Blades, otherwise known as oars to amateurs or non rowers, are used to propel the boat. They are long (sculling: 250–300 cm; sweep oar: 340–360 cm) poles with one flat end about 50 cm long and 25 cm wide, called the blade. Classic blades were made out of wood, but modern blades are made from more expensive and durable synthetic material, the most common being carbon fiber.
Single, and double sculls are usually steered by the scullers pulling harder on one side or the other. In other boats, there is a rudder, controlled by the coxswain, if present, or by one of the crew. In the latter case, the rudder cable is attached to the toe of one of his shoes which can pivot about the ball of the foot, moving the cable left or right. The bowman may steer since he has the best vision when looking over his shoulder. On straighter courses, the strokesman may steer, since he can point the stern of the boat at some landmark at the start of the course. On international courses, landmarks for the steersmen, consisting of two aligned poles, may be provided.
1.) I keep reading about cracks and leaks that develop in the water tank. WaterRower even offers a tank repair kit for this very issue. It seems to me that this is a design flaw that they refuse to address, instead offering a fix for when it eventually occurs. Have you seen these tanks to eventually leak? I’m surprised they haven’t tried a one-piece tank. 

I kayak (ocean and flat water, not river), so I was drawn to the WaterRower over a flywheel type rower (which I have used in gyms) because I wanted to hear the sound of the water, which I miss hearing against the hull of the boat during the winter when I can't get out on the lake. I also like the way the paddles engage in the water; it's a very smooth pull and release, and moving the mass of the water instead of a dialed down tension feels more natural. As someone else also commented, the seat (at least on the wood version) is incredibly smooth and solid; no wobbling at all. I generally listen to music on my Nordic Track ski machine, but with the WaterRower I am content to listen to the sound of the water; working out on this is somehow both energizing and calmingly meditative at the same time. In the event that you want to use it while watching tv (this is one use to which I wanted to put it), it is quiet enough to hear the tv without having to turn it up.
While true that indoor rowing competitions use only new machines in an effort to ensure all elastic cord tensions are identical, this cannot be confirmed because tensions are never measured or adjusted at these competitions. Further, since ambient temperature affects cord elasticity, the results of races in different locations with different ambient temperatures are not comparable. Fairness is particularly problematic with on-line racing in which new machines and worn-in machines with elastic cords of differing strengths and tension can be used by competitors.

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Storage is also a plus point for the Waterrower series as they are all designed to stand upright with the tank acting as ballast for stability. In this position they only take up around two square feet. Again, great if you are planning on training in the living room. However, if you have small children, I would advise fixing the top to the wall with a hook and strap.
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