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'Rowing' inflatable dinghies

Jake Apr 14, 2011 10:14 AM
Posted in group:
Hi All,
I work for a yachting magazine as well as being a keen but leisurely
open water rower (I row to work most days for example). We have just
been enjoying last week's fabulous weather out on the river Hamble
group testing 16 inflatable tenders (The small dinghies that yachtsmen
use to get to and from their boats when at anchor somewhere).
So poorly do the vast majority of these boats row, I'm working myself
up to a rant about it in the magazine. I feel quite strongly that
rowing performance is more important than the makers of these dinghies
understand. Many is the time I have had to row an inflatable dinghy
quickly to get up river to the pub against a strong ebb tide, and not
all of us want to spoil the idyll of a quiet anchorage with a
screaming small outboard motor.
For a start none of them have oars anywhere near long enough. Even
worse, many of these boats recently have started sporting high plank
type thwarts mounted on the tubes- so at the same height as the
oarlocks. This means they don't have clearance for decent length oars
so they get round this bodge by the further bodge of reducing oar
inboard to in some cases less than a foot, so the whole stroke takes
place with the hands out by the sides of the body... Horrible. And
very slow, which in these already inefficient boats often means the
difference between stemming a tide and going backwards in tidal
What annoys me most of all about it is that from my rowing background
I know that humanity worked out the basics of fixed seat rowing
ergonomics literally hundreds of years ago, and that the old Avons and
Zodiacs we used to have 15 years ago all rowed acceptably. These new
boats are much stiffer with a vee bottom now though, so if the
ergonomics were sorted should row better than the old saggy flat
bottomed craft. The truth is, the expectation is that everyone will
motor them everywhere so the makers don't really care about how they
row any more... which I find sad.
I've read in various books over the years the basic rules of arranging
a fixed seat rowing craft, but I can't remember where. I'd like to
point these errant manufacturers towards a seminal text that will
explain how to arrange their boats in a fashion that will make them
remotely rowable.
Something along the lines of the following parameters:
"The oarlocks should be xxx-xx cm above the level of the seat. The
seat should be xx-xx cm towards the bow from the oarlocks. The oars
should be at least xx cm long. The oar's outboard length should be
(roughly) x times the oar's inboard length. The oarlocks should be
situated (roughly) xx % from the bow of the boat and xx% from the
Anyone got any idea where I'd find such basic rule of thumb numbers
for slow speed fixed seat boats?

Jake Frith
Editor, Sailing Today Magazine

Swanwick Marina
Lower Swanwick
SO31 1ZL