November 30, 2011

Rowing can be a real art form. Maynard Bray takes us for a row and describes techniques that can help you become more graceful as well as more effective behind a pair of oars. When it comes to maneuvering a small boat under oars, Maynard is a true master. This is one video not to be missed.

Navigate Further...

Plans and instructions for making a good pair of oars are contained in WoodenBoat:
- Issue #71 (Culler-type)
- Issue #127 (Downeast type)

Good oars can be purchased from:

Shaw & Tenney

Sawyer Paddles & Oars

Hamilton Marine

Get Free Videos Start Free Trial Members Sign In


– I think of rowing is an art form. And what we’d like to do here is give you the techniques that will allow you to be graceful and feel good when you go from here to there. Your hands don’t do much up and downing at all. It’s mostly turn of the wrist and it’s back and forth with your hands and arms. So all the energy is put toward making the boat move. Not in unnecessary moving of the oar. It’s just wasted energy to put your oar way in the air. You see what you have to do with your hands, you have to put a lot of energy into doing the windmill action. Right now it’s just my arms that are doing the work. But if you use a foot brace if you really want to bear into it, you want to get your whole body going. Then you take longer strokes. And your entire body. A step up from here, of course, is sliding seats and spoon bladed oars. You can see it makes quite a difference to speed through the water. And some people enjoy that kind of exercise. It’s more aerobic. Lazy people like me just do the arm business. It’s just fine, you go slow and you can row longer, at least I can. You want the blade to be not up and down. You want it canted a little bit like this because that tends to hold the oar down in the oar lock and keeps it from jumping out. If it’s like this it’s even worse. And you pull hard on that and they pop right out. I guess I helped it that time. But they don’t, you can see it makes a splash and if you get going, they’ll sure in hell pop out of the oar. See them climbing up in the oar up there now on every stroke?

– [Cameraman] Yeah.

– It’s just like we said with scowing. As you angle them a little bit, it makes sure that they’re always seated in the oar lock socket. So you can row like that and not change that angle at all if you choose to. Just keep rowing like that. But when the oar is out of the water on the recovery stroke, it tends, there’s a lot of windage that you can avoid if you feather them like that. It means a little bit of wrist action. Drop your wrist down, feather them. And here again you don’t want the angle to be parallel with the water anymore than on the other stroke you want it to be upright. Because then you’ll have to do what they call “catch a crab.” I’ll demonstrate. Dive it down like that, which isn’t much good. Yanks the boat and doesn’t look very nice. But with these you can literally, on the return stroke, let the oar blade drag right on the water as long as you keep a little bit of an up angle on it. And it’ll just zip along as nice as can be. You feather your oars right, it’s not a 90 degree change in angle on the blade. It’s more like 60 degrees or even less. Spinning you can do if you want to change direction. You can do it either by dragging the oar like that, pushing a little bit. I haven’t touched the other oar, it’s not even in the water. And we’ve done, about to do, a 360. There we are back to where we started. You can do it more gradually for the other oar. If you leave the inside one out of the water and row with the outside one. It isn’t quite as quick a turn. If you really wanna go fast, you reverse one and go forward with the other one. Supposed to be this.

– General rules for sets of oars. Little boats like these, seven, seven and a half foot oar for a four to four and a half foot beam works pretty well. It’s all based on your preference. You know, you’ll know right away whether your oar’s too long or too short. It’s nice on a small boat to have a place to stow your oar lock. Down and out of the way. Keeps it from beating up other boats in a dingy basin like this. So just a hole the size of your oar lock in your rowing seat is all you need. And just a simple hole drilled into your oar lock allows you to tie a string through it. Works really well.

– Coming up alongside we want to approach it from about any angle, but we’d like to be parallel to it at the end and we’d like to kiss it, not hit it. And the person who grabs the boat first should be up in the bow of the little boat because the wind will tend to keep it the way you want it. The person who grabs it is sitting back here the bow of the skiff is going to blow off and things are gonna not be so good.

– [Narrator] So while you traditionally come alongside at a very shallow angle, as Maynard demonstrates here, you can approach a boat at angle you wish, dipping your oar and slowly slipping side-to for a soft landing.

– It’s almost like putting the brakes on.

– [Maynard] That’s a nice demonstration.

– Swingin’ it sideways yeah.

– [Maynard] I mean, it demonstrates the fact that boats are sideways because.

– Right.

– [Maynard] Newton’s law says that any object that’s going in a straight line keeps going in that straight line.

– Right.

– [Maynard] And that’s where it’s going on here. You just change the attitude of the boat.

– Turn it sideways, and just slow it up.

– Newton’s law still applies, yeah.

– Right right.

– [Narrator] To row well, boats have to be trimmed right. With a slight drag or downward slant to the keel so they draw just a little more water aft than forward. With too much weight aft, the boat will drag water and make you feel like you’re rowing uphill. On the other hand, if the bow is pushed down and you start to row, you’ll find that the boat will want to sheer off to one side. Beyond trimming, there’s the more obvious thing you do of keeping the weight centered so the boat stays level side to side. Think balance before you start pulling on those oars. Even at a balance, it’s all about having fun. We hope these are some basic skills that’ll get you out on the water and bring you to some incredible places.


