Possibly dumb question about rowing

I’ve been looking for ages for a do it all boat that would be stable enough for photography and could also seat a second person and haul a lot of gear, and most of all be able to be stored easily in a cramped apartment. So, I’ve been looking at inflatables. Finally I found something that will fit the bill and I plan on purchasing one of these come Spring:


So, obviously this boat can be moved by means of the included oars, as well as a canoe paddle or even a double-bladed kayak paddle. Of course an outboard motor is an option as well. Traditionally, one rows facing away from the direction one is heading in, unless you’re running downstream in a fast current in which case you’d face the direction you’re moving and back paddle to keep the bow running the direction you want. So, I’ve rowed a couple boats where you could sit facing either way and it looks as if you could do the same thing with this boat. My question is, is there any reason why you can’t or shouldn’t row facing the direction you’re moving? In the case of moving the boat and “stalking” wildlife, it would be better for me to be able to see the direction I’m moving so that I can control my camera gear (usually pointed facing the bow), and otherwise anticipate trying to catch shots of wildlife that I encounter before I’ve spooked as I rowed past. Is it just less efficient somehow to row facing the direction you’re running? I can see where you’re pushing the oars versus pulling but not sure how that’s necessarily any less efficient. Anybody have and suggestions or offer and insight?

My Experience
Going down river while fishing. Both inflatables and wood drift boats. The guide always sits in the back and the boat is pointed bow down river. They have no problem with it and I assume you could learn as well. I am also thinking you are combining things that should be separated. For moving water the oars will work fine. But that inflatable is not optimal for moving water. The only reason for its design is to accommodate a motor. But for flat water with a motor the inflatable is also not optimal. Get two boats.

Depends how far and how fast you go

– Last Updated: Dec-27-11 10:59 PM EST –

If I had to guess, I'd say pulling the oars might be 10- or 20-times more efficient than pushing. That's when you are exerting a bit of effort as you would do when trying to go some distance, and assumes you have something to brace your feet against when rowing in the "proper" direction. The majority of people rowing small fishing boats and the like provide no arrangement for bracing their feet, so the difference between pushing and pulling becomes less, but you will still notice the difference right away. No matter what, I'd suggest you do whatever you can to provide a foot brace.

For slowly poking along in the forward-facing direction, you'll have no problem for short distances. Also, bear in mind that this boat won't be in the same league as boats which are actually made for rowing, so don't plan on going really long distances under oar power alone. I carefully watched the rowing sequences in that video. When watching the boat cross the scene, it appeared to take two oar strokes to go one boat-length. This was confirmed by the view from the on-board camera, where even the hardest oar strokes left a swirl that was alongside the back end of the boat by the time a new stroke was started. Longer oars might help, but that might also create a clearance problem between the oar handles and your legs on the recovery stroke, since the oarlocks are actually lower than the seat. Notice that the guy in the video used very short arm movements to pull the oars through an arc of much greater angle than what's efficient. That's the penalty you pay for using short oars, but again, I don't know what sort of distance you plan to travel so it may not be important at all. With longer oars, it's more convenient to pull primarily by leaning backward rather than by pulling your hands closer to the body. For years I rowed a 12-foot jon boat using 6-foot oars (and got about the same distance per stroke as the boat in the video), sometimes going many miles in a day, but I know better now and wouldn't use such short oars on any boat nowadays except for short, utilitarian trips. If that's what you have in mind, I'm sure this boat will be fine, but you'll discover that for any except the slowest speeds, you'll prefer to face backward.

Thanks for the insights
I don’t predict needing to cover really long distances in this boat initially. Most of the places I currently paddle are fairly compact geographically so I may only paddle a few miles over the course of a couple hours. Sometimes I might go a further distance but that would be probably on a river going downstream with a shuttle system set up, so I’d have current working with me. Where I might be rowing going forwards would be when I’m “stalking” some variety of wildlife, the rest of the time I could probably row in the typical backwards facing position, looking back occasionally to see what’s coming up. As I understand it and have seen a couple videos, this boat can be paddled like a canoe as well. I also like the ability to mount a motor for those longer distance trips like the Finnish guy does in his videos.

Canoe-style paddling
I just added, and then deleted, some remarks in my first post about using a canoe paddle. I deleted those remarks because they were based on the idea of using the boat solo. Solo canoe-paddle use would be mighty difficult, but with two people in the boat, canoe paddles would not be such a bad thing.