watercraft Watercraft, also known as water vessels or waterborne vessels, are vehicles A vehicle (from la, vehiculum) is a machine A machine is any physical system with ordered structural and functional properties. It may represent human-made or n ...
, a racing shell (also referred to as just a ''fine boat'' (UK) or just ''shell'') is an extremely narrow, and often comparatively long,
rowing boat Rowing is the act of propelling a boat using the motion of oar An oar is an implement used for water-borne propulsion. Oars have a flat blade at one end. Rowers grasp the oar at the other end. The difference between oars and paddles is t ...

rowing boat
specifically designed for
racing In sport, racing is a competition of speed, against an objective criterion, usually a clock or to a specific point. The competitors in a race try to complete a given task in the shortest amount of time. Typically this involves :wikt:traverse, tra ...
or exercise. It is outfitted with long oars,
outrigger An outrigger is a projecting structure on a boat, with specific meaning depending on types of vessel. Outriggers may also refer to legs on a wheeled vehicle that are folded out when it needs stabilization, for example on a crane that lifts h ...
s to hold the oarlocks away from the boat, and sliding seats. The boat's long length and semicircular cross-section reduce drag to a minimum. This makes the boat both fast and unstable. It must be balanced by the rowers to avoid tipping. Being able to balance – or "set" – the boat while putting maximum effort into the oars is therefore an essential skill of sport rowing.


The racing shell evolved from the simple working
. Boats with longer hulls and narrower in
beam Beam may refer to: Streams of particles or energy *Light beam, or beam of light, a directional projection of light energy **Laser beam *Particle beam, a stream of charged or neutral particles **Charged particle beam, a spatially localized group ...
were developed in the early 19th century specifically for team racing. These dedicated boats were the first boats that could be called racing shells, and they evolved into the highly specialized forms used today.


A narrower boat provides a sharper angle to the bow and a smaller cross-sectional area reducing
drag Drag or The Drag may refer to: Places * Drag, Norway, a village in Tysfjord municipality, Nordland, Norway * ''Drág'', the Hungarian name for Dragu Commune in Sălaj County, Romania * Drag (Austin, Texas), the portion of Guadalupe Street adja ...
wave drag In aeronautics, wave drag is a component of the aerodynamic drag In fluid dynamics, drag (sometimes called air resistance, a type of friction, or fluid resistance, another type of friction or fluid friction) is a force acting opposite to the ...
, and avoiding
hull speed Hull may refer to: Structures * Chassis, of an armored fighting vehicle * Fuselage, of an aircraft * Hull (botany), the outer covering of seeds * Hull (watercraft), the body or frame of a ship * Submarine hull Mathematics * Affine hull, in affin ...
limitations at race speed. The first racing shells, while narrower than working rowboats, were limited by the width necessary to mount the oarlocks on the boat's sides ("
gunwale The gunwale () is the top edge of the hull Hull may refer to: Structures * Chassis, of an armored fighting vehicle * Fuselage, of an aircraft * Hull (botany), the outer covering of seeds * Hull (watercraft), the body or frame of a ship * Subma ...
s"). By attaching outriggers to the gunwales, the oarlocks could be placed farther out. This resulted in two things: oars got much longer, providing more length to the strokes, and hulls got narrower until they were as narrow as possible while still retaining sufficient buoyancy and balance.


Originally made from
lapstrake Clinker built (also known as lapstrake) is a method of boat building where the edges of hull (watercraft), hull planks overlap each other. Where necessary in larger craft, shorter planks can be joined end to end into a longer strake or hull plank. ...
wood Wood is a porous and fibrous structural tissue found in the stems and roots of tree In botany, a tree is a perennial plant with an elongated Plant stem, stem, or trunk (botany), trunk, supporting branches and leaves in most species. ...

, shells are now almost always made from a
composite material A composite material (also called a composition material or shortened to composite, which is the common name) is a material Material is a substance Substance may refer to: * Substance (Jainism), a term in Jain ontology to denote the base or o ...

composite material
for strength and weight advantages. The first composite shells were made from a form of
papier-mâché papier-mâché masks, Haiti Papier-mâché (, ; , literally "paper-mash") is a composite material consisting of paper pieces or pulp, sometimes reinforced with textiles, bound with an adhesive, such as glue, starch, or wallpaper adhesive, wallp ...
and became popular in the 1870s. These paper shells were sold world-wide by the Waters Paper Boat Factory of Troy, New York. The next evolution of rowing shells were mainly created from thin plywood sandwiching a cardboard honeycomb structure with a fiberglass outer hull. Modern shells are usually made of
carbon-fibre reinforced plastic Carbon fiber reinforced polymer (American English), Carbon fibre reinforced polymer (English in the Commonwealth of Nations, Commonwealth English), or carbon fiber reinforced plastic, or carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastic (CFRP, CRP, CFRTP, ...
in a
honeycomb A honeycomb is a mass of hexagonal prismatic wax , a typical wax ester. Image:Beeswax foundation.jpg, Commercial honeycomb foundation, made by pressing beeswax between patterned metal rollers. Waxes are a diverse class of organic compounds that ...

structure. They are manufactured by either cold laying up of the carbon, which is then left to set, or by using heat curing, which ensures that the carbon fibre composite is properly set. The best shells are characterized by their "stiffness", as the lack of flexing means none of the force exerted by the rower is wasted in twisting the boat.

