (BLW2-)

FISA World Rowing Junior Championships are conducted annually in the following boats:

Men Women
Single Scull (JM1x) Single Scull (JW1x)
Double Scull (JM2x) Double Scull (JW2x)
Quadruple Scull (JM4x) Quadruple Scull (JW4x)
Coxless Pair (JM2-) Coxless Pair (JW2-)
Coxless Four (JM4-) Coxless Four (JW4-)
Coxed Four (JM4+) Coxed Four (JW4+)
Coxed Eight (JM8+) Coxed Eight (JW8+)