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Men’s Rowing Walk-Ons

Rowing is a regional sport and it can be difficult for some athletes to get access to rowing if they do not live near a body of water, and hence, a rowing team. This accounts for why men’s collegiate rowing has a relatively high ratio of walk-on athletes. For athletes that don’t have rowing experience, there are plenty of opportunities to compete at the college level. For the most part, if you have good academics, are strategic about where you attend school and are set on rowing in college, it is likely that you will get a chance to row—either for a varsity or club team. In this section, we provide information about basic rowing terminology and how to walk on to a men’s college rowing team.

What teams offer roster spots for walk-ons?

Walk-ons make up a good portion of varsity rowing rosters at all but the most accomplished teams. While there may be few walk-on spots available at elite programs, there are plenty of athletes without rowing experience that earn roster spots on strong teams. However, tryouts and competition for varsity programs can be intense, and walk-ons will have to exhibit raw athletic ability.

In regard to non-varsity club programs, some teams entirely avoid cutting athletes from their roster as long as they are willing to show up and give 100% effort on a daily basis. The top tier of club programs includes teams that usually have experienced high school and club rowers on their roster, but most rowers start as novices. While it may be difficult to win a seat in the varsity eight at a club program, there are many opportunities to row in smaller boats and non-championship races.

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What is a novice in rowing?

Because rowing is such a technical sport and there are many walk-ons just learning how to row in college, races have a category for novices, meaning first-year college rowers. However, novices can also row for varsity boats if a coach deems them good enough to compete at that level. This depends on the program.

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Rowing terminology

There are many boating-related terms in rowing that beginners are unlikely to know. Here are just some that USRowing recommends reviewing:

  • Bow: The forward section of the boat. The first part of the boat to cross the finish line. The person in the seat closest to the bow, who crosses the finish line first.
  • Coxswain: Person who steers the shell and is the on-the-water coach for the crew. Most races require the coxswain to weigh 120 pounds and can add a sandbag to the boat to make up the difference.
  • Deck: The covered part of the shell at the bow and stern.
  • Ergometer: Rowers call it an “erg.” It’s a rowing machine that closely approximates the actual rowing motion.
  • Gate: The bar across the oarlock that keeps the oar in place.
  • Oar: Used to drive the boat forward -- rowers do not use paddles.
  • Port: Left side of the boat, while facing forward, in the direction of the movement.
  • Power 10: A call for rowers to do 10 of their best, most powerful strokes. It’s a strategy used to pull ahead of a competitor.
  • Regatta: A series of boat races.
  • Rigger: The triangular shaped metal device that is bolted onto the side of the boat and holds the oars.
  • Sculls: One of the two disciplines of rowing—the one where scullers use two oars or sculls.
  • Shell: Can be used interchangeably with boat.
  • Slide: The set of runners for the wheels of each seat in the boat.
  • Starboard: Right side of the boat, while facing forward, in the direction of movement.
  • Stern: The rear of the boat; the direction the rowers are facing.
  • Stretcher or foot-stretcher: Where the rower’s feet go. The stretcher consists of two inclined footrests that hold the rower’s shoes. The rower’s shoes are bolted into the footrests.
  • Stroke: The rower who sits closest to the stern. The stroke sets the rhythm for the boat; others behind him must follow his cadence.
  • Sweep: One of the two disciplines of rowing—the one where rowers use only one oar. Pairs (for two people), fours (for four people) and the eight are sweep boats. Pairs and fours may or may not have a coxswain. Eights always have a coxswain.

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Types of boats

There are several different types of boats that are raced on the college level, though the focus in American rowing is on sweep rowing (one oar per person) and the coxed eight (8+). Here is a rundown of different boat types:

  • Coxless pair (2-): Two rowers with one oar each. One of the rowers steers the boat through a rudder connected by cables to one of their shoes.
  • Coxed pair (2+): Two rowers with one oar each and a coxswain (or “cox”) to direct the crew and steer the boat using a rudder attached to cables.
  • Coxless four (4-): Four rowers with one oar each and one of the rowers steering with their foot.
  • Coxed four (4+): Four rowers with one oar each and a cox to steer the boat.
  • Coxed eight (8+): Eight rowers with one oar each and a cox to steer the boat.
  • Single scull (1x): One rower with two oars (or blades). The rower steers the boat by changing the pressure they put on either blade in the water.
  • Double scull (2x): Two rowers with two oars each. They also steer the boat by varying the pressure on the oars in the water.
  • Coxless quad (4x-): Four rowers with two oars each, with one of the rowers steering with their foot.
  • Coxed quad (4x+): Four rowers with two oars each and a cox to steer the boat.
  • Octuple (8x+): Eight rowers with two oars each and a cox to steer the boat. This boat type is very rare.

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What is a good split time in rowing?

A split time on the erg (the rowing machine) simply shows how long it will take you to row 500 meters at your current speed. Another way to explain it is to just determine what ¼ of your 2000-meter erg time is. So, to row a 2k in 7:00, you’ll need a split time of 1:45. (As 1:45 times four equals 7 minutes.) You can reference the 2k erg time recruiting numbers to figure out split times.

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What is a good rowing pace?

For strong varsity eight crews racing in the spring during championship season, a good rowing pace in the middle of the race piece ranges from 32 strokes per minute to 38 strokes per minute, with sprints at the start and finish going up into the 40s. Crews that shorten their stroke for sprints can reach strokes per minute in the mid to high 40s.

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