What is a Rowing Boat Called? Exploring Types and Terminology

Ever found yourself wondering what a rowing boat is actually called? You’re not alone. Many people see these sleek vessels gliding across lakes and rivers but aren’t quite sure what to call them.

In the world of watercraft, terminology can get a bit confusing, but understanding these terms can make your next conversation about boating much more engaging and accurate. Let’s dive into the different names and types of rowing boats and why they matter.

Key Takeaways

  • Rowing Boat Variants: Understand the different types of rowing boats: sculls, sweep rowing boats, gigs, whaleboats, and dories, each designed for specific purposes and environments.
  • Historical Evolution: Rowing boat names have evolved over time, from ancient galleys to modern sculls and sweep boats, reflecting changes in design and usage.
  • Material and Design: The materials (fiberglass, carbon fiber, wood, aluminum) and design elements (hull shape, length, rigging) of rowing boats greatly influence their performance and handling.
  • Usage: Rowing boats serve dual purposes: competitive rowing (sculls, sweep boats) and recreational use (dories, gigs, whaleboats), each requiring different levels of skill and training.
  • Terminology: Familiarize yourself with specific rowing boat terminologies such as “scull,” “sweep boat,” “gig,” “whaleboat,” and “dory” to engage accurately in boating discussions.

Understanding Rowing Boats

Rowing boats have various names and types, each serving different purposes and characterized by unique features. Clarifying these terms helps in discussions about boating and ensures accurate descriptions of these vessels.

Types of Rowing Boats

  1. Sculls: In sculling boats, each rower uses two oars. These boats vary in size from singles to quads and are designed for speed and agility.
  2. Sweep Rowing Boats: Rowers handle one oar each in sweep boats. Depending on the crew size, these include pairs, fours, and eights.
  3. Gigs: Traditional coastal rowing boats, gigs are heavier and more stable in rough water. Primarily used for racing, they date back centuries.
  4. Whaleboats: Initially designed for whaling, modern whaleboats now serve various purposes, from racing to leisure rowing.
  5. Dories: With their high sides and flat bottoms, dories are versatile and commonly used for fishing and recreation.

Historical Perspective on Rowing Boat Names

The evolution of rowing boat names reflects changes in design and usage over centuries.

  • Ancient Times: Early rowing boats date back to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. These vessels, often used for trade, war, and travel, were called galleys.
  • Middle Ages: In Europe, rowing boats played a crucial role in transportation and fishing. Terms like “longboat” and “wherry” emerged during this period.
  • 19th Century: Rowing for sport gained popularity. This led to the creation of specialized terms such as “sculls” and “shells,” indicating both the boats’ structures and rowing styles.
  • Modern Era: Contemporary rowing has diversified further, incorporating terms from both competitive and recreational spheres. For example, “skiffs,” “gigs,” and “dories” illustrate various types and historical influences still in use.

Key Features of Rowing Boats

Materials Used in Construction

Rowing boats primarily utilize durable and lightweight materials. Fiberglass is common for its strength and ease of maintenance. Carbon fiber offers exceptional stiffness and is favored in competitive rowing. Wood, traditionally used in rowing boats, provides a classic aesthetic and smooth ride but requires more upkeep. Aluminum, though heavier, is chosen for its durability and resistance to corrosion. These materials influence the boat’s weight, speed, and handling, impacting overall performance.

Design Elements Influencing Performance

The design of a rowing boat significantly affects its performance. Hull shape is crucial; a narrow, streamlined hull reduces drag and increases speed. The length of the boat also matters; longer boats offer greater stability and speed due to reduced water resistance. The placement of the rowing seat and sliding mechanism is designed to optimize the rower’s power and efficiency. Rigging setup, including oarlocks and outriggers, enhances leverage and stroke effectiveness. These design elements collectively determine the boat’s agility, speed, and ease of use in various rowing conditions.

Common Uses of Rowing Boats

Competitive Rowing

Competitive rowing, or crew, involves racing against other rowers on rivers, lakes, or the ocean. This sport uses specialized boats like sculls and sweep rowing boats to achieve maximum speed and efficiency. Rowing competitions fall into different categories based on boat type, such as single sculls, double sculls, and eights.

