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Rigging Variables

Here you can find a quick description of basic rigging variables, and a short discussion of how each variable can affect your rowing.

Span (spread):

The distance between the two pins on a sculling boat, or the distance between the pin and the centre line of a sweep boat. Span interacts with the inboard setting to determine the overlap of your hands for sculling when the oars are perpendicular to the boat. Also, the greater the span-spread, the shorter the arc your blades will sweep through the water, however in practice only small changes in angle for 1cm of adjustment.

Span-spread affects many aspects of the stroke. Moving the spread in towards the hull will allow for a longer stroke arc, and increase the load on the oar. A wider spread will lessen the arc, and also lessen the load.

Many coaches use Span-spread to alter the load (or “gearing”) . We prefer to set Span-spread to enable correct overlap and correct catch and finish angles. We then change gearing by using adjustable oars to alter the outboard length of the oar. This allows correct gearing without affecting other important variables like catch and finish angle.


The distance from the outboard face of the collar to the end of the oar handle. Inboard affects gearing: a longer inboard will lighten the load, a shorter inboard will increase load. Inboard also affects athlete position in the boat: the athlete’s body must follow the arc of the oar handle as it moves, so inboard must be somewhat constrained in order to maintain the comfort of the athlete, and the athlete’s ability to apply force effectively.


The distance from the outboard face of the collar to the tip of the blade (as measured along the axis of the shaft).

Overlap: Sculling

The amount of overlap of the sculling oar handles when perpendicular (90 deg) to the boat. Measured from the end of one handle to the end of the other handle.

Catch angle/Finish angle:

The oar’s angle from a line perpendicular to the shell. Catch angle is at the catch or beginning of the stroke; finish angle is at the finish or end of the stroke.

Oarlock Height:

Vertical distance from the lowest point on the back edge of the seat (coxic bone) at the front stop position to the midpoint of the oarlock shelf. This determines the level of your hands during the pull phase of the stroke, when the blade is just buried. If your hand level is too low, you will not have room to manoeuvre and feather your oar. If it is too high, you will feel uncomfortable as you pull through the water, and your oars may tend to wash out (come out of the water prematurely) during the stroke.

Correct rigging

To optimise speed, technical performance, comfort, and most importantly the pleasure of rowing, rigging appropriately for the size, strength and ability of the rower is critically important and can be as individual as the rower themselves.

You will want to adjust the rig of your boat such that:

  • If your hands feel too high during the draw, lower the height of your oarlocks. In most boats, this can be done by removing the nut at the top of the pin, and transferring washers from below the oarlock to above the oarlock or by using the now common horseshoe shaped snap in spacers.. Alternatively, you can add a seat packer or seat pad, if you are not able to adjust the rigger height of the boat. (This change will correct the seat to oarlock difference but of course raise or lower the seat height above the water)
  • If your hands feel too low, raise the height of your oarlocks, by reversing the directions given above. Sculling - There is differential in the height of your oarlocks so you can row with your left hand over your right hand, as is customary throughout the rowing community or indeed a directive for a standardised National Technique.
  • If your hands tend to collide at the middle of the stroke, or if your boat is constantly trimming down to the stroke side, you may need to increase the height differential between your right and left hands, but we know scullers operate between no difference to up to 2cm.
  • If it feels like you have too much overlap, you can decrease it either by decreasing the inboard dimension or increasing the span and leaving the inboard the same. Remember that decreasing the inboard will also increase your load. Increasing the spread will slightly decrease the arc that your oars sweep through the water or more correctly, the arc that you lever the boat through. Changes may require adjustment of the foot stretcher position for hand clearance at the finish.
  • If you do not have this clearance, try moving your foot stretchers further toward the bow of the boat. You can also decrease the inboard, but be aware that this will increase the load you feel on the oars.
  • If you have too much clearance at the finish, move your feet closer to the stern of the boat. This will enable a stronger finish draw and provide a little more catch angle. Remembering that the further we increase the catch angle the heavier the feel of the loading irrespective of the oar length or inboard outboard setting.
  • If it feels uncomfortably heavy at the catch and slow pulling your oars through the water, you can lighten the load by increasing the inboard, very often in sculling an increase in inboard and resultant overlap will necessitate an adjustment to the stretcher position to give clearance for the hands at the finish and so decrease the catch angle, again lightening the feel of loading.
  • If you have adjustable length oars, you can also lighten the load by shortening the overall length of your oars. If you would like more load on your oars, either decrease inboard, or increase oar length. Using the adjustable length oars to fine tune gearing is our suggested preferred method of adjusting the feel of loading, as it’s simple and gives more direct feedback to the rower and coach as making too many changes at once can be confusing.
  • The oars should maintain a consistent and appropriate depth throughout the stroke and release the water efficiently at the finish.
  • If the oar blades seem to dive too deep during the stroke: First, check to be sure that you are not pulling up on the oar. Pull evenly and horizontally. If it is not comfortable to pull at that level, adjust the height of your oarlocks to make it comfortable. If the oar continues to dig too deep, you may need to add a degree of pitch to your oarlocks, assuming that both the oars and oarlock have the correct pitch setting. Changes in foot stretcher position often require also a change to the slide track setting to ensure the seat does not hit either end of the track during the stroke.
  • If your seat hits front chocks at the catch of the stroke, check to be sure that you shins are not moving past vertical and that you are not rushing too fast into the catch. If you still hit the end, you should move the slide track setting.

