Rowing Speed (2 rowers) 18th centuray rowboats and British Long Boats : LUSENET : Open-water rowing : One Thread

After reading the response to the Charles Brown question of July 2, 2002 on rowing speed of displacement hull boats I wrote to Doug who gave me a helpful response. I am putting out the same question on his request to solicit your input. I will include my original question and Dougs response:

My question: "I am trying to get a good handle on the maximum rowing speed of the row boat like the one used by Paul Revere on April 18, 1775 when his 2 friends rowed him across the Charles River from Boston. Unfortunately I do not have any specifics about the rowboat. Perhaps you have an idea. My gut feel is 3 kts.

Also, do you have any info on the transport boats used by the British troops in crossing from Boston to Cambridge. I believe 700 to 800 troops were transferred in 3 hours across a different stretch of water (perhaps 1.5 miles long).

These logistical details will help me in a presentation I am preparing on the astronomical and tidal impacts on the Patriots' and British movements at the onset of the American Revolution.

Thanks for your help,

John C. Mannone"

Dougs Reply: "Interesting project you've got there. Let me speculate a bit. If the boat that Paul Revere's friends were rowing was a sort of a typical dory, it was likely in the range of 14-16 feet long. The maximum speed of a boat that length under oar would be roughly 3-4 knots, with the resistance rising dramatically between 3 & 4 knots. i.e. the amount of power required to make the boat travel at 4 knots would be roughly twice that required for 3 knots. If the boat was more like a small whaleboat (as you will see in the pictures of Washington crossing the Potomac for example) then with two people, the crusing speed could have been more in the range of 4-5 knots. In your position, I would guess that 4 knots would be a maximum speed and 3 might be more realistic. I know bupkus (technical term that) about the transport troops used by the British. As I recall my maritime history, those were likely to be boats capable of carrying 25-30 people. The restriction on speed there is most likely to be the number of men at the oars vs. sitting as deadweight. Those boats were probably slower than a modern racing whaleboat which goes along at a stately 5-6 knots top speed with all-but-one person in the boat pulling on an oar. Have fun with this. You might try posing your question on the forum where you saw my earlier comment Doug"

Thank you all for your help, John C. Mannone

-- John Charles Mannone (, November 20, 2002


I happen to be the owner of a replica 18th century ships jolly boat. I usually row it alone but it has 3 rowing positions so can take 6 people rowing. I alone can row it quite well on still water and believe that 3-4 knots would not be at all unreasonable. My boat is 16' long. On Paul's ride I believe that the boat would have been something like mine or possible something like a Whitehall and would have been professionally rowed, as this was a normal occupation of an 18th century city on the coast. Races were held etc.

By the by the reference to the boats in the painting of Washington crossing the Deleware being "whaleboats" is totally incorrect. Check the painting again. Those are Durham coal boats and are compareable to a Whaleboat as a Dodge ram Pickup is to an 18 wheeler. They are big clumsy andvery ugly.

I'm an 18th century re-enactor and have been since 1977. I am currently adding a maritime element to my persona as my family did live in the Chesepeak area of the current Aberdeen proving grounds during the war. I am currently the Regimental Boatmaster of the Illinois Regiment. Yes the original regiment had one who was in charge of 180 oars fathoms of line and various boats and boating equiptment. Most boats are unfortunately not described except faintly such as a "two masted boat." The regiment saw duty on the Wabash, Ohio, Missippi, Arkansas, Red, and Missouri rivers during the war and of course used its boats to move men and material. The actual boatmaster was Sgt. Buckner Pitmann who served from January 1779 to July of 1781.

Maybe more info than you want but I can't help myself at times.

Tom G.

-- Tom Galyen (, December 01, 2002.

Hi Tom,

Thanks so much for your valuable input; and you need not apologize for the interesting aside.

I tried to find a picture of a jolly boat, but failed; however, I found one of a Whitehall that is fashioned with 3 sets of oars, like the historical ones. Unfortunately, it has 3 occupants for their sales ad.

The two rowers that took Revere to the Charlestown shore were Joshua Bently and Thomas Richardson. It has been difficult to locate information on these two young men. Various souces refer to them differently, but collectively paint more than a casual relationship- watermen, boat builders, and friends of Paul Revere. I learned that Joshua was only 15 (unless there is a typo with his birthdate). I don't know how old Thomas was in 1775. I would guess young also; perhaps 20 or younger. Usually, apprenticeship for a trade begins by the age of 13 in those days. However, they are referred to as experienced oarmen.

On April 16, 2000, there was a re-enactment of the traverse across the Charles. I haven't received any feedback from the USCG in Boston or others that could shed light on the details (like the rowboat type and design details).

I am really enjoying the historical sleuthing. This is one scientist that appreciates history and literature.

As a closing aside: though a happy resident of east TN, I grew up in Baltimore. When you mentioned the Chesapeake, I can visualize the dozens of sailboats near Annapolis in the summer and the great oysters in the fall.

Thanks for sharing your information.

Best regards, John

-- John C. Mannone (, December 02, 2002.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