I cannot sit straight in a rowing boat


I have been sculling for about two years now nearly always in a single scull. When I started in crew boats a few weeks ago I realised that I am leaning my back to the rIght and because of this my left shoulder is higher than my right. The thing is I can’t sit straight in the boat without my left blade dragging along the water. I also lean a small bit in the singIe scull but it is not as severe and I have adjusted to it. I was wondering how I could fix this and I was thinking it might be due to a very tight back?

Well this is good that you have realised what’s happening.

rowing boat, leaning out Sit straight in a boat Photo credit: US Rowing

Firstly, if you can get some video of yourself sculling (either in crew or single) from directly behind or in front of yourself, that will help identify whether your lean is consistent, or changes through the stroke.  Try using a phone camera or go-pro mounted on your stern so you get a wide view that includes your riggers.

If your back is ‘tight’ this is probably a symptom not a cause.  But go visit an osteopath or sports masseuse and ask them to give you a series of loosening massages to see if that can help you too.

You have realised that in a crew situation, you need to be uniform with the other crew members.  This is important and so here is one suggestion of a drill which can help you get started with making the adjustments you need.

How to check you are sitting straight

Do this in a double scull or a quad where someone can sit the boat level for you.

  1. Sit at the finish squared and with oars buried under the water.  Check your shoulders are level. Check your elbows are out to the sides and that the oars are definitely 100% under the water surface.
  2. Find out where your handles and thumbs brush your shirt in this position.  Feel them graze your lower ribs.  Notice your left hand is higher than your right.
  3. Rowing on your own, start to scull square blades.
  4. Every finish, ensure you end the stroke in the same position as in 2 above.
  5. Get the person sitting behind you to check your shoulders are square throughout the stroke cycle.
  6. Get one other person to row with you square blades in the quad.  See if you can continue to hold this correct posture without your blade dragging on the water.
  7. Start to feather your blades as you continue rowing.  If your oar drags on the water, it’s either due to you leaning, or you are not finishing in the position in 2 above which we practiced.
  8. Return to square blade rowing (even if everyone else is rowing feathered).  You need to learn the correct position at the finish and to keep your shoulders square.
  9. Be positive (in your mind) about when your oars graze the water, it’s a reminder to check your finish posture and to set yourself up again correctly.

I suspect that you are not pushing your left handle down low enough to clear the water (whether you lean right or not) and so the square blades drill will help to teach you to do this correctly.  The handles / thumbs brushing against your shirt will teach you whether you are finishing the stroke sitting square in the boat with the blades fully buried at the finish.  If you find that your handles are down in your lap and not in the correct place, that’s a sign that you have drifted back into your old technique.  Stop rowing, Re-set yourself mentally and start again from the finish, beginning with the oars squared and buried under the water before you take the first stroke.

You may find sitting on a seat pad to raise you up while you re-learn your handle positions so you can successfully scull with square blades is also helpful.

The key is carefully starting rowing in the correct form every time.

When you get tired it’ll be harder to do – so be cognisant of this.

Wraptor Balance component parts novice scullingWraptor Balance component parts

Wraptor Balance could help

When you are in your single, see if the club will buy a Wraptor Balance

for you to add onto the stern.  The floats help to keep stability so you can row normally but using square blades while you sort out your posture issues.  Also if the pontoon floats touch the water more to the right that could be another clue about when you start to lean.

Here’s a photo of a double scull with pontoon floats to aid stability.  Wraptor Balance is a different way of adding floats temporarily onto a boat while you are learning.

pontoon floats for rowing crew Pontoon floats for rowing crew

Resources for balance drills


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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Jane Robinson

    Just make sure you left hand is leading your right through both cross overs. Its that simple.Knuckles of your right hand in contact with your left wrist (where a watch strap would be). Draw dots on your knuckle and swrist and join the dots each stroke. Problem – solved.

    1. Rebecca Caroe

      Like the idea of drawing dots on your hands to align them through cross-over! Thanks Jane

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