No Motion for Standard Oar at SCRA AGM 2017

Having taken extensive advice and very much appreciating the amount of work that a group of skiffies have put into researching oar and oarlock design, the SCRA committee have decided not to move further towards a standard system at this stage.  Below is the explanation for this decision, and some useful knowledge that has come out of this research.  Although not coming up with a standard design to be adopted by all, it has been a useful and worthwhile process, and we must thank all those involved.


Over the winter of 2016/17 and during the 2017 season an international group of oar enthusiasts researched oar and oarlock design as it applies to the St Ayles Skiff.  We sent clubs a survey and published the results, which indicated overwhelming support for all timber oars and a desire not to go to stainless and plastic gates.  We then set about gathering detailed information on the best oars in the class. We measured their length, section, stiffness, weight, balance force and gearing.

There were three strands to the research, which were oar blades, oarlock systems and oar shafts.

The oar blade research was to see if spoon blades offered a competitive advantage, and over a season the conclusion is that they do not appear to offer any significant advantage at sea and can in some situations be hard to extract in waves. Although it was an interesting experiment it was not in the end worth pursuing and the SCRA committee is not bringing forward a motion to allow spoons.

All the oarlock systems currently in use in the class and in other boats were examined, and assessed for simplicity, low maintenance, low friction and accuracy of pitch. The most commonly used system, pin and plate, has wear and pitch problems, and some of the alternatives which use a wooden gate are hard to make. Don Currie of New Zealand has made a simple system similar to pin and plate which is much quieter and wears less. I have also made a system which rests the weight of the oar on top of a ball ended pin and has no contact at all between the oar and the gunwale. Both are legal under the present rules, if used with a wooden pin. Plastic (acetal) pins were tried and found to be smooth and hard wearing, but if used with systems which do not rest the oar weight on the pin they can pop out of their tapered holes. They are not currently allowed for racing, and there is no current plan to change that,  although they can of course be used for training.

The oar shaft research found that as oars get longer they are increasingly hard to balance, leading to some oars being very hard to lift out of the water. This is very off putting to new rowers, especially smaller women and young people who we should be encouraging. Lead counterweights have been specifically banned in the rules, but it was found that by making the inboard section of the oars bulky and/or heavy hardwood, and by carefully tapering the outboard section and blade, and making them out of light softwoods, it is possible to make strong stiff oars which have less than 2.5kg unbalanced force at the handle. These oars are currently legal and are of a solid rectangular section, so fairly easy to make. By placing the pins for oars 2 and 3 in blocks glued to the inside of the gunwales and thus moving the pins inboard by about 70mm, it was possible to limit the length of those oars to 4.5m (14ft1.5inches) which helped to balance them.

In summary we know a lot more about current oars and what makes them good or bad to row with. We established that all current competitive clubs row at a gearing between 2.6 and 3.0 with most rowing around 2.8.   Strong crews in calm conditions find the higher gears suit them , and less strong crews in a headwind find the lowest gear much better. Thus we made systems which can easily change gear to suit the rowers and conditions.

We have managed to find two better oarlock systems than the pin and plate. We have also developed an easily made design for a balanced oar shaft which takes less effort to row with, and does not need an expensive bought hollow shaft. This design has the number 1, 2 and 3 oars at 4.5m (14ft 9 inches) long with the 2 and 3 pins slightly inboard and stroke at 4.3m (14ft 1.5inches) long.

If oars become longer than 4.5m it is increasingly hard to balance them and keep them stiff enough, although several successful clubs have oars as long as 5.2m (17ft).

We have not found any new features worth changing the rules for. There is a case for adopting a Standard Oar to make a more “level playing field” but it would be a political decision rather than a technical one and the SCRA committee (in its role as international class association) is not presently putting this forward.

Most of the plans and information are freely available at

For the real oar anoraks, the entire archive is at

The (international) Measurement Rules for the St Ayles skiff is here:

Topher Dawson, October 2017.


“Go on, tell me all about your oars”



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