Technique and commands

Skiff layout



  • front of skiff when moving in normal rowing direction


  • rear of skiff when moving in normal rowing direction
  • location of Cox (who faces the normal direction of travel). All rowers face the Cox and therefore row with their back to the direction of travel.
  • location of the rudder & tiller, used by Cox to steer the skiff.




‘Ready to row’

    all rowers move to starting position: upright body, oar handle held near body, oar blade hovering just over the water’s surface

‘(And) row’

    all rowers (in time with stroke) push hands (and oar handle) away from body, move body forwards with straight back by hinging at hips, bend knees until a comfortable reaching position and begin the following sequence: catch > drive > finish > recovery. These four elements continue in a smooth loop. More details of each element of the stroke are given under ‘technique’ below.


      defined by the oar position of the rower in position 1 (i.e. the side of the boat over which their oar extends). Therefore ‘bow-side’ applies also to rower in position 3. In our skiff’s current set up this is the port side of the skiff.
    Used as instruction by cox for turning (e.g. ‘bow side only’ or adjustment of power (‘stronger / ease off on bow’).


      defined by the oar position of the Stroke rower (position 4) therefore also applies to rower in position 2. In our skiff’s current set up, this is the starboard side of the skiff.
    Used as instruction by cox for turning (e.g. ‘stroke side only’) or adjustment of power (‘stronger / ease off on stroke).


      All rowers stop rowing at the end of the current stroke
    Used to bring a period of rowing to an end in a controlled way, e.g. the end of a section of training or a race, or because an adjustment is required with everyone beginning together. If one person has to stop rowing for some reason, the others should continue without them. Rowers should not stop rowing without instruction from the cox.

‘Hold water’

      Put blade into the water and resist movement in order to bring the skiff to a halt.
    Used for controlled positioning at the start of a race, or during training in order to practice a start from a complete stop.


      Rowers sit upright, and place their blade in the water then push the handle away from their bodies with pressure through the water.
      This is used to reverse the skiff when manoeuvring in tight spaces or when launching stern first.


        The Cox will use counting at the pace of the stroke to give advance notice of an upcoming change e.g. a change of power, stroke rate, a turn, or the end of a period of rowing in order to ensure that all rowers implement the change on the same stroke.
        Counting may also be used with unfamiliar crews to help them keep time.



The body is hinged forward at the hips, back is straight, head is lifted with gaze towards Cox, arms are straight and outstretched, legs are bent, shoulders are relaxed. The blade is dropped smoothly and swiftly into the water until it is just submerged by allowing the hands to lift, the feet / toes are placed firmly against the foot rest in preparation for applying pressure.


Pressure is applied through the feet and legs and transferred to the blade in the water, the legs straighten as the body (with back still straight) pivots towards the bow of the boat strongly utilising the back to add pressure to the blade. After the body passes through vertical, the arms bend bringing the oar handle in towards the chest. Breathe out during the drive.


With the body still just past vertical, the hands are pressed down to lift the blade out of the water cleanly and quickly. The hands move away from the body until the arms straighten out towards the stern.


Leading with straight arms, the upper body returns through vertical pivoting at the hips and leans towards the stern. The back is straight throughout and the shoulders and hands are relaxed. The legs bend slightly and the feet engage with the foot rest ready for the next catch. Breathe in during the recovery.

Excellent resource with details of dynamics of each part of the stroke, and the muscle groups used.