Six Generations of Boat-building Wisdom

Fundamentals of Racing Shell Hull Design

What type of boat is a racing shell? In boat design there are fundamentally two basic types of hulls, the planning hull and the displacement hull. Racing shells have hulls of the displacement variety. To better understand the principles underlying racing shell design, let’s talk about displacement hulls in general and the racing shell hulls in particular.

  • Theoretically, the most efficient shape in the water with the least resistance is a sphere. And therefore this is where we begin in design. So, start by imagining a sphere. Then:

  • To accommodate a passenger, remove the top of the sphere.

  • To accomplish surface navigation, morph the sphere – usually into a stretched/elongated shape that will allow the boat to perform its specialized tasks when a source of locomotive power (sails, engines, paddles, oars) is applied.

Whether a boat is a freighter, an aircraft carrier, a sailboat – or a racing single – it cuts through and separates the water with its forward movement. How efficiently a hull cuts through and separates the water is a significant factor in determining a boat’s speed and efficiency. How effectively water mends or closes behind the hull is also a factor. The more seamlessly and smoothly water closes behind a hull, the less turbulence and friction there is – further enhancing speed for propulsion energy expended.

What all this means is that a racing single, which is a displacement hull, ideally cuts as cleanly as possible through the water at the bow (front) and has the water close as tightly and smoothly as possible at the stern (back). Speed for energy-in is really just a function of eliminating drag, friction, turbulence and resistance. And as you will see, the shape of the hull is just the beginning.

Boat-Buying Basics

Rowing is a significant lifestyle commitment. But it is one that offers incredible personal, physical, mental and social rewards.

Buying the right boat, whether it is going to be your first – or your first that really fits – requires some research.

There are a lot of things to look for, but let's start with what matters most: comfort.

  1. Does it fit:

    You wouldn’t think fit would be the first consideration when it comes to speed – but, as lifelong rowers – we have learned an elegant truth: if you don’t train you won’t be fast; and if you aren’t comfortable, you won’t train.

    Perfect rowing is not possible without a perfect fit. It is just that simple.

    Seating is at an optimal level above the waterline to allow for perfect oarlock height above the waterline. If the boat is too big or too small for the rower – all the rigging adjustments in the world cannot compensate for the shell sitting to low or to high in the water.

    If boat is too small it risks being swamped. If it is too big, it risks instability from wind and waves.

    Levator’s wooden boats can be sized precisely from hulls delineated in 20 lb increments. Our composite boats range through +/- 30 lb variances.

  2. Alignment:

    The straighter the hull of your boat is, the lower the resistance from the water it passes through. For your boat to be fast, it needs to be straight. And jigs, molds and fixtures must be properly aligned and leveled true. To assure the hull is as straight as possible, composite shells need special attention and require a period of rest after curing.

  3. Stability:

    If we think about straightness and water resistant finish as the first two considerations undertaken to eliminate as much resistance as possible from the hull passing through water, then the third consideration is stability. The less a boat rocks or wobbles in the water, the less of a barrier it presents to oncoming water. But this gets more complicated than other factors because there is a trade-off to consider.

    Keep in mind that, in general terms, narrower hulls are less stable and wider hulls offer more stability. A more experienced sculler with more developed balance, and boat-sense will be more stable in any shell than will a sculler with less experience. Therefore an experienced sculler will opt for a single with a hull that is narrower because less resistance means faster. A less experienced sculler might opt for a wider hull because it provides more stability.

    Choosing the right hull width is a complicated consideration because every sculler is different. The thing to keep in mind is this – if you are unsteady in a boat, concentrating on righting wobble, lack of confidence and fine-motor burn all draw concentration and power away from the main objective: perfectly synchronous, optimized delivery of power through the oars to the water.

    Ultimately, boat width (or beam) it is a subjective decision, and it is something we can help you with. All Levator singles – whether composite or wood – come in wider and narrower hull variations.

  4. Hydrophobic Exterior:

    Remembering that a boat needs to be straight to limit the degree to which water passing over the hull “bounces” of the structure and results in resistance or drag, it is easy to understand the importance of a hydrophobic (water resistant finish) that causes water to slide as easily as possible over the hull. Lower friction and resistance means higher speed.

  5. Run/Trim:

    A good shell makes the most of inertia. This means that even between the moments when the engine (you) is driving the boat forward by delivering power through the oars, the boat is making the most of the momentum it has acquired from your stroke. Good run means the hull glides and doesn’t squat, flounder, bounce (stern check) or dig in (burrow) when the oars are out of the water.