In each type, rowers use synchronized strokes and power to propel the boat forward. Competitive rowing demands rigorous training and precise technique. Events like the Olympic Games, World Championships, and Henley Royal Regatta are prominent venues showcasing this high-level sport.

Recreational Use

Recreational rowing offers a leisurely way to enjoy water activities. People use various rowboats like dories, gigs, and whaleboats for casual rowing on calm waters. These boats provide stability and ease of use, making them ideal for family outings, fishing, or sightseeing.

Rowing in a recreational setting doesn’t require the intense training of competitive rowing. Instead, it focuses on the experience and enjoyment of being on the water. Community rowing clubs often offer lessons and equipment, making this activity accessible to beginners.

Recreational rowing allows people to build fitness, unwind, and explore nature.

Rowing Boat Terminology

Anatomy of a Rowing Boat

Rowing boats consist of several key components. The hull forms the main structure, providing buoyancy. Modern boats often use materials like fiberglass or carbon fiber to optimize performance. The seat, also called the “slide,” moves back and forth on tracks, allowing rowers to maximize their stroke length. Hands grip the oar handles, and the oars pivot in “oarlocks” or “gates” attached to riggers. Rigging determines the leverage and efficiency of rowing strokes through adjustable settings. Foot stretchers secure rowers’ feet, providing stability and power generation during strokes. A fin or skeg under the hull helps keep the boat straight while rowing.

Rowing Boat Variants and Their Names

Rowing boats come in various types, with specific names based on their design, size, and purpose:

  1. Scull: A narrow boat where each rower uses two oars, with types like single sculls (1x), double sculls (2x), and quadruple sculls (4x).
  2. Sweep Boat: In sweep rowing, each rower handles one oar. Common types include pairs (2- or 2+), fours (4- or 4+), and eights (8+), where “+” indicates a coxswain on board.
  3. Gig: Historically used for coastal rowing and lifesaving, modern gigs often participate in competitive rowing.
  4. Whaleboat: Originally for whaling, these are now used for life-saving drills and traditional ocean rowing events.
  5. Dory: Characterized by their flat bottoms and high sides, dories are ideal for both rowing and sailing in rough waters.

By using these terms accurately, it’s easier to distinguish among the diverse types of rowing boats and their specific applications.


Understanding the various types of rowing boats and their unique features can significantly enhance your appreciation for this versatile watercraft. Whether you’re interested in the sleek design of sculls or the robust build of whaleboats each type serves a distinct purpose and has a rich history. By familiarizing yourself with the anatomy and terminology of rowing boats you’ll be better equipped to choose the right vessel for your needs and enjoy your time on the water even more.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main types of rowing boats?

There are several main types of rowing boats, including sculls, sweep rowing boats, gigs, whaleboats, and dories. Each type has unique features and is used for various rowing activities.

What is the difference between sculling and sweep rowing?

In sculling, each rower uses two oars, one in each hand. In sweep rowing, each rower uses only one oar with both hands. This leads to different boat designs and rowing techniques.

What are gigs used for?

Gigs are traditionally used for racing and are known for their speed and agility. They have evolved over time but remain popular in competitive rowing.

What is the purpose of a whaleboat?

Whaleboats were originally designed for whaling but are now mostly used in training and racing. They are sturdy boats that can handle rough waters.

Can you explain the anatomy of a rowing boat?

A rowing boat consists of several key components: the hull (main body), seat, oars, rigging (mechanisms to hold the oars), foot stretchers (for rower’s feet), and a skeg (fin for stability).

What role does the skeg play in a rowing boat?

The skeg is a fin attached to the bottom of the hull, providing stability and helping to keep the boat on a straight course while rowing.

What are dories used for?

Dories are traditionally used for fishing and transporting goods. They are known for their flat bottoms and high sides, making them stable and easy to maneuver.

How has the design of rowing boats evolved over time?

The design of rowing boats has evolved to improve speed, stability, and efficiency. Modern materials and technologies have refined traditional designs, making boats lighter and more aerodynamic.