When are you too old to row?


I’m just back from the Australian Masters Rowing Championships at which I was delighted to make the acquaintance of a very special group of athletes, the Ancient Mariners.  They were profiled on ABC

Ancient Mariners rowing club, John James Ancient Mariners rowing club, John James

In many respects, they are a regular sports team that trains several times a week and competes at the weekend.

What sets them apart from other rowing crews around the country is their ages – ranging from rowers in their late 50s to a man still actively training and competing at 89.

Ken Griffin, 83, one of the Ancient Mariners’ founding members, says the club started in 1993.

“One night at a social function someone got a bright idea and stood up and suggested that those amongst us who were interested in rowing should get together [and] go for a row,” he said.

“We ended up borrowing a boat from Mosman and going for a row on a Sunday morning.”

The club has expanded since its inception and now has a roster of well over a dozen rowers training and competing.

So this begs the question when are you too old to row?


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This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. John Sheldon

    Full marks to the Ancient Mariners from the Supervets of Molesey Boat Club, around two dozen rowing and sculling addicts, nearly all over 70 including several octogenarians, on the water twice weekly summer and winter. An unavoidable drawback of age is decline of muscle strength, but as we are all in the same boat, nobody notices – at least until the VIII is overtaken by a single sculler! For life extending exercise and good fellowship, rowing is hard to beat.

  2. Valerie Gorman

    Didn’t learn to row until I was 52 and still row with “youngsters” in their early twenties ten years later. I never plan to stop.

  3. David Harralson

    Getting older does not necessarily decrease your strength excessively. The three oldest men in our club, at 73, 76, and 79, have the fastest erg scores on handicap. A woman member at 80+ competes at the HoC regularly.

    Being over 70 sure helps the average boat age in regattas.

    And one of our over 70 men recently did a 2.5X BW dead lift after practice. How many twenty somethings can do that?

  4. Rebecca Caroe

    John, Valerie and David – you are all inspirational! Thank you so much for contributing your enthusiasms and sharing your personal stories.

    Do any of you have any advice on how to “get the most” out of rowing as you age? e.g. injury management, technique adaptations


  5. David Harralson


    Interesting question.

    For technique adaptations, the answer is as little as possible. For older rowers, the question is usually flexibility issues. At 70+, my rowing mates are 30 or 40 years younger, so are much more flexible. I go to a structural integration practitioner, who has brought my flexibility to better than when I was a teenager. So, I am able to come into the catch as deeply as a younger rower, and have as long stroke. But, I see several of our older rowers who take a shorter stroke. Both the Rowperfect erg and the C2 ergdata app show stroke length, so that a rower can increase and optimize their stroke length.

    For injury management, I am a great proponent of strength building (weight lifting) exercises. Weight lifting stresses the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones to increase their ability to withstand overloads. I was lucky, in that as a freshman, I was introduced to weight training (in the ’50s this was not at all common) and have followed it pretty much for my entire life. Even though I have been in some horrific accidents, the strength reserviors have kept me injury free.

  6. Kate Merrington

    Ours is a recreational rowing club for people over 50. Our oldest member is 87 but there are several others close behind. Most of our members have never rowed before joining us. I do not know of any who have left because they are too old. Many join because they have a medical condition that is helped with exercise. All report increasing levels of fitness.

    We only scull as we figure it is better for you as you get older. Few adaptations are needed though members do find it more comfortable to row if the seats are slightly raised. Some members also have very ingenious ways of getting in and out of the boats! We are not competitive so people go at the pace they want and most of them want to admire the scenery. There is quite a lot of bird-watching too! As a result rowing injuries are few.

  7. Rebecca Caroe

    Now Kate, I remember the CamRowers crews – mainly because they never look around at which direction they are going in !!!

    Does anyone else have issues with stiff necks and an inability to turn around to clearly see who’s in front of your boat?

  8. John Sheldon

    Mobility in my ninth decade may have benefited from careful diet, or joint remedies, glucosamine, hyaluronic acid, etc, and definitely genetic disposition, though the last may be taken for granted given rowing commitment. What really counts for me is the regular outing, always pleasurable because of our location on the lovely River Thames, just upstream of Hampton Court. When the red boards are up due to a strong stream, all too often in the past year, we keep up the exercise on the Concept machines, boring but beneficial. I must agree that sculling is kinder to the ageing body than rowing, though getting in and out of a single without capsizing can be very hard on the knees. For a stiff neck visit your local osteopath (who should have MRO after his/her name), for a guaranteed cure.

  9. Stuart

    Keep going , long may you all continue.

    My view was confirmed when I asked this question of my partner, her answer: “When we screw the lid down on your casket…..”

    That can be interpreted in so many ways……

  10. david evans

    At 59, I still row 5k per day in my garage on the ergo around 6pm , a good feeling at the end of the day and what an appetite for supper

  11. Robin Jowit


    Did you row when flying with 5616.

  12. Christopher Saunders

    Re Kate Merrington’s 8.05.14 comment, I’m the oldest member of Camrowers Club she referred to – now 89, Camrowers suits me very well – always someone to help me get into a single sculler for 2 outings a week, about an hour in the water, going slowly but I hope stylishly. We don’t compete with each other or other clubs – but we greatly benefit from regular time on the water, at whatever pace our age and any minor disabilities permit. Are there any other clubs, or groups in competitive clubs, like us ?

  13. Jeremy Cox

    Where exactly do you row? I Jeremy, cycle a great deal and sometimes climb aboard my tunturi puch but it’s not the same as real rowing. I live in Tufnell park and occasionally reside in Kenley. Any advice?

    1. Tom Wall

      Hi Jeremy, there are many rowing clubs in London. I suggest using the British Rowing club finder:


      Choosing the right club isn’t always straight forward, it comes down to the right fit for your ambitions and circumstances.
      Good luck.

  14. brian damian schexnayder

    68 yo male , 4 hip replacements ( 1992,1993, 2018, 2019, now 10/2019 will have a slap debridement, bicep tenotomy, subcromial decompression rt shoulder. PT/ORTHO feel I will be back on the erg and wide single by April. My old rt hip 1992 popped out while erging in preperation for World Indoors Jan 2018. I have met other women and men older than me on the water.

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