Before learning to row our shells or coastal boats, you should be a competent and capable rower. You should also be comfortable swimming and be able to swim for 10 minutes.
You should have good rowing technique which includes the following:
- Good Rowing Stroke… including feathering your oars.
- Stopping the Boat
- Docking and maneuvering in tight quarters.
- Turning including River Turns
If you’re coming from rowing Dolphin Club Whitehalls, you should practice your technique in our Spirit Whitehall ‘Hubbard’ or Mo-B in preparation for the transition to shells. These boats use standard length oars, and have a standard spread between oarlocks.
Training on our shells takes the form of a single class orientation which takes about 2 1/2 hours. After the class you’ll be permitted and encouraged to practice on our single shells whenever you wish. Other club rowers can help mentor you as you gain in confidence.
If you’re coming from outside the club, you’ll probably pick up rowing in our shells or coastal boats fairly quickly. But there’s still a lot for you to learn on Bay Safety and the peculiarities of our dock. Familiarize yourself with our Rowing Path and you’ll still need to go through certification where you’ll be tested to take a boat out anywhere you want on the Bay by yourself.
Boats in this fleet include:
- Coastal LiteBoats (El Nino and La Nina) – Coastal boats are a new design of open-water rowing shell. They are fairly stable, and designed specifically to handle rougher waters like San Francisco Bay. These boats are part of a new Coastal class that is gaining popularity internationally and is being considered for the Olympics. These boats are also ideal for getting started with shell rowing.
- Maas Aeros (Tern and Banana) – These 18’ shells have been highly popular and well proven as open-water rowing shells on San Francisco Bay for many years. They are a good next step once you’re comfortable with the LiteBoats.
- Maas 24’s (Coot, Pelican, Surf Scooter) – These are the fastest and lightest boats in our fleet, and also the ones requiring the most skill. Work your way up to rowing the 24’s.
The LiteBoats are typically stored on a dolly on the boathouse floor, where they can be easily rolled out. Shells are stored on the racks above.
Important – Never allow anyone to stand underneath the racks when you are lowering or raising them.
Each of the racks is color coded. To lower the boat, turn the handle counter-clockwise (?) and to raise the racks, turn the handles clockwise. Stop turning before the flag reaches the winch.
The racks should be returned to the raised position after you’ve taken your boat out.
Launching & Recovery
- Sign Out Your Boat
Sign out your boat in the logbook at the podium by the boatshop. All rowers must sign out
- Prepare the Boat
- Remove shell from rack. Be careful not to scrape oarlocks on the shell below. Place the shell outside on slings
- Raise the Rack Back Up
- Inspect the boat. Close Any Bow/Stern Plugs & Porthole Cover
- Adjust Foot Stretchers (if necessary)
- Open Oarlocks
- Verify Seat Installed Correctly
- Attach Essentials
- Life Jacket(s)
- Noise Maker (Whistles, Kazoo?)
- Phone or Radio
What oars should you choose and why?
Shells oars have been adjusted for specific types of boats. Please refer to the chart on the wall in the boathouse besides the carbon fiber oars.
- Bring your oars first down to the dock.
- Check that the dock is flush with the water. Do it during this trip, not when you carry the boat to the dock
How to Carry a Shell
- Wheel / Carry your boat to the end of the dock – stern first.
- Before you carry the boat down, double-check that no-one is actively using the dock. (Nothing worse than having to wait at the end of the dock with a boat on your head!)
- You can leave the slings out while you are rowing.
- Shells can be carried on your head. It can be more comfortable if you can get the seat to rest on your head.
- Even better is to find an extra hand to help you carry the boat.
Protect the Skeg
The skeg is a particularly precarious part of your shell. It is highly susceptible to getting caught or knocked, which can cause expensive damage to the boat. Remember the skeg as you wheel the Liteboats down the dock. Don’t lift the bow too high. Remember the skeg when you place a boat ready for launch. Leave the skeg dangling over the end of the dock.
Getting in and out of the shells is probably the trickiest part of rowing shells at the Dolphin Club. The angle of the apron makes it more complicated than at most rowing clubs. But with some agility, care and practice, it can become second nature
Preparing to Launch
- Lower the dock as much as possible until it is flush with the water
- Place boat at the end of the dock with the skeg hanging over the end of the dock
- Prepare the boat. Install the oars and lock the oarlocks. Make sure that the seat is sliding properly in its tracks.
- Launch the boat by holding the handles of the oars from the bow.
- Move the boat to the corner of the dock and extend the oars so that they fit between the gap between the piling and the pier.
Getting into the boat
It should also be done quickly so as to minimize the risk of damage to the boat against the dock.
The key to success is to slide or scooch onto the seat while holding the oars.
- Put one foot onto the boat while holding both oars with your outside hand.
- Bring your other foot into the footwell and sit down.
- Push yourself away from the dock at an angle
- NOTE: do not use the oar to push yourself away from the dock as it may put damaging stress on the blade. Also, if the boat is launched with the stern pointing to the space between the DC and the SERC, it may be easier to push it into that space and then to straighten it parallel to the dock.
Shells can move very quickly. While practicing in the cove, frequently look behind you and check for swimmers.
If you’re coming from rowing the whitehalls, there are some rowing techniques you’ll need to be aware of:
Stability is from your oars!
