Rowing Rules


Rowing is a sport that involves using a wooden paddle, known as an oar, to propel a long boat through water at high speeds in order to win a race.

Rowing is one of the oldest and most prestigious sports on the planet, with evidence suggesting the first rowing races may have occurred as long ago as the Egyptian era. Oxford and Cambridge University organised a competitive rowing race in 1828, and the two education facilities still compete against one another to this day.

Rowing has featured at almost every edition of the Summer Olympics since the games first began. Only the 1896 tournament did not include any rowing competitions, with extreme weather conditions forcing organisers to pull water sports from the schedule. Male rowing events have been in place since 1900, and female rowing competitions were introduced much later in 1976.

The United States of America are by far the most successful overall nation in Olympic rowing, having amassed a whopping 89 medals so far. However, East Germany were excellent challengers during their time (managing to secure 33 golds, a record which the USA have only matched very recently) and Great Britain have performed terrifically during the past decade, topping the Olympic games rowing medal table on three successive occasions.

The greatest male rower of all time is widely considered to be Britain’s Sir Steve Redgrave, with Elisabeta Lipa of Romania often regarded as the best female rower. Both have picked up five gold medals each.

Object of the Game

The objective of rowing is simple: the boat that reaches the finish line first is declared the winner of the race. Reaching the finish line in the quickest possible time requires an astonishing amount of physical and mental strength, high levels of stamina and seamless synchronisation when competing in team events.

Players & Equipment

All participating athletes in rowing competitions have a different role to play, and the number of players and piece of equipment can vary depending on the type of rowing of event in question.

Boats & Players

Rowing races adopt different names depending on the number of people participating and the type of boat being used. The main events held at the Olympics include:

  • Single Scull: One athlete in a “scull” boat with two oars (one in each hand)
  • Double Scull: Two athletes in a “scull” boat with two oars each (one in each hand)
  • Quadruple Scull: Four athletes in a “scull” boat – all with two oars each (one in each hand)
  • Coxless Pairs: Two athletes in a boat that has no “coxswain” (a person who sits in the stern to facilitate steering); Each athlete has one sweep oar each
  • Coxed Pairs: Two athletes in a boat that has a coxswain present. Both athletes have one sweep oar each
  • Coxless Fours: Like Coxless Pairs, only with four athletes instead of two
  • Coxed Fours: Like Coxed Pairs, only with four athletes instead of two
  • Eights: Eight rowers who all have one sweep oar each with the boat steered by a coxswain


Different types of oars are used for different races. Despite the varying designs, the vast majority of rowing oars have a long, thin body with a thick paddle-like moulding at the end. Larger, thicker “sweep oars” are used for coxless and coxed rowing events.


In sculling races, athletes are required to use their oars to steer the boat in a particular direction. In coxed races, the coxswains control the steering through rudder. When there is no coxswain present, the crew will control the boat with a rudder cable attached to the toes.

Rowing Tank

A lot of rowing athletes will train for Olympic races by practicing their rowing in a Rowing Tank. These artificial chambers contain water that can be completely controlled in terms of tempo and aggressiveness, enabling athletes to practice in a wide variety of different conditions. Rowing Tanks also prove extremely useful when bad weather makes training impossible, allowing rowers to work on their technique and build their physique regardless of the poor outdoor conditions.


There is no point scoring involved in rowing. It is merely a case of working alongside teammates to function as a unit and propel the boat through the water at the highest speed possible in order to reach the finish line in the quickest time.


The winner of a rowing race is the individual or team that reaches the finish line first. In the modern Olympics, all races are held over 2000 metres, including men’s and women’s events.

In order to win a rowing competition outright, an athlete/team must advance through a series of “heats” in order to progress through the tournament. The first three boats to cross the finish line in the final will receive the gold, silver and bronze medals.

Rules of Rowing

Competitive rowing involves a number of rules that athletes must adhere to in order to avoid being disqualified. These include:

  • Lane Changing: There are six separate lanes in an Olympic rowing event, with one lane assigned to each boat. Athletes and teams are actually allowed to move across from one lane to another if they desire – provided they do not impede or obstruct another boat whilst doing so.
  • False Starts: Boats must not leave the starting line until the firing gun goes off. Athletes/teams are allowed one “false” start (i.e. setting off before they are permitted to do so). If they do this twice, however, they will be disqualified from the race.
  • Olympic Medal Winners: The gold, silver and bronze Olympic games medals are awarded to the boats that finish in the top three of the final race, which has six teams/athletes competing.