  6. Stability at the Catch:

    The catch is the moment of truth when blades are up and off the water just this side of the point of entry into the water. If you think of yourself again as the engine, the catch is the moment when the pistons fire. And for winning performance – the pistons need to fire in perfect unison time after time after time. Understandably, wobble or uncertainty at this instant is disastrous. We can help you tailor a shell that will optimize stability at the catch.

  7. Material Strength/Flex/Stiffness:

    Again, think of your rowing experience and what you are looking to achieve with your shell. The stiffer the boat, the better the acceleration. But they also get less comfortable with stiffness. Just as variation in width becomes a matter of inherent balance and/or experience, stiffness becomes a matter of taste or preference.

    For example, the benefits of training longer and harder because the boat is more comfortable may offset the increase in acceleration you get from a stiffer less comfortable hull. Only you and your “tailor” can work out what is exactly right for you.

  8. Rigging:

    This technical aspect of rowing is intimidating for many people, but in reality, it is a fairly simple affair.

    The purpose of the rigger is to hold the oarlock and oarlock pin in a rigid position at an ideal distance from the centerline of the hull. Generally, the span of the rigger is usually about 160 cm.

    It is essential that the rigger remains at a proper pitch and height – and that it be firmly fixed in that position, eliminating any movement whatsoever.

    A primary consideration when it comes to placement of riggers is something called workthrough. Workthrough, or “rowing through the pin”, is a term used to describe the space from the front edge of the seat at the catch position to the face of the oarlock. The range of motion, which determines ideal position for the pin varies based on a rower’s body proportions, strength and flexibility – especially through the hips and back.

    Personal preference is also a factor. Some people like the open cockpit made possible with side-mounted A-frames. Others prefer the looks of wing riggers. But ideally, it is the integrity of the connection of the rigging to the boat, the rigging’s position in relation to the rower’s unique range of motion, and the optimal transfer of power through the oars to the water that determines the quality of a rigging configuration.

    Made of either aluminum or composite material such as carbon fiber, riggers attach in either an A-frame (also called side-mount) configuration or a wing rigger configuration mounted at either bow or stern.

    Levator offers various rigger configurations for various boat models, but because bow-mounted wing riggers can make it difficult to get back into a capsized shell, we only offer stern-mounted wings. Strength and resistance to the elements are also important rigging considerations. Look for aluminum hard coat that is anodized. And fasteners should be 316 stainless steel. These are minimum standards and should be sought for both fresh and salt water rowing.

  9. Seat and Tracking:

    One of the three points that connects you to your single (the other two being the shoes and the oar handles), your seat is where most of the mechanical movement in a single occurs. Because rowing is ultimately the transfer of human muscular power through the oars that propel the boat through the water, striving to perfect the efficiency of mechanical systems is essential. To this end, the seat must move flawlessly within aligned tracks. For the sake of optimized stroke, it must also allow for significant fore and aft adjustment.

    The tracks and the seat must also sit on an incline in order to prevent trackbite: the front of the seat hitting the back of the calves.

  10. Shoes:

    This is the static point of connection between the human engine and the shell. All muscular force that propels your boat works against this single point. For this reason, feet must be comfortably locked into position at an angle that maximizes delivery of power through the body, through the oars, to the water.

    The more adjustable the shoes are, the better. Remember, comfort is very important. All Levator singles offer a top stretcher that provides both shoe height and angle adjustments.

  11. General Ergonomics or “How Does it Feel”:

    Ergonomics is another subjective consideration that factors into your choice. How do you feel about the architecture of the cockpit? Are you too closed in or trapped? Do you sense wasted space? Think your favorite pair of jeans or shoes: everything needs to feel right. Why? It’s simple – because you can't give your stroke every bit of the attention and focus it needs if you are perpetually struggling against an unnatural fit.

Other Considerations

  1. Comfort

    Competitive rowing is a commitment. You need to train, and nothing is more likely to shorten (or end) your training sessions than a boat that is uncomfortable – or worse – can lead to strain or injury. You have to think beyond the thrill of victory. You also have to think about enjoying training. For the long slogs that prepare you to win races, comfort is essential.

    The awkwardness of stepping into and out of a rowing shell can be a turn-off for people as well. As you think about comfort, consider our In-Step series to alleviate this headache.

    Also, sculling is the best medicine to resuscitate and strengthen strained or injured knees, hips, and backs. But the difficulty of getting in and out of a shell can be a barrier to this excellent form of rehabilitation.