Shells are less stable than the whitehallls. But stability is provided by the oars that act as outriggers. But it only works if you have your hands on the oars.
So the general rule in shells is to have one hand on the oars at all time. In this position, the boat is stable and you’ll have a hard time falling in. Let go of the oars and you’ll tip over easily. .
Try it out. Use your oars for balance, and then let go. If you find yourself leaning over, pull up on the oars to right yourself. Practice this.
Feathering your oars
Feathering is the term we give for flattening the blade of the oar when you pull it out of the water for the recovery part of the stroke. Feathering reduces wind resistance on the blade, and also provides a smooth surface that is less likely to catch waves in the recovery. On a whitehall, you may have been fine without feathering. On a shell, you’ll need to master this.
But it’s pretty easy. The oars naturally fall into the feathered position. You don’t need to lift your oars far out of the water. Just allow them to glide back just above the surface of the water. Indeed, it’s completely fine if they skim the surface of the water.
Find out more about rowing stroke from this very good video on stroke and style!
- Basic one-oared turn
- Reverse one-oared turn
- One oared turn with the other oar buried
- River Turn (Basic + Reverse)
Recovery & Put Away
Once you land at the dock, get out of the boat and bring the boat up onto the dock before you start disassembling the oars.
If the boat feels heavy to lift, it may have taken on water. If this has happened find another hand to help you lift the boat out of the water and drain it.
Approach & Landing.
Tips and tricks for getting to the dock.
Getting out of the Boat
The boat (and you) are at most exposed to damage while alongside the dock. Move swiftly to leave the boat. Pull your oar handles in, and to the bow, and then pull the boat up on the dock from the bow.
Once on the dock, take your time to remove the oars and place to the side.
Pick up the boat and walk back to the slings in the staging area, or if it’s a LiteBoat place the boat back on its dolly and wheel it back to the staging area.
The boat will need to be rinsed down with fresh water, and put away dry.
- Hose down Boat (all surfaces) and Oars
- Fully dry boat and oars.
- Remove the stern plug and drain any water that got inside. If significant water comes out, please note this in the log.
- Close and Lock the oarlocks and the bailer
- Put boat away
- Put away Life Jacket(s), slings
- Sign Boat Back In
|Report Problems and Damage!If you notice problems while you are out rowing, please report them in the logbook. If you damage the boat, please report this to the Boat Captain. We all make mistakes, and dings and knocks happen, but it’s not ok to walk away from it. Own up to the damage, and we’ll work together to repair it. It is also critical that the next person rowing it doesn’t take out a damaged boat.|
Good technique should ensure that capsizing is an unlikely event – even on the narrowest of our shells. But it’s best to be prepared, and so the highlight of shell certification will be where you practice a ‘self-rescue.’
- Right the boat.
- Push oars back out and lay flat on the water.
- Hold onto oars with one hand and swim up onto the boat. It is probably easier to swing one leg over the boat and lift yourself on it, sitting with both legs hanging off the boat. You can then put your feet in the foot stretchers and ensure that your seat is sliding properly.
Recovery steps video
Rowing into rough water with a shell is uncomfortable and makes it harder to maintain a constant long stroke. It can often be minimized planning your course ahead of time and thinking of the wind conditions at the time when you will be in the water. Generally speaking, shells should not be taken out with winds over 15 mph.
- Consider that wind blowing in the opposite direction of the currents creates larger waves.
- Waves running parallel to your rowing direction are hard to manage. For instance, expect them if you are rowing along Crissy Field, with strong North/South winds.
It is perfectly normal to have certain areas where there is almost always rough water sometimes due to underwater ridges like in Raccoon Straight or under the GG Bridge.
You should open the bailer as soon as you see that you are getting close to rough water. It is easier to do it then rather than when the shell is already full of water and you need to stop rowing to open the bailer.
The basic technique to row in rough water is to keep your strokes short and to make sure at the beginning of the catch before pulling, that the blade is securely inside the water.
Some good tips from OWRC – https://drive.google.com/file/d/1jwPO5Qz-A10S8oha1pqPByNs03jFB-L-/view
Shell rowers in training may row inside the cove, or join other shell rowers along the waterfront towards the Warming Hut. Once certified you may row solo away from shore.
To become certified:
- Review the Bay Safety guide, and pass the short test.
- Go for a checkout row around Alcatraz with a certified shell rower. You will plan the trip, and if everything goes well, you’ll be certified at the end of the outing.
Racing will force you to develop good form, and bring out the best in your rowing abilities. Currently the Dolphin Club doesn’t have a formal coaching program. Some members take training more seriously than others and it’s best to find other club rowers who you can train with and grow. Club members frequently attend local regattas.
The club has two Mass doubles and a Liteboat double. You’re welcome to use these with other shell rowers.
If you’re rocking the single, consider joining our 4x+ open water quad crew. We typically take this out every Friday and some other days depending on crew.
Rowing at Lake Merced
The Dolphin Club has a small boathouse at Lake Merced where a half-dozen flat-water shells are available for use by experienced shell rowers.
Once you’ve mastered rowing shells, you may also start rowing from our facility at Lake Merced.
To schedule an orientation at the Lake Merced Boathouse, contact Jim Storm – email@example.com