Sliding seats

A rower on a fixed seat is limited in the amount of power he can apply to the oars by the strength in his upper body and the distance he can pull the oars on each stroke. After riggers were added to the shell allowing the use of longer oars, rowers took advantage by taking longer strokes and using their legs during the stroke. At first, the athletes wore trousers with wear resistant
leather Leather is a strong, flexible and durable material obtained from the tanning Tanning may refer to: *Tanning (leather), treating animal skins to produce leather *Sun tanning, using the sun to darken pale skin **Indoor tanning, the use of arti ...

bottoms covered in grease and the shells had concave, longitudinal seats. The athletes could then use their legs to slide along the seat, adding the power of their legs and letting them greatly lengthen the stroke. This eventually led to the modern sliding seat, mounted on rollers, commonly called the slide in the rowing community, which allows nearly frictionless movement of the rower's body. Rolling seats were introduced around the year 1880. They differed from modern seats in that ball bearings were not available. Several inventors produced designs which avoided the friction which would result from use of a simple axle and bushing design. Patents were granted to
Octavius HicksOctavius Laing Hicks (27 January 1852 – 23 December 1930) was a prominent citizen of Humber Bay in Etobicoke Township. He was born in Dundee, Scotland. He settled in Humber Bay in 1873 and remained there for the rest of his life. He is best known a ...
(1880), George Warin (1882), and Michael F. Davis (1882). Hicks, of
Etobicoke Etobicoke (, ) is an administrative district of, and one of six municipalities amalgamation of Toronto, amalgamated into, the city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Comprising the city's west-end, Etobicoke was first settled by Europeans in the 1790 ...
, was a boat builder, hotelier, road and bridge contractor. Warin, of
Toronto Toronto (, ) is the capital city of the Canadian province of Ontario. With a recorded population of 2,731,571 in 2016 in 2016, it is the most populous city in Canada and the fourth most populous city in North America. The city is the anch ...

, a boat builder and famous decoy maker, was coach to world rowing champion
Ned Hanlan Edward "Ned" Hanlan (12 July 1855 – 4 January 1908) was a professional rowing (sport), sculler, hotel manager, hotelier, and alderman from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Early life Hanlan was born to Irish parents; one of two sons and two daughters. ...

Ned Hanlan
. With the advent of the sliding seat, Hanlan was able to greatly outperform his English and American counterparts. The Davis seat used rollers in a race similar to a
ball bearing A ball bearing is a type of that uses to maintain the separation between the . The purpose of a ball bearing is to reduce rotational friction and support and loads. It achieves this by using at least two races to contain the balls and tr ...

ball bearing

Sliding rigger

The same advantages may be obtained by fixing the seat and mounting the outriggers on rollers. Now the athletes body mass remains stationary and the boat doesn't pitch bow to stern nearly as much. This improves the boat speed significantly. The disadvantage is that this arrangement may result in blisters on one's buttocks and in the risk of sliding off one's seat when exerting too much explosive force at the beginning of a race . In April 1877 Michael Davis of Portland Maine applied for a patent for a sliding rigger/foot-board with fixed seat. In 1981, the German
Peter-Michael Kolbe Peter-Michael Kolbe (, ; born 2 August 1953) is a retired Germany, German Rowing (sport), rower who specialized in the single sculls. In this event, between 1975 and 1988 he won five world titles and three Olympic silver medals, in 1976, 1984 and ...
won the
FISA The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 ("FISA" , ) is a United States federal law The law of the United States comprises many levels of codified and uncodified forms of law, of which the most important is the United States Constitut ...
World Championship using a sliding rigger. In August 1983 FISA banned the use of the sliding-rigger, presumably because it was thought to be more costly than sliding-seat boats.

Boat classification

There are a large number of different types of racing shells. They are classified using: *Number of rowers. In all forms of modern competition the number of rowers can be 1, 2, 4, or 8. In the 19th century, there were often races with 6, 10 and 12 rowers per boat. *Position of coxswain. Boats are either coxless, bow-coxed (also called
bowloader A bowloader or bow-coxed shell is a racing shell (a type of boat A boat is a watercraft Watercraft, also known as water vessels or waterborne vessels, are vehicles used in water, including boats, ship A ship is a large watercraft th ...
s), or stern-coxed. In coxless ("straight") boats, a steersman is responsible for steering by either use of a mechanism connecting one of his shoes by wire to the rudder—the swiveling of the shoe turns the rudder, or by using a hand controlled string, called a tiller rope, which is parallel to the gunwales or the boat, and controls the rudder in a similar fashion. Singles and doubles do not employ a rudder in competition; the oarsmen steer by increasing or decreasing pressure or length on one scull or the other. In competition, bow- and stern-coxed boats may race one another. *Type of rowing. The rower(s) may each hold one oar (
sweep rowing Sweep rowing is one of two disciplines of the sport of rowing. In sweep rowing each rower has one oar, usually held with both hands. As each rower has only one oar, the rowers have to be paired so that there is an oar on each side of the boat. In ...
) or two oars (
sculling Sculling is the use of oars to propel a boat by moving the oars through the water on both sides of the craft, or moving a single oar over the stern The stern is the back or aft-most part of a ship or boat, technically defined as the area bu ...

