how to use oars for stability in rough water : LUSENET : Open-water rowing : One Thread

I have a narrow 22 inch water line width open water shell. I row in the somtimes very rough Columbia River. How do I use the oars to maintain stability?

-- scott hines (, August 22, 2003


I don't know if your question has a "correct" answer, but here are my comments: The fundamentals of rowing in smooth water also apply in rough water, they just require more refined skills. 1)Develop a feel for the water so that you can get a solid, secure catch even in rough conditions. How? I don't know how to explain, except to say, by practice and experience. 2) Relaxed hands and arms so that you absorb bumps instead of transferring them to the oars. 3) As a beginner, let your oar blades tap the water on the recovery (remember- loose hands), until you gain confidence, but don't let it become a habit. Fine tune your balance until your recovery is clean.

-- Kim Apel (, August 26, 2003.

While Kim's answer is sensible for river conditions, I must parse his generalization of "rough water." In rough salt water, it is imperative to drag one's blades on the recovery. Flat water rowers can set their boats up by recovering with their hands essentially level. This works because the water is level. But in swelly conditions, where one blade may be on a crest, and the other in a trough, it is blade contact that positions the hands (which must recover at unpredictably different levels from one stroke to the next) maintains the set of the shell & prevents it from pitching to the downhill side i.e. capsizing.

-- Kinley Gregg (, January 27, 2004.

You need a very clean release. Don't get a handle jammed into your hip on one side and while releasing completely on the other. Be sure to release deliberately and simultaneously with both oars. I second the recommendation on a clean, solid catch. One way to achieve both is to shorten your seat slide and don't reach as far back on the catch. Just make sure your arms are straight, you get a confident catch with pressure on the blades, and some leg push--but not a lot. On the drive, make sure you control the handle height--don't let the water force your handles up and down. But, this does take a lightly controlled touch--not clenching with tight muscles. Finally, you don't need to row at full pressure: something like 1/2 or even less of your normal pressure works--just take self-assured strokes, maintain pressure on the blades and you will make forward progress. You are only stable when the oars are in the water and you have some pressure on the blades. Finally, you will begin to sense the water: there will be times when the wave angle is more perpendicular to the boat and it is easy to stay stable. When the wave angle is closer to parallel to the boat it is really hard but even then you will realize that wave heights vary all of the time around the average. There will be times when you feel pretty stable getting 3-4 strokes in a row consistently. Then a bigger wave comes and you have to stabilize more: that's ok. Then it will seem momentarily smoother and you can get in 3-4 more solid strokes.

-- Lewis Levin (, March 15, 2004.

Having just completed a solo row (no sail rig), with a Piantedosi rowing rig and a very streamlined dory, of the Inside Passage (Alaska to Washington) I'd like to add a bit of knowledge to this discussion: The best online description of rowing in rough conditions that I've read is at

Shortening your stroke, relaxing your hands and feeling the water are essential elements. Another item is body balance to help trim your craft. You will have to shift your body weight in relationship to the swell height/angle and period as you enter. This however is a natural tendency... sort of a "given" when trying to describe the technique of rough-water rowing. Lastly, and I can't emphasize this strongly enough, try to avoid entering a large swell (anything over 4 feet) perpendicularly to the swell's direction of travel. What this can do is insert your bow into the oncoming swell while your stern is still in the receding swell, hence no support in the middle of the boat. If the swell combs and breaks on you, you have the potential for breaking your boat in two.. all this, of course, depends on the swell height, period, and length of your craft...and your savvy. Always go up a swell slightly to beam, not 90 degrees to the swell line. This will always keep the hull supported by the water underneath it. You will have to zigzag to go from point A to point B, from swell to swell, but you'll get there a bit drier than if you plow nose first into each swell. And with more chutzpah than most rowers!

-- Dale Victoria McKinnon (, August 27, 2004.

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