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Race Types

Events, where rowing teams compete, are called regattas, and not all regattas are created equal.  The type of racing at regattas can vary.

Sprint Races - spring and Summer season

National, collegiate, world, and Olympic sprint competitions are 2,000 meters or approximately 1.25 miles. The race course is divided into 6-8 lanes and each 500-meter section is marked with buoys. Masters races are 1,000 meters. Sometimes, juniors' races are 1,500 meters.

The race begins with all boats aligned at the start in the lanes they've been assigned. Volunteers in each lane hold the stern of each boat steady while an official, known as the aligner, ensures that each boat is even with the others and squarely facing the course.

Each crew is allowed one false start; two means disqualification. If within the first 100 meters there is legitimate equipment breakage (e.g., an oar snaps in two), the race will be stopped and restarted with repaired equipment.

The stroke rate (the number of rowing strokes per minute that a crew is taking ) is high at the start. Then, the crew will "settle" into the body of the race and drop the rating down to a slower pace.  As they approach the finish line, usually somewhere within the last 250 meters, the crew will ramp up the stroke rate and sprint to the line. 

Unlike canoe/kayak competitions, rowers are allowed to leave their lanes without penalty, so long as they do not interfere with anyone else's opportunity to win. An official follows the crews to ensure safety and fairness.

Head Races - Fall season

Head races are about 4,500-5,000 meters (2.5-3 miles) long and the boats are started in their respective events separately at 10-second intervals in a time trial format. Head races are usually conducted on a river with an assortment of bridges and turns that can make passing quite interesting. The winner is the crew that had the shortest elapsed time between the start and finish lines, with any additional time included for penalties.

Race Schedules

The “heat sheets” (racing schedules) are generally posted online, often on or  Just google the regatta for more information.

The schedules are subject to change.  If you are timing your arrival for particular races it pays to check as late as the morning of the regatta and allow a cushion for parking.  

The format for the regatta will depend on the size and number of entries.  Smaller spring and summer regattas (sprints) usually have heat races in each event and the top finishers move directly into the finals that take place later the same day.  In large regattas,  they may start with time trials that lead to repêchage events, then semi-finals and finals.  When the number of entries for an event is small they may only have one final, but some events have as many as four levels of finals (A, B, C, and D), with up to 6 boats in each.

Fall races (head) are always done in time-trial format.  Each boat only races once and there is no head-to-head racing.  Boats in each event start one after another at a set interval (10 seconds, for example), and the winner is the boat that finishes the course in the shortest amount of time.  

Race Watching

The crew that's making it look easy is most likely the one doing the best job. While you're watching, look for the continuous, fluid motion of the rowers. The rowing motion shouldn't have a discernible end or beginning.  

  • Synchronization - Rowers strive for perfect synchronization in the boat.
  • Clean catches of the oar blades - If you see a lot of splashes, the oar blades aren't entering the water correctly. The catch should happen at the end of the recovery when the hands are as far ahead of the rower as possible. Rowers who uncoil before they drop the oar blades are sacrificing speed and not getting a complete drive.
  • Even oar blade feathering - When the blades are brought out of the water, they should all move horizontally close to the water and at the same height. It's not easy, especially if the water is rough.
  • The most consistent speed -Shells don't move like a car; they're slowest at the catch, quickest at the release. The good crews time the catch at just the right moment to maintain the speed of the shell.

Rowing looks graceful, elegant, and sometimes effortless when it's done well. Don't be fooled. Rowers haven't been called the world's most physically-fit athletes for nothing. A 2,000-meter rowing race demands virtually everything a human being can physically bring to an athletic competition – aerobic ability, technical talent, exceptional mental discipline, ability to utilize oxygen efficiently and in huge amounts, balance, pain tolerance, and the ability to continue to work when the body is demanding that you stop.

  • Race times can vary considerably depending upon the course and weather conditions. Tailwinds will improve times, while headwinds and crosswinds will hamper them.
  • If a crew "catches a crab," it means the oar blade has entered the water at an angle instead of perpendicularly. The oar blade gets caught under the surface and will slow or even stop a shell.
  • A "Power 10" is a call by the coxswain for 10 of the crew's best, most powerful strokes. Good coxswains read the course to know how many strokes remain for their crew to count down to the finish.
  • Crews are identified by their oar blade design. The TRC oar blades are orange with the middle third a dark blue vertical stripe.
  • It doesn't matter whether you win an Olympic medal or don't make the finals – each crew still carries their boat back to the rack.

*borrowed from the USRowing site.

Deciphering Regatta Events

Every regatta event is comprised of four parts; gender, level, size, and type.


Men's or Women's are the only values used in juniors rowing

Level Youth, U17, U16, U15, where U means "Under"
Size The number (1, 2, 4, 8) indicates the number of rowers in the boat.
Type The character following the number indicates the boat type.  

Boat Type Legend

x = sculling style, no coxswain (x+ is cox'ed)
+ = sweep style, with coxswain
-  = sweep style, no coxswain


  • Youth and U19 are basically equivalent. The Youth designation includes a stipulation about the athlete still being continuously enrolled in secondary (high) school. Youth is the more common designation used in regatta events.
  • Weight can also be used as an additional separator, but is not that common in Youth rowing. 


Women's U17 2- =  Women's Under 17 pair (sweep, no cox) 
Men's Youth 4x  = Men's Youth Quad (scull)
Women's Youth 4+ = Women's Youth Four (sweep with cox)
Men's U17 4- = Men's Under 17 Straight Four (sweep, no cox)