Rowing is thrilling.

At the same time, it can be unnecessarily complex.

The first time I entered a Whitehall gig rowboat in summer 2013, I was excited. However, that quickly turned to overwhelm.

Once I settled down on my seat, the captain began shouting strange terms like you were supposed to have known them years ago. Words like bowstern, port, starboard, etc.

For someone who has known only land, this was a foreign language.

Yes, the rowing crew explained them before we headed out, but I personally found it hard tracking them all while also trying to pick up rowing.

I’ve noticed the new rowers after me struggle similarly.

So, now, having finished my second year rowing around NYC, I think I just finally got down these boat terms. Yes, it's taken me much longer than I'd like to admit but what can I do.

Anyway, to help first time rowers, I'll reveal my little-known hacks to quickly get you up to speed with what's what when in comes to the world of boats and water (and how I remember them)

Lets start out today with what's a bow and stern.

Differentiating Between the Bow & the Stern of a Rowboat

If I tell you to picture a boat, would it look something like the image above?

Well, more or less I hope.

Obviously, in any boat you have what you call the front and the back. In boat-speak, however, they're called the bow and stern, respectively.

That is pretty much all you need to know when starting out.

Why they call it that instead of the back and front, I have no idea but let's go along with this more complex naming.

Wikipedia defines them like so

The bow /ˈbaʊ/ is the forward part of the hull of a ship or boat, the point that is usually most forward when the vessel is underway… The other end of the boat is the stern.

The bow is designed to reduce the resistance of the hull cutting through water and should be tall enough to prevent water from easily washing over the top of it. On slower ships like tankers, a fuller bow shape is used to maximise the volume of the ship for a given length.

Yeah, I like my simpler definition.

How to Never Forget on the Water Which End Is the Bow & Which the Stern

The way I remember which side is the bow is by imagining a rowboat like earlier but this time looking at it from a bird’s eye view.

Drawing comparing a boat and a bow

Follow the curve outline of the front from this perspective and notice how it resembles the shape of an actual bow. That is a boat’s bow. The opposite side is the stern.

Just like how you hold a real bow in front of you and aim at your target, a boat’s bow is the front part facing your destination.

As silly as it sounds, this helped tremendously since I constantly mixed up these two ends. Now, whenever the coxswain orders me to sit in the bow or stern, I think back to a bow and easily orient myself


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