ara rowing

Guide to Rowing: The Volunteer Helper


New Volunteers

The purpose of this guide is to provide a basic understanding of rowing for volunteer helpers. It is aimed at people with no prior rowing knowledge but who wish to support the delivery of the sport in their local club.

This is an introduction to the structure of clubs, the equipment used for rowing, and how volunteers can help to look after it. The guide is not intended to be a coaching course. The advice given here will not prepare helpers to work with participants on the water but we hope it will mean they can offer effective support to coaches on the land, enabling them to prepare participants for
water outings.

An ideal way to use this booklet would be for coaches to spend an hour or two with new volunteers going through it with them as practically as possible, so they understand the
basics that it covers.

After reading the guide we hope volunteers will be able to assist their club’s qualified coaches with sessions in a more productive manner. This will in turn help the coach
develop the participants that they work with.

Rowing Club

The guide is designed to make the most of that important extra element of your club’s structure – the volunteer – and to increase the pool of helpers who will be able to offer
support with the more time consuming, but not overly technical, aspects of the sport.

This will hopefully allow more time for coaches to focus on the actual coaching of their athletes, and possibly in the future lead to a new generation of coaches.

A potential ‘course’ based on this guide could either be run on an ad hoc basis or could be included as part of a formal club induction package.

This will mainly depend on the number of helpers you have to work with, and the organisational structure of your club. Throughout this document you will find references to key ARA policies and documents.

Most of these are available in hard copy, on request, from the ARA National office, and can be viewed and downloaded from the ARA website

The most important policies for all ARA affiliated clubs are those relating to

  •  Safeguarding & Protecting Children
  •  Vulnerable Adults
  •  Water Safety
  •  Equity

If you are working, even in a voluntary capacity, with children or vulnerable groups it is essential that you are aware of these policies and the procedures you must follow if you have a concern.

All new volunteers should be made aware of the following guidance:

Recruiting people to work with children and vulnerable adults

If you are a new volunteer in the club and, because of your role will have significant access to either children or vulnerable adults, you will be asked to complete a self-
declaration form and apply for a Criminal Records Bureau Disclosure Certificate.

The vetting procedure is set out in the ARA’s Safeguarding and Protecting Children policy document and related guidance sheets (SPCGs) and your Club Welfare Officer will be able to guide you to these. If you need further advice you can contact the ARA National office by telephone or email.

If you are working with children or young people under the age of 18 years, or sharing facilities with them, you should also be aware of the guidance contained in  PCG27: Physical Contact and Young People in Rowing and on changing room use in the Safeguarding & Protecting Children Policy, section 5.3.

Copies of the wallet-sized leaflet ‘Stay safe and have fun in rowing’ are available on request from the ARA. This has been written for young people and covers the sort of behaviour expected of rowers, coaches, parents and helpers to make sure that everyone enjoys the sport.

A Brief History of Rowing as a Sport

The first documented regatta was held in Venice in September 1274 and was a challenge between gondoliers and other boatmen racing a variety of boats. In England,
racing dates from the days when there were few bridges and rivers were crossed by ferry or ford.

Passengers were dependent on the watermen who operated ferries or skiffs and in the early 1700s some 10,000 watermen were licensed to work on the Thames above London Bridge.

The race for the ‘Doggett’s Coat and Badge’ was established in 1716 and is a tradition that continues to this day. On the coast it was the gigs with the fastest crews that secured the wealthiest passengers from returning

It wasn’t until the late 1700s that rowing was first introduced at Oxford University and at Eton in 1806. Its popularity then saw a flurry of activity around 1815-18 with the first
eight oared boats appearing at Brasenose College, Oxford.

The oldest club still in existence, Leander and the oldest regatta in the rowing calendar, Chester, were founded in this period.

The North East of England was another hot bed of rowing in the nineteenth century with the Tyne sharing the distinction with the Thames of being one of the two possible
venues for the world championships.

In the early 1800s rowing races in Newcastle would regularly attract between 50,000 to 100,000 spectators on the banks of the River Tyne. Improvements to blades, steering and the invention of the sliding seat meant that rowing as a sport had attained public prominence and more competitions were soon established.

