Of course, the most important piece of equipment in rowing is the boat itself. Because of their shape, the open cockpit style, all rowing boats, whatever the size, have always been called “shells.” Here are the various sizes of shells.
The “eight” (8+) is the longest and heaviest boat. It is generally about 58 feet long and actually holds nine people. Eight rowers have one oar each, with four extending their oar on one side and four on the other side. This is called “sweep rowing.” The ninth person sits at the rear of the boat, and is called the coxswain (pronounced “cox’n”) and known as the “coxie”. The coxie steers the boat, helps coach the crew on the water, calls out instructions about the stroke rate and watches the competitors in a race for boat position.
The “four” is usually about 43’ long. When the four rowers have one sweep oar each (4+), there is a coxie who may be seated at the back of the boat like in the eight, or may be crouched down in a position at the front of the boat. This latter boat is called a “bowrider.” If the four rowers have two oars each (4x), there is no coxie, and the boat is called a “quad.”
When there are just two rowers in the 30’ long shell, again, there are two configurations. If they have one oar each (2-), the crew are rowing as a “pair”. If they have two oars each, they are said to be rowing a “double” (2x) and is the more common of the two rower team.
The “single” (1x) is self explanatory. This shell is generally about 26’ long and at the waterline is only 10 or 11 inches wide and can weigh as little as 28 lbs. The rower is sitting on a sliding seat basically as high or higher than the sides of the boat. The singles themselves come in different sizes adjusted slightly in height and length for lightweight, midweight and heavyweight rowing.
The era of building wooden boats is long gone and replaced first by fibreglass/Kevlar combinations and now carbon fibre and honeycomb layers which provide more stiffness and strength as well as lighter weight.
And by the way, though all boats may be called shells, when rowers have two oars each, those boats may be called “sculls.”
Oars come in two forms, with their own variations in style. As referred to above, when the rowers have one oar each, they are known as sweep blades. They are between 370-376 cm (145-148”). When the rower uses two oars together, they are also known as “sculls” with a length of 284-290 cm (112-114”)
When the blade portion of the oar is symmetrical, the oars are referred to as “spoons” or “Macons”. This older style, though still used in novice training, has been replaced by hatchet style blades that gather more water in the stroke and a stronger drive.