Rowing stroke rate

Home Forums Nautical Research: 1830 – Present Day Rowing stroke rate

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    David Manthey

      I was just rereading Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea). In it, the crew of the Nautilus are rowing their longboat, and the story says they wait ten seconds between each stroke, following the practice of most navies. “J’observai que leurs coups d’aviron, vigoureusement engagés sous l’eau, ne se succédaient que de dix secondes en dix secondes, suivant la méthode généralement usitée dans les marines de guerre.”

      This seems incredibly slow to me. Is Jules Verne mistaken, or is there something to this claim? Is there any data on rowing rate in navies?

      For what it is worth, I’ve done many an all-day row in wide boats (not racing shells), and would find a pace of 6 strokes per minute tedious and tiring. I haven’t measured what my crew typically does, but it is probably somewhere in the 22-25 strokes per minutes range.

      – David

      Frank Scott

        To be pedantic I must point out that the navy ‘pulled’ boats, rather than rowed them. I had a look at old manuals & wonder if Verne got confused by the method of teaching ‘pulling’. In the RN this was done by numbers (like so many drills), initially with a pause of 2-3 seconds between each command.

        At the order ‘One’: Lean aft, straighten the arms, etc, etc., ending with oar blade just clear of the water.

        At the order ‘Two’; Place the blade in the water & pull it towards you, etc, etc., at the end of the stroke dropping elbows & wrist to take the oar blade out of the water.

        Obviously once the technique & timing was correct for everyone in the crew, after the command ‘Give way together’ they simply flowed from one stroke to the next.


        David Manthey

          Thank you.

          To continue with the pedantry, while the navy pulled boats, the term rowing was certainly used as well. For instance, in the 1799 “A Vocabulary of Sea Phrases and Terms of Art used in Seamanship and Naval Architecture”, a book with translations between French and English in both directions, pull is more common than row, but not exclusive. The translation of Nager is “To pull, or to row”. The terms get used in specific contexts: “pull together”, but “row dry” (to take shallow strokes when you’d otherwise touch ground).

          – David

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