What causes skying at the catch?


What are the most probable rigging / sequencing causes of recovering with blades too high off the water / dipping the hands at the catch and skying the blade?

So first things first – if someone is rigged too high, they may have difficulty putting the blades fully under the water at the catch. Check the rig height when at the finish and boat is stationary. Sit with blades squared and buried at the finish. Is the handle at the correct height on the chest? I like this to be at approximately lowest ribs height or for a lady where her bra strap runs across her rib cage. Then go sit at the catch and similarly see if with blades fully covered at full compression the oar handle is just below shoulder height. Adjust rig, raise the seat (use a seat pad) if necessary,.  Easy rig adjustment is using clip washers [read our Buyers Guide to Height Adjustment Washers]. 

Recovery with blades too high off the water

Oar skying at catch. Oar skying at catch. Image Credit: Narragansett Boat Club

Define “Too high” if it’s choppy water you will want good clearance above the surface of the water.  I was taught to row with my handle making the same shape when rowing square blades or feathered.  The logic was that if you do this, then when it’s choppy you don’t need to make an adjustment to your handle heights.

Recovery handle height

Now onto the sequencing causes of dipping hands at the catch and skying…. so this is mostly about un-learning and re-learning the depth of tap down to extract the blade and lift required to insert it into the water at the catch. Mostly I use drills to teach this.

Start with half the crew rowing and half sitting the boat level… get the rowers to go square blade (removes one complex movement from the stroke cycle) and make them ‘backsplash’ the water as they place the oar into the water. Play games – make a bigger splash, splash at 3/4 slide, soak the person behind you etc.

Then get them to row firm pressure and make a small, consistent splash each stroke. Then re-introduce feathering and see if they can reproduce the backsplash. Then vary the pressures. Then go full crew and see if they can still do the backsplash.

Time, it takes time
They won’t learn how to change the catch overnight, but plan an explicit call from the Coxswain so that regularly the whole crew practices making a little backsplash.  Practice every session. You can do it

  • During the short slide warmup
  • As a technical call during flat out racing work
  • With a wide grip on the handle
  • Square blades or feathered

Perfect catch backsplash rowing, Perfect catch backsplash Photo credit: CrokerOars


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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Bob Madden

    Hi. A Hungarian refugee, Tiber MacHan, taught us to row in 1961 at Saint Joseph’s. I still use the drills he taught us. He was not a technical guy, but understood the basic physics of a rowing stroke. I like your approach. Who taught you ?

    1. Rebecca Caroe

      Bob, that’s a lovely recollection. I think we all remember our rowing coaches – they have so much influence on our lives and our sport. My first coach was Kevin Bowles – he was a junior UK international who used to be faster than Steve Redgrave! The most influential coach I had was Eric Craies who taught his son, Grant Craies who taught me. I later married him, but that’s another story….

  2. Ian Bardrick

    Squaring by flattening wrists dropped to feather sculling blades can be a cause of skying at the catch.

  3. Rebecca Caroe

    Good point.

  4. Alexander Stanovoy

    90% cases

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