Fixed vs Sliding for openwater : LUSENET : Open-water rowing : One Thread

I plan to buy a new rowboat for cruising. Will a sliding-seat just get in the way, and be a burden in rough weather? I'm a fixed-seat guy but see the power in adding legs to the equation. I have never rowed a sliding seat. Are they prone to breaking down or wearing out?

-- David Bean (, August 21, 2000


Dear David,

Sliding seat confers no performance advantage on any craft that can comfortably fit in an average size garage. You will burn more calories per mile with a slide but if your boat is under 18 feet in length you won't cover water any faster than with a fixed seat. Indeed, in rough water you may go slower with the slide. Sliding seat, as it was originally developed and typically practiced, is essentially a flatwater, sprinting technique used for propelling extremely long and lightweight craft. Taking it outside of those boundaries requires modifying both the equipment and the technique. In any conditions you'll cover more miles per flapjack with fixed seat. The most important factor determining the efficiency of cruising craft is hull shape. The most important factor in any cruising craft is safety.


Andre de Bardelaben

-- Andre de Bardelaben (, August 21, 2000.

Andre's eloquent answer is correct. ...Especially for his elegant boats. However, I have had continuing, multiyear good luck with my 16' Appledore Pod with Oarmaster (I) and prefer the 9'9" oar capability that the 64" rigger spread allows. The boat is not "fast" but is roomy, dry, and cruises extremely well and safely. It can also be fitted with another Oarmaster for doubles, though Arthur Martin himself called it overpowered (relative to hull speed) in that mode. It is fun and companionable, though. About 10 years ago a friend and I cruised this boat almost 50 miles in a day, stopping frequently to take photos and look at interesting things along the Connecticut River. I also once rowed two 11-year-old ladies, two tents, two coolers, three sleeping bags, multiple lunches and snacks and quarts of water, and a tape player and a stack of tapes (was it all Boy George?) for more than 20 miles. Cruel and unusual... --J

-- John Stratton (, August 21, 2000.

My ducker is a 15' fixed seat boat, rowed off a box. Its speed is consitent enough so that the three times it has been in the Blackburn time was w/in 5 minutes of each other. About 4:30, as I recall. A few years back having a free Sunday, and some sliding seat parts, I put a frame together on which the gunning box sits, without changing the spread of oars. The boat is no faster as I was able to hold it easily as fast as it wants to go without the slide. You do use some different muscles... more of your legs. Into a stiff breeze where the resistance is up, the boat is faster. But as Andre says at the end of a long row, the same calories are burned no matter whether you are using fixed or sliding seat. Best way to take advantage of the additional speed of a slider is a longer skinnier hull...

The problems of a slider in rough water have more to do with the oars than the mass of the rower moving back and forth. Getting 9.5 footers in and out of the water when the boat is rolling. People who do this are very good, spend time rowing their sliders without using the slide focusing on blade work, and perhaps setting the oars up a bit if is rough.

There is also the not unrelated issue of footware. If you are beach launching north of the Cape boots are part of your gear and if it is nippy.... below 50 you may want to keep them on. Racing boats have lace in shoes that you stick heavily stockinged feet into; the recreational sliders have straps that you stick you feet under. Do you switch shoes in the boat when it is cold?

When the Ocean Shell first came out, there was a low seat, short rigger, short oar option which has been dropped as the market for the boats moved to exercise and racing.

Where I see slides underused is as an option for bigger / heavier openwater boats, using the oars that they have. At Mystic there is a Whitehall that is set up with a slide; Dick Shew put them into his boats 20 years ago. Peter Culler did one on one of his boats that is in the Mystic collection. Simply on boats that I can't take up to hull speed rowing fixed, I could likely do so with a slide. And I would not necessarily need the 60 inch spread and 9 foot oars that come along with this.

The Harrier camp cruiser that I am playing with may get a simple slide rowing frame dropoed in for the times where it is loaded and single handed. But the oars will not change.


-- Ben Fuller (, August 22, 2000.

Dear David,

Some good points were made by the other contributors, especially that one about footwear in certain conditions. Other points have not been addressed and at least one of your questions has not been answered at all. Some of the boats mentioned above, because of narrow beams demand outriggers, though not necessarily 60" of spread. Outriggers can present many problems when coming alongside docks, seawalls and other boats. Outriggers can also can inflict concentrated stresses on a hull should they strike a solid object, like a piling, at speed. Remember, the primary reason for rowing sliding seat is speed and you are usually facing opposite the direction of travel. If your cruising grounds feature a lot of narrow, twisting tidal creeks the 9'-10' sculls typically used when rowing sliding seat may hamper your efforts to explore these interesting places. You asked if sliding seat equipment is prone to breaking down. Most quality drop-in units are pretty reliable and are not likely to fail without warning, but sliding seat equipment is more complicated than fixed seat so failures are more likely, though not common. The issue of clutter has not yet been properly addressed. Sliding seat rigging is unavoidably cumbersome. I've read that you sometimes sleep aboard your boat. Do you really want to curl up in the widest and potentially most comfortable part of your boat with 10' sculls and a 4'x5' metal contraption?