24 Responses So Far to “Rowing”:

  1. Avatar Ron Breault says:

    I use my Shaw and Tenney oars to propel my home built Feather Pram (Ian Oughtridge Design #51) around Center Harbor every chance I get – especially when Maynard is watching –

  2. Avatar Richard Whiting says:

    Wow, another great vlog. I started rowing small dinks as a lad of 12, just back from living in London and now relocated to Washington DC, and hanging out in Annapolis. I learned as Maynard has so well inscribed, how to maneuver a small rowing dink. Etched in my brain for all these years, I have had the sublime reward of teaching this technique to many young sailors and mariners. Thanks Maynard.

  3. Avatar James M B Keyser says:

    where can I find good fiber glass rowboat?

  4. Avatar Doug Bell says:

    Check out Rowers Oars made by Wes Reddick of Belfast, Maine. He makes the most beautiful oars. There is a video from his shop on the video section of this site.

  5. Avatar Clint Chase says:

    Finally watched this one. Nice to see myself rowing my old Drake rowboat at 7:40. Great intro video that I’ll share with my customers!

  6. Herve Depow Herve Depow says:

    May I ask which version of the Nutshell Pram you are you using for this demo, the 7’7″ or the 9’6″? I have the plans for the 7’7″ and intend to build one to use as a tender for our sailboat. Judging by the length of the oars I am guessing the smaller version. If so, it will certainly be adequate for us. Thank you.

    • Steve Stone Steve Stone says:

      It’s the 7’6″ smaller one. Good for two person tender but not much for sailing. The larger version is a great sailer for kids and even two adults.

      • Herve Depow Herve Depow says:

        Thanks very much, although only 7’6″ it appears much more stable than what we have now and will fit perfectly on the foredeck ahead of the mast on our Alberg 30 when not towed.

  7. Avatar Marc Ranger says:

    Thanks for this video, I just built a little 10′ rowing pram to teach my grand kids the joy of rowing and how to do it well. My first wooden boat build. I was considering some pinned oar locks, especially for the kids but I will now definitely go with open oar locks and I will wrap the oars.

  8. Avatar brooks townes says:

    Enjoyable video, thanks! Like Ben Fuller, I wrap my thumbs around the end of my oars and pull with just fingers, but instead of rounding the oar handle ends, I leave them flat and cut a shallow quarter-moon notch where the thumb goes around the corner when the oars are oriented as Maynard instructs for the stroke (with a slight forward tilt of the blade in the water) and my wrists are straight. This way I always know the oars are oriented correctly without looking, plus the thumb-notches aid in rolling the oars into a feather ~ just nudge the bottom of the notch with your thumbs while they roll under the fingers.
    ~~ ._/) ~~ ~

  9. Avatar Captain Nemo says:

    Who knew there were so many fine points to such a “simple” skill as rowing? LOL !
    Wonderful video, and a joy to watch so obvious a master oarsman as Mr. Bray. The tip about angling the blades hit home with me, because although I guess I unconsciously do it, I’d never given the physics of it much thought. Understanding why something works helps make you better at it.
    Thanks again,

  10. Avatar Pamela Parker says:

    Thank you for producing this lovely video. I have shared it with several people who need a bit of help understanding the art of rowing. My dad was a rower in college and he taught me to row “properly” (smoothly and efficiently) from the beginning. I have noticed that a number of folks use a jerk to the arm motion, drives me bonkers and gives me whiplash. Particularly when you are rowing a heavier boat like a traditional peapod, a steady pull is really important, otherwise you seem to create extra slip. This is just an observation, thoughts?

  11. Avatar William McCaffrey says:

    Best rowing demo I have seen, thanks Maynard!

    Question: What is the best best distance (along the shear) between the seat front and the oar lock? I built a stretched (12 ft) version of the Lawton Tender (10 ft) and I placed mine 12 inches from the front of the seat

  12. Avatar Paul Fielder says:

    Yea, this video was really fun to watch, it brought back memories of when I first joined the RN. back in 1963. But our petty officer instructor wasn’t as warm and fuzzy as Maynard, great job

  13. Avatar Robert Triggs says:

    I would like to see you do a video on the old school “doryman’s stroke.” There have been several articles on this, but a video would make it so simple.

  14. Avatar Tom Roderick says:

    A great video! My wife bought us our first little boat just before we were married 44 years ago and we propelled it through the water with oars and oh how I wish we had known then the beautiful art of rowing and the skillful use of oars.

  15. Avatar Richard Stewart says:

    I’ve got the rowing dinghy and I’ve got the quality oars. Now I know how to row. I didn’t know about the importance of an upward facing blade angle. Thanks for the tips.

  16. Avatar Ben Fuller says:

    I like to have my thumb go over the end of the oar instead of underneath it. Helps keep my wrist from cramping up, and lets me really focus on hanging by my fingers when pulling. You might need to round the ends of your oars to make this comfortable. It also give you a little more space if you like to row with overlapping grips.

  17. Avatar Dan Kretzer says:

    Thank you Shaw & Tenney for introducing me to this site. Can’t wait to get out on the water this weekend!

  18. Avatar Nathanael Bray says:

    This is such a great video. It brings back so many wonderful memories of learning to row as a little tyke. :)

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.


Get Immediate Access, Plus
10 More of Our Best Videos

Your email is safe with us.
We'll NEVER share it, and we DON'T spam.

or …


Start Free Trial

Get Instant Access as a Member to the Entire Site

  • Access all 1000 videos/articles
  • No risk! Cancel anytime
  • Get a nice discount if you join