The first Oxford v Cambridge Boat Race was staged at Henley in 1829, the Wingfield Sculls, for amateur champions of the Thames, was founded in 1830 and the famous Henley regatta took place for the first time in 1839. In 1872 Britain’s first international competition took place at Henley.

Rowing has continued to grow from its early days and is now one of the UK’s most successful Olympic sports. For many, the sport is only known for its success at this
level and for The Boat Race. However, it is enjoyed in all its various forms by more than 80,000 people, who either compete, or find it an enjoyable recreational past time, and a
good way to make friends and keep fit.

In England, there are more than 500 rowing clubs which are members of the Amateur Rowing Association.

These vary in size and focus, some are very competitive, aspiring to the highest levels within the sport and working with international standard athletes. Others may be more social with a focus on recreational and touring activities.

Practically all the clubs in England are run and supported by volunteers. Only a handful have the benefit of paid coaches and even then the club committees are mainly volunteers.

The extra support from the willing volunteer is therefore welcomed, be it on the committee, or in a more hands-on role helping with groups on the water.

Club Roles

Every club affiliated to the ARA must have members elected into the following roles:


– chairs all meetings of the club and co-ordinates its activities. Responsible for ensuring that the club is efficiently run.


– produces accounts and monitor finances and to ensure the efficient financial running of the club, responsible for membership fees.


– gives notice of meetings of the committee, agrees agenda with the chairman, records and circulate minutes relating to  eetings, keeps contacts up to date.

All ARA clubs with junior members must also appoint a Welfare Officer.

Club Welfare Officer (often referred to as CWO)

– The CWO’s primary responsibility is to advise the club committee on ARA policy regarding children and vulnerable adults in rowing, how this is implemented in the club and to act as the focal point for any concerns or referrals. If, as a volunteer, you have concerns about a child, vulnerable adult or behaviour of another member in relation to these groups you should report your concerns to the CWO or to the ARA’s Child Protection Officer (CPO). The CWO will not make decisions about whether action needs to be taken but will report concerns to the ARA who will advise the CWO.

The roles and responsibilities of the CWO are set out in the ARA Safeguarding & Protecting Children Policy. You will find your club’s CWO contact details displayed on the club notice board.

Water Safely Adviser

– the Water Safety Adviser’s primary responsibility is to advise the club on the requirements of the ARA Water Safety Code and guidance notes and their observation and implementation.

Club Captain

– responsible for training, coaching and representation of the club at competitions.

Vice captains

– often clubs will have vice captains to give support to the club captain.

Junior co-ordinator

– usually a coach and the main organiser of the club’s junior squad(s), participants, coaches and volunteers.


– responsible for coaching the club’s crews.

Event Volunteers

– this may include most club members on the day of an event and many others in the weeks leading up to it.

OARA Administrator

– appointed by the club to make online entries for competitions

Larger clubs often include extra roles to help with the development of the club.

There is further information about these roles in the club section of the ARA website.

For clubs with juniors, some of the committee roles will require CRB clearance. See the ARA’s Safeguarding & Protecting Children Policy which is available to read or download:

Use this section to record details for the main contacts in your rowing club.

Boat types

Most clubs will have a variety of boat classes and types and these can be quite mystifying to the new volunteer. The boats normally used for competition are described as ‘fine’. Your club may also have ‘playboats’ for beginners.

Fine rowing boats range in size from a single scull (27ft), doubles/pairs (34ft), fours/quads (44ft), to eights/octuples (62 ft). They have to be stored carefully as they are expensive and can be easily damaged. Space is often the limiting factor in a club’s capacity to keep a large fleet of boats. Clubs may also have privately owned boats (usually single sculls) and in most cases members pay an annual fee to the club for storage.

The boats all have ‘parts’, some of which can be removed for trailing or storage and which are designed for both safety and speed.

Sculling boats – numbered according to the number of athletes

Single Sculling boat

– a sculling boat for one where the rower has two sculls. The boat is the smallest of all the classes in both length and width. Racing classification 1x.

Double Sculling boat

– a sculling boat designed for two rowers, unlike the coxless pair, the double scull does not require a rudder as the bow person of the crew can use pressure on the oars or footplate to steer the boat. Racing Classification 2x.

