Table of Contents

The following are terms that are used in the sport, as well as those used specifically to help navigate the Potomac River. Any term in italics identified a command used by a coxswain, coach, or rower giving direction in a straight/blind boat.

14th Street Bridge: a grouping of three bridges (vehicular, train, and Metro) downstream from Memorial Bridge. 

Back-it-Down: Tells the rowers to square their blades in the water and drag them so the boat slows to a stop. Used in emergencies. See Hold-Water below. Syn. Check-it-down.

Blind Boat: A crew having no coxswain, Steered by the bow seat. Commands given to the crew during rowing may come from the bow seat or the two-seat.

Bow: The front of the shell. Also the rower in the seat in the very front of the shell. 

Bow Ball: The rubber ball at the tip of the bow helps prevent damage to people or shells if they hit something. This is a USRowing requirement. Must be round, white rubber, and firmly attached to the boat.

Bowloader: a four-person shell with coxswain where the coxswain lies on their back in front of the bow seat rower, in the bow of the boat. They steer using a lever and must use the athletes to provide information about what is happening around them as they cannot see to the rear beyond their peripheral vision.

Catch: The point, at the end of the recovery, when the blade is placed into the water. 

Coxswain: The athlete who steers a shell, gives direction to the crew, acts as an onboard coach, and executes race strategy. They sit in the rear of the boat in an eight, facing the crew, or often in the bow of a shell, lying down, in a four. See Bowloader.

Drive: the portion of the rowing stroke where the blade is in the water and the athlete is pulling on the oar.

Easy-all: when a crew completes a stroke and stops rowing while sitting at the finish. Simultaneously they move the oar handles to the gunnel of the boat and balance the shell until being told to drop their blades into the water.

EMS: the acronym for Emergency Medical Services. This can, generally, be considered medical personnel, the fire department, or the police department when they are involved on the water. When you dial 911 you are “activating EMS.”

(#) Fall-out, (#) Fall-in: These commands tell the rower(s) to either stop rowing or to start rowing 

with everyone else. (#)= the number of the rower(s) to start or stop. i.e. “Bow pair Fall out, stern 

pair Fall in, in two. . .” 

Finish: the point in the rowing stroke where the athlete brings their hands to their body. Oftentimes where an athlete stops rowing when the crew is told to stop.

Fletcher’s Cove: the cove located upstream of Hens and Chickens. It marks the farthest upstream location for safe rowing. Often frequented by anglers. Harbors strong currents during heavy rains.

Georgetown Waterfront: the area along the DC shore in Georgetown, adjacent to TBC, that hosts docking of water taxis and private vessels.

Gunnel or Gunwale: Top part of the hull, where the riggers attach. 

Hens-and-Chickens: a grouping of rocks downstream from Fletcher’s cove.

Hold-Water: Tells the rowers to stop rowing and square their blades immediately! Used to avoid 


Key Bridge: the bridge connecting Georgetown and Arlington, VA.

Key Bridge Boats: a public paddler sports rental facility owned by the National Park Service located on the DC shore directly next to Key Bridge on the DC shore.

Let-it-run: This tells the rowers to stop rowing. 

Little River: the narrow inlet between Roosevelt Island and the VA shoreline. Shallow, with rocks in the Key Bridge entrance.

Memorial Bridge: the bridge is just downstream from the TR Bridge, and is made of stone with a center metal span. Begins the open wake zone headed downstream and the no wake zone headed upstream.

Potomac Boat Club (PBC): green, white, and red-colored private rowing facility located on the DC shore upstream of Key Bridge. Home to Washington-Liberty high school crew.

Port: From the coxswain’s point of view, the left side of the boat. Traditionally even-numbered seats are on the port side.

Racing Distance: the distance between two shells that allows free movement, but allows no other crew or launch to pass between them. One should imagine racing in lanes on a buoyed course for reference.

Release: the point in the rowing stroke where the oar handle has reached the athlete’s body and is then pressed down to remove the blade from the water.

Roosevelt Island: the island located across from Arlington on the VA shore, just downstream of Key Bridge. Owned by the NPS. Navigation hazards can be found along its entire shoreline.

Spout Run: discharge of a stream on the VA shore located directly across from the Three Sisters Islands. Storms can create stronger currents in the area.

Starboard: The right side of a shell when viewed from the coxswain’s seat. Traditionally odd numbered seats are on the starboard side.

Stern: The very end of the boat. 

Straight Boat: A crew having no coxswain, Steered by the bow seat. Commands given to the crew during rowing may come from the bow seat or the two seat.

Stroke: The rower farthest to the stern of the boat who sets the pace for the rest of the crew. Also, the sum total of the motion of the oar, from the catch to the release. Also the term for the person who sits closest to the end of the boat and sets the rhythm or pace for a crew.

Swirlies: are defined as currents moving in a circular pattern that has a distinct visual appearance, and can physically move a shell or launch passing through them.

Thompson Boat Center (TBC): public rowing facility located on the DC shore at the end of the Georgetown Waterfront, at the bend of the river near the Kennedy Center. Home to Georgetown University Crew, George Washington University Crew, TBC Racing, Rock Creek Rowing Club, the Grey Knights Rowing Club, McLean, Whitman, Wilson, Holton-Arm, Georgetown Visitation, Bethesda Chevy-Chase (BCC), O’Connell, Yorktown high school rowing programs.

Theodore Roosevelt Bridge: aka TR Bridge. Connects DC to Arlington, located near the Kenedy Center.

Three Sisters Islands: The islands upstream of Key Bridge, and across from Spout Run on the Virginia side. A major choke point on the river. Made up of many submerged rocks and rock shelves in addition to three visible ones.

Turtle Rock: a low-sitting rock on the DC shore, located upstream of the Three Sisters Islands, and just downstream of Hens and Chickens. It is often marked by a buoy.

Ugly Step Sister: a submerged rock just upstream of the largest of the Three Sisters Islands. Actually comprised of several ridges of rocks on the river bottom, and known for destroying boats and skegs.

Way-enough: Tells the rowers to stop rowing. 

Washington Canoe Club (WCC): private paddling facility just upstream of PBC on the DC shore.

Note- When given the command to Way-enough or Let-it-run, one must be aware of how a crew has been told to react given either command. Some crews stop rowing and put their blades in the air (an easy-all) and wait for the command to drop them into the water, while others just stop rowing with their blades on the water. If it is an emergency, be very specific about what you want the crew to do. 

Seat Numbering: 

In rowing shells, basic seating is broken down by number into individual seats, pairs or fours from the bow of the boat to the stern. The order in an 8+ goes like this: Bow seat, 2 seat, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, Stroke, Coxswain. The pairs are then joined together in different combinations to indicate exactly who should be rowing. In an eight, you would have: 

Bow+2= bow pair, 3+4 5+6 Stroke+7= Stern Pair 

or Bow+2+3+4= Bow four 3+4+5+6= Middle four 5+6+7+Stroke= Stern four or All 8.