    Why do some coaches wish to alter seat height?

    In general terms, rowers sit as low in the boat as possible to ensure a low centre of gravity for stability, however our experience over the years and individual build of rowers determines that we do not and cannot just set the seat as low as possible and expect rowers to fit in with that theory and years of experience have determined the best practical set up for all our boat classes.

    In the sculls and pairs, the limitations of the depth of hull and the heel height setting required by some rowers, means that they need to raise the seat height in relation to the water to achieve the required seat to heel height for comfort and efficient performance. It’s for reasons like this that slight variations are seen between boat classes in seat to water height and why coaches make their own modifications for individual rowers.

    It helps to understand that from a boat builder’s point of view, the seat to water height has been determined when the boat was designed and can only be modified by a small amount without affecting other parts of the boat such as rigger height. Each time the seat height is adjusted there is a direct effect on the height of the oarlock above the seat, which is the most common adjustment that rowers make when rigging a boat.

    We often have coaches make requests such as a very low heel height which often may mean a change in the construction of the hull to achieve this with the result being a higher centre of gravity for all the crew not just perhaps the individual that required the low heel height. This may affect the balance to some degree so careful consideration should be given to any changes requested to construction to ensure other problems are not introduced as a result.

    Determining the correct hull size to suit your use is the most important decision as a guarantee of the best set up for your crew is assured.

    Some clubs due to limited resources, try to purchase a boat to suit a very broad range of user which really means some users will be compromised to a degree or have to make many changes to achieve a more suitable set up, a time consuming and frustrating pastime.

    School Programs

    As a starting point if we assume that most schools now own boats that are suitably sized for the crews that row them (as many problems can be seen with crews using equipment that is not suitable). However we still have situations where boats are passed down the line and certain changes may need to be made to help new users.

    We also know that with size differences, a uniform set up is not going to suit all of the crew. Boat builders aim to produce a product that suits most users but it is unusual to have fittings that are perfect for everyone. We should always aim to set up a rig of our choice so any deviation only has to be slight to produce uniformity of movement within the crew. The first area is heel heights as incorrect settings can cause a number of technical issues in the stroke and personal discomfort to the rower. Combined with setting the correct stretcher angle, this is one of the most satisfying adjustments a coach can make for their rower. As adjustment is not always easy out on the water for the coach to control, notes and/or video should be made to allow corrections back at the boat shed.

    As a general rule girl’s heel heights range from 14 to 17 cm below the seat, but cases of 12 and 20cm can occur. Stretcher angle would normally be between 38 to 42 degrees for girls. For boys heel heights of 17 to 20 are usual and stretcher angle of 40 to 42 degrees. Sometimes adjustments need to be made that go outside of the working range of the standard adjustments if we want to be more exacting, but this brings with it some associated problems

    We also often encounter rowers with very long or short bodies where the normal rig height set for the crew does not suit them. Whilst raising or lowering the height washers can take care of this to some degree, we are then moving away from our norm and a simple removal or addition of a seat packer has a far better effect on the uniform movement of the crew.

    Once we have the individuals set up comfortably and in an efficient position we can then look to position the rowers to have the crew moving through the same arc or “in phase” to maximise the peak power impulse at the same point of the stroke. Firstly we look to see if poor technique is the reason for different stroke lengths as much bigger changes can generally be made to the rower than with changes to the rigging.

    Small changes can be made with an alteration to the inboard of the oar and larger changes made with a combination of span and inboard and overall oar length. With the introduction of adjustable length oars the job of achieving uniform arcs and loading for your crews is much easier than in the past. Trial and error and use of a video camera, particularly from an overhead position will soon show the changes you have made.

    Getting your crews rowing well together has a positive effect on boat speed but not to be underestimated is the pride and positive mental effect crews pick up from video replay and comments from peers and supporters, especially at the early stage of their rowing careers. As coaches you will all have your own views on how adjustments and crews should look but we should not lose sight of the fact that what the blades are doing is more important than a pretty looking crew. At a more senior level rowers and more particularly scullers, often come together to form composite National crews, we see almost perfect blade work if that’s what you focus on but also often unusual individual positioning or movements if you focus only on the movements of the body. Obviously the coach has worked on positive and effective blade work and not been preoccupied with individual styles of the rowers.

    View Rigging Angle Chart



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