Coxless Quadruple sculling boat

– a sculling boat for four people, where one member of the crew has a foot steering system. Racing Classification 4x.

Coxed Quadruple

– as above but with a cox. Like the coxed four, the crew can row in a stern loader or front loader boat. Racing Classification 4x+.

Octuples sculling boat

– a sculling boat for 8 people. This is the largest and fastest sculling boat class, generally used for All octuples have the cox seated in the stern as for eights.

Racing Classification 80.

Sweep oared boats – numbered according to the number of oars

Coxless Pair oared boat

– a sweep oar boat for two rowers. These boats also have the use of a rudder, so it will turn easily; one of the rowers uses a foot steering mechanism to control the rudder. Racing classification 2-.

Coxless Four

– a sweep oar boat for four people. Like the coxless pair one member of the crew will have a foot steering system. This is often the bow person as they have the best field of vision, but in some crews other members of the crew will be steering. Racing Classification 4-.

Coxed Four

– a sweep oar boat for four people and a cox. There are two types of coxed fours, stern loaders and front loaders. In stern loaders the cox sits facing the stroke person of the boat. These boats offer a good view of the crew so the cox can make visual technique calls and also see where the oars are in relation to the bank. Front loaders are boats where the cox is positioned at the bow end of the boat but where the body of the cox is lying down in the hull. The advantage of this is that the cox can see the direct path of travel in front of the boat. Front loaders are deemed the better type of racing boat due to the weight of the crew spread out more evenly across the hull. Racing Classification 4+.

Eight oared boat

– a sweep oar boat for 8 people. This is the fastest and largest sweep boat class. All eights are coxed boats for safety reasons with the cox seated in the stern. Racing Classification 8+.

Racing Classification

This is another area sure to confuse the volunteer new to rowing. Apart from the boat classifications listed above, race categories will include the following,

  •  sex of the rowers – Men (M), Women (W)
  •  age (for junior rowers) J13, J14, J15, etc
  •  level of expertise or racing status Novice (N), Senior (S)
  •  sculling , denoted by: x
  •  coxed, denoted by: +
  •  coxless, denoted by: – or o

There are also classifications for Veterans, Under 23s, Adaptive athletes and more.

Other Equipment and Clothing

Oars (Blades)

Oars, along with boat design, have been through many changes during the last 30 years. There is a difference between the oars used for sculling (with each rower having two sculls) and sweep rowing (each rower with one oar). Sculls are not only shorter but thinner in diameter, and have smaller handles than sweep oars. Sweep oars are made with a larger diameter, due to the larger pressures exerted through the oars, and have a larger surface area for the hands, to accommodate two hands.

Indoor Rowing Machines

Most rowing clubs will have indoor rowing machines based at the club. Rowing machines are a useful tool for coaches and participants. They offer the ability to train
specifically on the rowing stoke without the need for water or a boat, and so are often used in the winter months when conditions are such that it is not feasible to venture on
to the water.

Coaches can also get close to the participants and have the benefit of being free to move around the participant while they are rowing to look at different angles.
Most importantly they can offer a good starting point to teach people new to the sport the basic stoke cycle.

Rowing machines are often used as a sport-specific means of testing rowers for both fitness and mental toughness. There is a section dedicated to Indoor Rowing on the


As with all sports, clothing is available. However, it is not necessarily needed until the participants become more involved in the sport.

As rowing is a water-based sport, outdoor, care is needed in choosing the appropriate clothing at different times of the year. In winter, rowers should wear lots of thin layers which can be removed as they warm up.

Coxes, coaches and volunteer helpers need to be especially careful as to what they wear as they are relatively inactive and yet are still subject to the full force of the elements.

But even in the summer the weather can still be unpredictable, so be prepared. It is always better to be over dressed and remove layers if necessary. If it is sunny, hats and sun protection should be worn.

For competition it is obligatory for competitors to wear club kit.

Wellingtons may be needed to launch boats where there is no landing stage.

All coxes must wear an appropriate buoyancy aid or lifejacket when coxing. Coaches and volunteer helpers should wear one if they are in a launch.

There is more information on the types of appropriate clothing on the ARA website in
the ‘get started’ section….


Link update Amateur Rowing Association equipment regulations

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