AskDefine | Define rowboat

Dictionary Definition

rowboat n : a small boat of shallow draft with cross thwarts for seats and rowlocks for oars with which it is propelled [syn: dinghy, dory]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A small open boat propelled by oars (by rowing).


Extensive Definition

With regard to watercraft, rowing is the act of propelling a boat using the motion of oars in the water. The difference between paddling and rowing is that with rowing the oars have a mechanical connection with the boat whereas with paddling the paddles are hand-held with no mechanical connection.
This article deals with general rowing including the recreational, transportation and utility aspects of rowing, rather than the sport of competitive rowing which is a specialized case of racing using strictly regulated equipment.

Types of rowing systems

In some localities, rear facing systems prevail. In other localities, forward facing systems prevail, especially in crowded areas such as in Venice, Italy and in Asian and Indonesian rivers and harbors. This is not strictly an "either-or", because in different situations it's useful to be able to row a boat facing either way. With the current emphasis on the health aspects of rowing, some new mechanical systems are evolving, some very different from the traditional rowing systems of the past.
Rearward facing systems: This is probably the oldest system used in Europe and North America. A seated rower pulls on one or two oars, which lever the boat through the water. The pivot point of the oars (attached solidly to the boat) is the fulcrum. The motive force is applied through the rower's feet. In traditional rowing craft, the pivot point of the oars is generally located on the boat's gunwale. The actual fitting that holds the oar may be as simple as one or two pegs (or thole pins) or a metal oarlock (also called rowlock - "rollock"). In performance rowing craft, the rowlock is usually extended outboard on a "rigger" to allow using a longer oar for increased power.
Sculling involves a seated rower who pulls on two oars or sculls, attached to the boat, thereby moving the boat in the direction opposite that which the rower faces. In some multiple-seat boats seated rowers each pull on a single "sweep" oar. Boats in which the rowers are coordinated by a coxswain are referred to as a "coxed" pair/four/eight. Sometimes sliding seats are used to enable the rower to use the leg muscles, substantially increasing the power available. An alternative to the sliding seat, called a sliding rigger, uses a stationary seat and the rower moves the oarlocks with his feet.
Forward facing systems: Articulated or bow facing oars have two-piece oars and use a mechanical transmission to reverse the direction of the oar blade, enabling a seated rower to row facing forward with a pulling motion. Push rowing, also called back-watering if used in a boat not designed for forward motion, uses regular oars with a pushing motion to achieve forward facing travel, sometimes seated and sometimes standing. This is a convenient method of manoeuvring in a narrow waterway or through a busy harbour. Another system called the FrontRowertm uses oarlocks mounted inboard of the handles (rather than outboard) to achieve forward travel with a pulling motion and uses moving pedals to apply leg power.
Another system (also called sculling) involves using a single oar extending from the stern of the boat which is moved back and forth under water somewhat like a fish tail. Possibly the most efficient form of sculling oar is the Chinese yuloh, by which quite large boats can be moved with a minimum of effort.

Ancient rowing

In ancient times, rowing boats (known as galleys) were extensively used during war. The Persians and the Athenians fought many sea battles in rowing boats. The Athenians rammed their enemy's ships at great speed - sometimes using up to 170 oarsmen. They also used moving seats which allowed the oarsmen to use their legs and propel the ship faster.
Galleys were an advantage over sailing ships due to being easier to manoeuvre and quicker. The Vikings took it one step further and added sails to their rowing boats, called longships, allowing them to move very quickly with a tailwind. Their usage continued until the advent of steam propulsion.

Venetian rowing

In Venice, gondolas are popular forms of transport propelled by oars - although more modern versions have an outboard motor. The technique of rowing is considerably different from the style used in sport, due to the oarsman facing forward. This allows the boat to manoeuover very quickly - useful in the narrow and busy canals of Venice.
There are three different styles of Venetian rowing:
  1. Single oarsman with one oar (the oar also acts as a rudder)
  2. Single oarsman with two crossed oars (known as a la valesàna)
  3. Two or more oarsmen, on alternate sides of the boat

Whitehall Rowboats

The origins of this distinctively elegant and . However the famed nautical historian Howard I. Chappelle, cites the opinion of the late W. P. Stephens that in New York City there is a Whitehall Street and this was where the Whitehall was first built. Chapelle, Stephens and others agree that the design came into existence some time in the 1820’s in New York City, having first been built by navy yard apprentices who had derived their model to some extent from the old naval gig.
In Wooden Boats to Build and Use (1996), John Gardner of Mystic Seaport describes a 25-foot racing Whitehall, named American Star, which triumphed in an 1824 race in New York Harbor that according to newspapers of the time drew 50,000 spectators, more than any American sporting event ever until then. The following year the boat was gifted to an aging General Lafayette, hero of the American Revolution, during his tour of the U.S. The American Star returned to Lafayette's estate in France where it was displayed in a specially constructed gazebo. During the mid 20th century the boat was rediscovered in storage there, and its lines have be preserved at Mystic Seaport where an exact replica was built in 1974-75, and still rows at Seaport events.

See also


External links

rowboat in German: Ruderboot
rowboat in Scottish Gaelic: Bàta-ràmh
rowboat in Dutch: Roeiboot
rowboat in Norwegian: Robåt
rowboat in Finnish: Soutuvene
rowboat in Swedish: Roddbåt
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