Andre de Bardelaben

-- Andre de Bardelaben (, August 22, 2000.

I camp-cruise in a 19'x 29" Graham Trimline recreational shell with a sliding-seat unit and 9'-9" sculls, modified with deck hatches for stowing gear inside the hull. The oarlocks are rigged a bit higher than the average rec-shell. This sacrifices a bit of efficiency, but as a result I have no problems getting the oars out of the water at the release in moderately rough conditions. Perhaps as noted above a 16-18'L x 38+"W oar-on-gunwale boat is not improved by addition of a sliding seat and riggers. I respectfully suggest, however, that the broader conclusion that "Sliding seat confers no performance advantage on any craft that can comfortably fit in an average size garage" may have some exceptions. I have no proof, but I suspect that my Graham (it fits in my garage - barely) goes faster with less effort than any fixed-seat solo boat, because the longer, slimmer form benefits from the added power of the sliding seat, whereas a shorter and wider boat may not. That said, is speed/efficiency important to the enjoyment of camp-cruising? I'd say not as much as comfort, flexibility and safety. (I'll certainly never sleep in the Graham.)

-- Kim Apel (, August 22, 2000.

We have rowed for excersize and cruised in both our 14' Whitehall and 16' Dwampscott Dory, and have developed a sliding seat that works admirably for boats of this size. The other answers to this query are educated and show much experience with sliders, but here is our 2 cents.....

Our system does not use a drop in metal frame, the seat is suspended from runners on the side of the hull. The seat rolls on stainless steel ball bearings in a nylon wheel. This leaves the bottom of the boat uncluttered for feet or sleeping, or camping gear.

The boats are wide enough at the beam to eliminate the need for outriggers. You will get hull speed with 8' oars, so no need for real long oars which are cumbersome and require more energy to move.

The seat can be locked in position for fixed use when in sloppy seas or you just want to use different muscle groups. You can go a lot farther, with less apparrent fatigue when you can vary technique and use different muscles. The seat is variable in position so it can fit people from 5 feet tall to 6'6" . The boats also come with multiple oarlocks so the seat will work for sliding, fixed single or tandem operation.

The foot chocks are adjustable web straps, so any size foot, with or without shoes will work.

If you want more variety yet, try the forward facing rowing system with the sliding seat. Yeeeha, full power stroke and you can see where you are going! What a concept!! ;<)

-- Dave Robertson (, August 28, 2000.


-- Phil Reinhardt (, December 03, 2000.

One more comment. With a sliding seat it is harder to use your hips to stablize the boat. As a wave passes under the boat, some hull shapes have a tendency to want to roll and round up into the wave. This is fine if you are rowing directly into the waves. But if you are taking the waves/chop on the quarter you'd rather the boat did not do that. With a fixed seat you can sort of scoot your weight around by leaning and the boat will track straight. In that case the sliding seat is a definite handicap.

However in flat water and or a low rolling wave (not a steep chop) you can use the wave and your stroke so that you pull as you are cresting the wave and sliding down it. You can really get going if you time it right and a sliding seat can help you get a really long pull into it. So get one that locks in place when you don't want it. - Gary-

-- Gary Powell (, September 14, 2004.

I row a 15 foot Virus Yole. I row south on Biscayne Bay, out through Government Cut, North along Miami Beach, back into Biscayne Bay through Haulover Inlet, and home. Sometimes I row the Intercoastal Waterway to Hollywood and back. Sometimes I go out through Haulover Inlet, north past the nude beach to the Hallandale water tower, and return. I cound not do these things without a sliding seat. I have tried the recommended lubricants for the seat wheels. Now I use automotive wheel bearing grease, with better results. The seat wheel bearinf retailer rings don't wear out so fast.

-- Hallett Stiles (, February 27, 2005.

For lubication of sliding seat rollers you might want to look into "waterproof" bicycle grease. It's more expensive per pound last time I looked but its a lighter weight grease than using auto or trailer bearing grease. Comes in a convient tube (Phil Wood) and you don't need all that much anyway. Or you might want to look at fishing reel grease, another lightwer weight "waterproof" grease.

Why use a light weight grease? The heavier weight greases are designed to hold up under the high load and temperature of being on the highway. Most rowers would have trouble duplicating that load. A lighter weight grease will let the rollers roll a bit more freely. However its not a big deal, unless you are racing, any grease is going to be none.


-- Gary Powell (, March 03, 2005.

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