How fast are rowing 'shells' ?

My post about a rowing canoe brings this up ... I was on the water last year and came upon a one man rowing 'shell' (is that the proper name?)

If I could sprint my kayak to 6mph for short distances ... he had to be going 12mph if not more(flat calm water).

... are they disastrous for a rookie to try to row ? .. ( tip over easy ? .. they are sooooo narrow!)

... disastrous in rougher water ? (tipping/swamping?)

Tippy and fragile
Racing shells are incredibly fragile, and they are tippy, especially when they’re not in motion. You might google “recreational shell.” There are a few – the Laser sailboat people made one for a while, I believe, as do Alden and a few others. A little beefier – less likely to disintegrate under normal use. A little beamier – kinder to your balance.

You also might Google open-water rowing. These look more like “real” boats, and can scoot pretty well. There are sliding seats for them. Surprisingly, the sliding seat doesn’t significantly boost speed, but it lets you use more large muscle groups – like legs.

Had one in my youth. Your speed estimate
is high. They are not as tippy as they appear, because the oars, called “sculls” because there is one for each hand, act like a balancing pole. I only lost balance and went in the drink once, when I knifed a blade in at a slanting angle. Single sculls take more “grunt” than rowing shells with more people in them. I hope you get to see the film sometime of the big Finn crushing past an almost as huge German in the last 500 meters of the second Los Angeles Olympics finals.

Fast, but of limited use
Rowing shells are fast, but I won’t guess how fast. They are also expensive, fragile, and pretty worthless for rough water. There are lots of rowers on our local lakes, including the UW crew teams, but they tend to go out at sunrise, before the waves kick up. If all you want to do is go fast, a shell might be for you. If you want to do anything ELSE with the boat, I don’t think you would like one. A decent canoe that’s well set up for rowing would be a marvelous way to get reasonable speed, very good wind tolerance, and a multitude of uses in one boat.

A company called Virus Boats makes a variety of rowing boats. Among those, they have some “relatively” cheap plastic rowing boats that look like they’d be okay for open water and rough conditions. They are built like small, cheap sailboats: self-bailing and un-swampable, but the open stern that provides the self-bailing feature also looks to me like a good way to stay wet much of the time when going in following waves. They don’t look to me like they would be especially fast (rather short and pudgy-looking), but I’ve never seen one on the water.

Wye Island Regatta
Each September, the Annapolis Rowing Club hosts a pretty well attended 12.4 mile race around Wye Island. Most of the boats are competitive shells of various sizes, but a broad spectrum of boats ranging from outriggers to rec rowers to SOTs, sea kayaks and canoes compete and post times, (they even had one geared, screw driven propeller canoe in last year’s race). Reviewing the results may give you a fair basis for comparison. A full accounting of times and conditions can be found at:

If you want to try it, there are “community rowing” programs and/or rowing clubs in many communities who welcome complete beginners. I know there’s one in Ann Arbor.

I personally never got good in rough
water, but the best single scullers can row successfully on lakes so choppy that few solo or tandem canoers would want to be out there for long, and only the better sea kayakers would be fully comfortable. Remember that a single scull is self-bailing. The water slops back out over the slanting surface in the bottom of the cockpit with each stroke. Handled properly, the oars are like balance poles, and the long, round hull spans waves, and presents no surfaces for waves to roll the boat over. The limit comes when the waves get too high for the oars to clear.

One reason you may see oarsmen out in the early morning is powerboats. The irregular interference from powerboat wake kept me getting up at 5 AM to train on the Charles River in summmer.

One of our members has one
Built it himself, so I guess you’d class it more as a rec boat than a racer. He takes it everywhere the paddle club goes, but has trouble in big waves and high winds. The winds tend to negate his turning efforts. He actually ran the Tidal Bore with it! Once sucessfully, once he tore an outrigger off.

I loaned him my gps last year, and we were both surprised to see only 8mph for a max speed. He’s a big, fit dude.

Not fragile, not expensive
For an open water rowing shell take a look at the Raven Works Talon –

Hudson Boat Works makes a similar craft.