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Trireme In the battle of Salamis in 480 BC the fleet of Ancient Greek triremes destroyed the Persian convoy. The Triremes were able to ram enemy ships at speed without any damage to themselves. This made them a key force in the struggle for navel supremacy. Vikings

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In the battle of Salamis in 480 BC the fleet of Ancient Greek triremes destroyed the Persian convoy. The Triremes were able to ram enemy ships at speed without any damage to themselves. This made them a key force in the struggle for navel supremacy.


The Viking invasions of Britain in the 8th & 9th centuries were greatly aided by their oar-powered ships. Because of their long narrow shape they floated on shallow water so were able to be used on rivers and lakes, giving them quick and easy access to invade.


From the 13th to the 15th centuries, Venice was the most prosperous city in Europe, conquering the seas with its oar-powered galleys. The Venetians also provided the earliest form of ‘regata’. Venetian tradition links the first true regatta to the Feast of St Mary on Candlemas day from around 1300.

Doggett's Coat

& Badge Race

Competitive rowing originated with watermen; working on the river to transport people and goods; racing to get the work first. These races turned into professional rowing contests for monetary prizes.

In 1715 Thomas Doggett, actor and theatre manager, offered a coat and badge for a five mile race from London Bridge to Chelsea for Waterman, to commemorate the accession of George I to the throne. It has been held every year since, and is the longest running annual sporting event in the world.

Rowing at Eton

In 1793 Eton College recorded the first ‘Procession of the Boats’ including a regatta for the boys. In 1818, Eton challenged Westminster School to a race sewing the seeds for amateur racing.


The Boat Race

The Boat Race was instigated when Charles Merivale and Charles Wordsworth, both old Harrow school friends, thought of the idea to hold a race between their respective universities, Cambridge and Oxford. Cambridge sent a challenge to Oxford on 12 March 1829 and the race took place on June 10 in Henley on Thames.

1829 Winning Boat

It shows the first step in the development of boats designed for speed, being almost twice as long and half as wide as an 8-man sea boat of the period. It was clinker built of oak and ash, with ash oars approximately 50cm longer than modern oars.

This boat was used by the Oxford University crew to win the first ever Boat Race. It was designed for racing resembling both a cutter (similar to that used by the watermen) and a Cornish gig.


The first wooden outrigger was attached to a boat in 1828 by Anthony Brown. In 1830, Frank Emmet used iron outriggers but it was Harry Clasper c.1841, who perfected the additions.

This meant boats could be built a lot narrower as they didn’t have to support the oars on the saxboard, which in turn provided greater speed. A narrower hull means that there is less drag force acting against the boat making it possible to travel faster.

Henley Royal Regatta

The university boat race at Henley was so popular in 1829 that the town decided to organise their own regatta. The first event was only a single afternoon including fairground rides, racing and other attractions. It received royal patronage in 1851 and is now Britain's most prestigious regatta.

Keel-less Hull

In 1844, Harry Clasper worked with Matthew Taylor to reduce the weight of the boat, by placing the keel (the central backbone) inside the boat rather than outside.

Removing the keel reduced the surface area and drag, and made the boat lighter, thinner and much more streamlined, offering faster speeds.


Victoria is the earliest surviving example of a smooth bottomed shell. Before this, keels were always attached to the underneath of a boat to balance it. Matthew Taylor built this boat with the keel inside to reduce drag and increase speed. His boats won every 4s and 8s contest throughout 1856/7, built for Chester boat club.

Sliding Seat

The sliding seat was first experimented with in America by John Babcock in 1857. By May 1870 he successfully fitted sliding seats to a Nassau Boat Club gig six. They were such a success at the Hudson ARA regatta that the idea soon travelled across the world and the sliding seat was used in the 1873 Boat Race. The slides completely changed the rowing technique, switching the focus from the upper body and shoulders to the legs enabling the rower to take much longer strokes.

Swivel Oarlock

The swivel Oarlock came with a flurry of other inventions from Michael F Davis between 1874 – 1884. The swivel allows the oar to complete a much longer stroke, by providing a wider angle of pivot, to benefit from the additional length provided by the sliding seat. Although this was a huge success straight away in America, it took a while to catch on in England, with Leander Club using fixed rowlocks as late as 1949.

Sliding Rigger

The sliding rigger was first invented in 1877 by Michael Davis. It was designed as a solution to the large amounts of friction caused by the early sliding seats. The sliding rigger was banned in 1983 as not to disadvantage those who couldn’t afford it.

By keeping the body mass fixed and only moving the rigger/footplate, the boat does not pitch from bow to stern so much, causing less hull resistance.

ZLAC Rowing Club

In 1892 the first woman’s rowing club was established in San Diego by Zulette Lamb and sisters Lena, Agnes and Caroline Pulhamus. The club uniform in 1895 was a black, ankle-length woollen skirt topped with a matching middy (sailors) blouse with yellow trim on the collar with a yellow tie and a black tam o' shanter (hat).


Rowing was on the programme of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, however bad weather led to it being cancelled. It has had a place ever since. The 1908 and 1948 Olympic Regattas were held in Henley-on-Thames. Women’s events were introduced in 1976, lightweights in 1996 and adaptive rowing in 2008. Great Britain are currently 3rd in the overall medal table for rowing, behind East Germany & USA.

Macon Blades

The Macon or tulip blade introduced in 1959 was the first major change in shape from the square blade, providing a larger more rounded spoon. The name came from the town of Mâcon where the blades were first widely used at the 1959 European Championship.

The Macon blades are shorter in length, which means that there is less drag force acting on the loom whilst it is in the water.

Composite boats

In the lead-up to the 1972 Munich Olympics the German Federation supported Empacher Bootswerft with the experimentation of new materials in boat design – glass/carbon fibre/honeycomb & epoxy resins. The result was the first gold medal for a composite boat. The benefits are that the boats weigh less (c.45kg), are stronger, more durable and easier to repair.

Carbon Tiger

The Carbon Tiger was the first prototype all carbon-fibre boat. It was made by British Aerospace for the British Olympic crew for the Montreal Games in 1976. After testing at Thorpe Water Park it was taken to Montreal under wraps, however it was not used due to problems with the outriggers.

Cleaver Blades

The Cleaver or Hatchet blade was first produced by Concept2 in 1991. The larger surface area of blade in the water through this design improved a team’s performance by 1 or 2 %. By 1992, most of the Olympic crews were using them.

The oar loom connects to the blade at the highest point, rather than in the middle as with a Macon blade. This means that less of the loom is in the water reducing the amount of drag that it contributes.