    The In-Step series alleviates this impediment for people who appreciate rowing as a way to recover from an injury, while it provides them with confidence that a dockside mishap and repeat injury will not occur.

  2. Looks

    Let’s be honest. Your rowing single will be an extension of yourself. And like any sport where equipment is involved, you want to be proud of what you bring to your game. At Levator, we are proud to be descended of a European boat-building tradition that spans centuries. Whether it’s a custom-made high-tech Kevlar-carbon fiber racer, or an all-wood Mahogany classic your Levator single will whisper design, class, sophistication and quality.

  3. Durability/Longevity

    A rowing single is a significant investment. You want to ensure that quality, craftsmanship, design and materials all add up to a working machine that will endure the rigours of the committed athlete (you) that will push its limits, the torture of the elements and the ravages of time.

  4. Transportability

    How easy is it to lift? Does it balance when it is lifted? How does it mount to a vehicle? Unless you have the good fortune to live next to the water, you will need to consider transportability.

  5. Cost

    What is included in the price you pay? Is colour selection extra? Duty? Shipping? A rowing shell is a significant investment. Make sure you know what you are getting for the price you pay.

    Levator clearly states the prices of all of our singles on our website and those prices include your choice of colour, and relevant taxes and duty. Because it is variable, shipping is the only additional cost we apply.

  6. Who is making the sale?

    The knowledge of the person selling you the boat is an important consideration. Ideally, they should possess both an in-depth understanding of the sport of rowing and how boats are designed and constructed. At Levator, we stress the importance of having a single that is a custom-fit extension of your rowing form. For this reason alone, an informed salesperson is required. But the benefits go beyond that. You will have a lot of questions, many of which are detailed here, and you will have to talk to the right person to get the answers you need.

  7. Dealer Reputation

    What do you know about the company selling the boat? What do you know about the person who built it? Like any other significant purchase, it is good to know the reputation of the company you are buying from. Do your research. The flashiest ad campaign and best salesman do not always guarantee you will get the best rowing shell – and just as importantly – the best after-purchase service.

    In marketing, it is said that word-of-mouth is the best promotion because it is not bought or paid for. So ask around. No one will be more truthful than a customer who has used the product you are looking to buy.

    We are proud to share our customers’ experiences with our singles. You can view their testimonials here. The process of designing and building custom singles means we get to know our customers very well and we remain in touch with many of our clients. If you are interested in speaking with someone who has purchased a Levator single, we would be happy to connect you.

  8. Guarantee

    Competitive rowing singles are high-performance, finely tuned machines, and good ones are built by skilled manufacturers, using premium materials and components. Like any significant purchase – your rowing single should come with a meaningful guarantee that the manufacturer will stand behind what they have built. No vague blanket statements. No fine print. The builder’s guarantee should be a clear, concise statement that they will take responsibility for what they have sold you and will address defects or other problems.

    Levator offers the kind of warranty you would expect from a 6th generation boat builder with a lifetime of experience designing and crafting custom rowing singles. Because of the extensive experience, talent and knowledge that go into the boats it sells Levator is in a position to offer its customers the best warranty in the business. Here it is.

    LEVATOR BOATWORKS SERVICE WARRANTY

    Levator Boatworks Limited boats are covered by 5 year limited warranty support as stated in the terms and conditions herein.

    Levator Boatworks Limited warrants that, subject to the terms, conditions, limitations and exclusions herein contained, each new boat will be free, under normal use and maintenance, from any defects in material and workmanship for a period of 5 years from the date of purchase. During the warranty period, Levator Boatworks Limited will repair or replace defective parts with new or serviceable used parts that are equivalent to new parts in performance.

    On site warranty service is available during the first year of the warranty period. This warranty does not cover travel or transit expenses, which are the responsibility of the customer.

    This warranty does not extend to any components or devices installed but not manufactured by Levator Boatworks Limited, including, without limitation wiring harnesses and electronic devices.

    This warranty will become void if the boat has been physically damaged or rendered defective (a) as a result of an accident, misuse, fire, lightning, malicious damage, abuse or other circumstances beyond the control of Levator Boatworks Limited; (b) the use of parts not authorized by Levator Boatworks Limited; (c) as a result of shipping damage; (d) as a result of normal wear and tear; (e) as a result of improper maintenance or storage; (f) as a result of service rendered by anyone other than Levator Boatworks Limited or its authorized service agents.

    This warranty applies only to the original purchaser and is not transferable.