Touring Rowboats

The first human-powered craft undoubtedly would have been propelled by sticks, followed shortly after by the single-bladed paddle.  Eventually the double-bladed paddle, such as those used in kayaks, would be developed.  Due to the technical complexity of rowing, it can be assumed this form of propulsion would have arisen a long time after the paddle.

The major advantage of rowing is that it allows usage of the larger muscles in our body (back, and, with sliding seat, legs).  An individual can generate more driving force with a set of oars than with paddles.  This is advantageous when large loads are being transported through the water, the boat is of greater size, or maximum speed is required.

Cycling and rowing are often listed as the two best types of low-impact exercise.  Sliding-seat rowing offers a full-body workout exercising the legs, back, arms, stomach and chest.  And unlike single or double-bladed paddling, where the back is prone to injury from the constant twisting, rowing is easier on the spine.

Despite the mechanical advantage of rowing, the benefits for the body, and the pleasant meditative rhythm of slowly pistoning back and forth on a sliding seat, it is seldom utilized for recreational touring.  On the long weekends we see people out in the water in their canoes or sea kayaks, but rarely in rowboats.  It seems that general public perception is that rowing is limited to either competitive racing, or as a form of propulsion for tubby boats used as tenders.

Although few commercial touring rowboats are available (at least for a reasonable price), it is still possible to get yourself behind a set of sculls.  A canoe can be converted fairly easily into a rowboat, and the long, streamlined hull is ideal for moving at a reasonable speed.  There are a couple of companies that sell drop-in rowing rigs which include a sliding seat and riggers to place the oarlocks outboard to convert your canoe to a rowboat.  Or, for the do-it-yourselfer, a sliding seat system and riggers can be made at minimal cost. If you’re building you can also choose to buy a kit or plans, such as those available through Angus Rowboats (

Or for those looking for something more traditional there are various plans available for rowboats that can be built from marine plywood and epoxy. The key to having a fast boat is not just a streamlined profile, but also length.  Hydrodynamics dictate that a displacement hull cannot exceed a maximum speed of a constant multiplied by the square route of the waterline length (this is why sea kayaks are always long).  The minimum length for a good touring rowboat should be sixteen feet.

Most rowboats are open in design; however, a decked boat (like a sea kayak) will be more seaworthy, although heavier.  Another advantage to having a decked vessel with sealed bulkheads is that gear will remain secure and dry in rough conditions.
See what Oxygen says about rowing in their August 2007 issue:

Ready all Row! Want a total Body Workout? Grab an Oar.
By Karen ASP

Don’t be fooled; rowing might look entirely like a n upper-body sport, but it’s actually a full-body activity that requires tremendous output form the legs.  “your lower body powers your stroke so your legs need to be as strong as possible says Laurel Korholz, assistant woman’s coach with USRowing. 

Another Surprise element for this sport” How sore your stomach muscles are, especially when you start rowing,” Korholz says.

The Aerobic Edge.  In terms of the physical demands of the sport, rowing has often been compared to cross country skiing and long distance speed skating.  “Rowing places a huge demand on the cardiovascular system, “Korholz says. It may not seem like it from a  distance, but when you climb into that boat, you’ll feel how aerobic the sport is.

That may explain why elite-level rowers devote several hours a day to building their aerobic base and increasing their endurance.  While they spend a lot of that time in the boat, they also cross train by running or biking.  Of they might hop onto an ergometer, an indoor rowing machine.