Boat Balance

Boat Speed and Boat Balance

Most rowing crews, inexperienced and experienced, have difficulty keeping the boat “on keel” and moving in the right direction. It is difficult to keep the boat from rolling or rocking from side to side and to feel complete balance in the boat.

A boat that has poor balance will be a slow boat because

  • it is difficult for each rower to row properly and apply power effectively;
  • the boat is not in the best position to “run” smoothly down the pond; and or
  • the boat will slow down a little each time it rocks or rolls.

Testing boat balance

The following exercise can be done before every start to check for a set and balanced boat and to help rowers gain awareness of handle heights and posture.

  1. Stop the boat with all rowers sitting up tall and relaxed in a neutral position with their blades flat on the water. The coxswain should be sitting as well.
  2. Check that the boat is level on the water and that the oar handles are level on both sides.
  3. If there is unevenness, the rowers should check their body position and posture and make necessary adjustments.
  4. Next, in the neutral or catch position, square the blades and hold them just above the water. Rowers should have the same handle heights when the boat is balanced.
  5. Finally, in the catch position, drop the blades in the water and hold them loosely to allow them to float. The boat should be balanced. Rowers should lift up slightly to bury the blades without disrupting the balance in the boat.
  6. Rowers are now ready to row.

Down on one side

Problem: the boat is consistently down on one side and runs slowly because it is “off keel.”

Possible Causes Correction
Body weight is unevenly distributed in the boat. If possible, try to seat rowers so that there is an even amount of weight on each side.
One or more rowers consistently rows with a different hand level than the others. Ensure that the boat is balanced, with the blades buried and with the blades out of the water, before you start to row. Rowers should keep those hand levels as the row.
One or more rowers is leaning out over the side of the boat. This could be a lack of flexibility in the hips and hamstrings causing the rower to move in a semi-circle rather than straight forward. Rowers should be sit tall and relaxed and move straight forward and back from the hips during the recovery and drive.

Rocking and rolling

Problem: the boat rock and rolls all the way down the pond. Crews should know that a boat that dips to one side and rocks back will never be a really fast boat because the boat slows down on each rock and roll.

It is hard to pinpoint the issues of a boat that rocks and rolls because there are so many contributing factors. Poor execution of the various phases of the rowing stroke and timing are the big factors. When timing is off, one side of the boat is left unsupported and the boat will dip down on that side and roll back. Movements and timing must be perfect to ensure that the boat is supported equally on both sides at all times.

Rowers should continue to develop individual and team technique and timing so that the boat feels stable and stays “on keel.”