). The shell then has one rigger or two riggers per rower. Although sculling and sweep boats are generally identical to each other (except having different riggers), they are referred to using different names: *Sweep: (2-),
coxed pair A coxed pair is a rowing boat used in the sport of competitive rowing. It is designed for two persons who propel the boat with sweep oars and is steered by a coxswain. The crew consists of two rowers, each having one oar, and a cox. One rower ...

coxed pair
(2+), (4-),
coxed four Image:KingstonRegatta01.JPG, Coxed fours at the start at Kingston Regatta A coxed four is a rowing boat used in the rowing (sport), sport of competitive rowing. It is designed for four persons who propel the boat with sweep (rowing), sweep oars and ...

coxed four
(4+), (8+) (always coxed) *Sculling:
single Single may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media * Single (music), a song release Songs * Single (Natasha Bedingfield song), "Single" (Natasha Bedingfield song), 2004 * Single (New Kids on the Block and Ne-Yo song), "Single" (New Kids on the B ...
double Double may refer to: * Look-alike, a person who closely resembles another person * Double (filmmaking), someone who substitutes for the credited actor of a character * Doppelgänger, ghostly double of a living person * Polish Enigma doubles, repl ...

(2x), straight quad (4x); also, but not in world-class competition, coxed quad (4x+), and octuple (8x+)


Single, and double sculls are usually steered by the scullers pulling harder on one side or the other. In other boats, there is a
rudder A rudder is a primary control surface used to steer a ship A ship is a large watercraft that travels the world's oceans and other sufficiently deep Sea lane, waterways, carrying goods or passengers, or in support of specialized missions, su ...

, controlled by the coxswain, if present, or by one of the crew. In the latter case, the rudder cable is attached to the toe of one of his shoes which can pivot about the ball of the foot, moving the cable left or right. The bowman may steer since he has the best vision when looking over his shoulder. On straighter courses, the strokesman may steer, since he can point the stern of the boat at some landmark at the start of the course. On international courses, landmarks for the steersmen, consisting of two aligned poles, may be provided.


The most commonly damaged piece of rowing equipment is the
skeg A skeg (or skegg or skag) is a sternward extension of the keel The keel is the bottom-most longitudinal structural element on a vessel. On some sailboats, it may have a hydrodynamic and counterbalancing purpose, as well. As the laying down of t ...
, which is a metal or plastic fin that extends from the bottom of the boat to help maintain stability and to assist in steering. This protrusion renders the skeg vulnerable to damage, but it is relatively easy to replace one by gluing in a new one. Hull damage is also a concern both for maintaining equipment and for rower safety. Hull damage can be caused by submerged logs, poor strapping to trailers, and collisions with other boats, docks, rocks, etc.


Racing boats are stored in
boat house A boathouse (or a boat house) is a building especially designed for the storage of boats, normally smaller craft for sports or leisure use.
boat house
s. These are specially designed storage areas which usually consist of a long two-story building with a large door at one end which leads out to a pontoon or slipway on the river or lakeside. The boats are stored on racks (horizontal bars, usually metal) on the ground floor. Oars, riggers, and other equipment is stored around the boats, and there may be a workshop alongside or behind the storage areas. Boat houses are typically associated with
rowing club A rowing club is a club for people interested in the sport Sport pertains to any form of Competition, competitive physical activity or game that aims to use, maintain or improve physical ability and skills while providing enjoyment to parti ...
s and often include some social facilities on the upper floor: a cafe, bar, or gym, in addition to changing areas for the rowers.


Boats are conveyed to competitions on special trailers accommodating up to 20 boats.

See also

Rowing (sport) Rowing, sometimes called crew in the United States, is the sport Sport pertains to any form of competitive Competition is a rivalry A rivalry is the state of two people or groups engaging in a lasting competitive relationship. R ...
Single scull A single scull (or a scull) is a rowing boat designed for a single person who propels the boat with two oars, one in each hand. Racing boats (often called "shells") are long, narrow, and broadly semi-circular in cross-section in order to minimi ...
Sculling Sculling is the use of oars to propel a boat by moving the oars through the water on both sides of the craft, or moving a single oar over the stern The stern is the back or aft-most part of a ship or boat, technically defined as the area bu ...




A history of paper boats
including the paper racing shell

* ttp://www.mitcrew.org/history_chapter8.htm History of MIT Crew: Chapter 8 which covers the evolution of the rowing shell {{DEFAULTSORT:Racing Shell Rowing racing boats Boat types Rowing equipment manufacturers