Coastal rowing is a game changer; it will build grassroots participation because it is more accessible and inclusive.


Following Tim Fenemore’s great article, on www.waverowing.com ‘Coastal Rowing – how can we have the best of both worlds?’ and Craig Chaulk’s informed reply, I would like to share a few of my thoughts on the subject; I have answered some of Tim’s questions.

I am Bob Cottell from Row for Life, www.coastalrowing.co.uk, I run the Coastal Rowing Centre in Studland, Dorset. I have been coastal rowing for quite some time.

Coastal rowing, in all its guises, has been around for many years and should be celebrated. In recent times we have seen a surge in interest in the “sliding seat, FISA style, coastal sculling”. With due respect to all coastal rowing communities, to keep things simple (for me) I have used the generic term “coastal rowing” for this format.


Should ‘coastal’ rowing follow a different path to ‘fine boat’ rowing?

I don’t think we should think about different paths, I think we should do what is best for rowing in ‘all’ its formats. We should respect the different rowing communities and encourage them to work together; share facilities, share events, share best practice and ideas; be welcoming to all.

We should focus on increasing participation by making ‘all’ rowing accessible and inclusive.

The way people ‘access’ rowing is changing. In addition to the traditional rowing club model there are increasing numbers of commercially run rowing centres, adventure centres, tour companies; attracting rowing customers in a way that makes commercial sense. Importantly, there are an ever increasing number of rowing boats being purchased privately and kept at home, ready to go on the car for a trip to the river, lake or beach.

People want to row when they want to, when the weather is right and for their own reasons; be it for health, fitness, fun, to explore, to compete; or to socially distance.

What is enabling this change?

The key enabling factor is rowing boat design.

There are increasing numbers of rowing boats that are wider and shorter than fine boats; they are more stable, “safer” and generally easier to row. You can row them on rivers, lakes, reservoirs, canals and of course the sea; you can row all year, even in winter when capsizing is best avoided. 

There are numerous manufacturers making coastal ‘racing’ boats (singles, doubles, quads) to meet FISA racing regulations. The real game changer for me though is the boats like the Glide Solo www.glideboats.co.uk and the LiteSport 1X and LiteDUO www.liteboat.com that are shorter (from 4m) and much lighter (from 22kg) than the coastal racing boats. These light and stable boats are easy to row, great for confidence building, great for all ages. At the Coastal Rowing Centre we use Liteboats; dropping in a fixed seat for adaptive rowers, when required.

Joining a rowing club should be encouraged; but keeping a boat at home gives people the freedom to head off at any time to explore our rivers and coastlines. These independent rowers should be embraced by the different rowing communities.

These wider, shorter, light boats make rowing more accessible and inclusive.


What other (sport) models are there to learn from?

Around the time I was playing rugby a bright spark came up with the idea of Mini-Rugby. Sunday mornings became a time for dozens of kids to turn out at the rugby club, run around for an hour or two, learn the basics of rugby and have some fun. It was also a time for a few rugby playing fathers to clear their heads after Saturday’s post match beer. Mini-Rugby is hugely popular and many youngsters have gone on to enjoy a lifetime of rugby; with many good club players, some becoming internationals.

Take a look at what Rowing Adventures is doing www.rowingadventures.co.uk. They are taking youngsters from the age of 8, putting them in kid-proof Glide Solos and teaching them how to row while having fun.

Next time your rowing club is thinking of buying “one” fine boat, why not buy half a dozen Glide Solos instead and start a Mini-Rowing programme.

Build your club from the ground up, be accessible and inclusive.

Future of Coastal rowing

Can we find a form of competition that is both safe for our precious boats and also bring the action close to the beach / bank where spectators and families can see what is happening and cheer their crews?

Currently there are two main coastal rowing events, ‘Endurance’ (4 or 6km, and 8km in the South West Coastal Rowing League, rowing around a buoy marked course) and ‘Beach Sprints’ (250m out, 250m back from the beach through a slalom course with running up and down the beach).

Row for Life focuses on Endurance because it is accessible and inclusive.

At the Coastal Rowing Centre, Studland Bay is our ‘training ground’. It provides the right conditions for rowing most days of the year, with varying wave conditions in different parts of the bay, ideal for the progressive development of coastal rowing skills, and big enough for plenty of endurance based training and events. 

Beach Sprints has been earmarked for possible inclusion in the 2028 Olympics. Beach Sprints requires a sandy beach, certain tide range, two lines of buoys, beach and water cordoned off for the safety of other beach and water users, boats suitable for running onto the beach, experienced boat handlers; and suitable sea and weather conditions. Due to its complexity, Beach Sprints will probably need to be managed and funded by rowing federations, rather than clubs, with regional training facilities.

Row for Life is experimenting with a new short course format around an ‘M’ or ‘Z’ or ?? shaped 2km course, all watchable from the beach. Races will involve a number of buoy turns; rowing in, out and across the waves, wind and tide to test coastal rowing skills; in deep enough water to make capsizing relatively safe, with a safe area for launching and landing. Everybody would row several times during a race day, amassing points to decide the winner. Our working title is “Coastal M-Series”.

With coastal rowing events we need a variety of age groups and adaptive rowers to be able to participate. I would like to see skill classifications for athletes so in rougher conditions, unsuitable for novices, intermediate and advanced rowers can still race. With many athletes booking travel and accommodation in advance, we need to minimise the risk of events being cancelled.

Let’s make coastal rowing events more accessible and inclusive.

Can we train together with other clubs and form composite crews? Can we have post-race social events where stories and advice are shared, friendships formed?

Of course, the more the merrier. We run the Coastal Barbarians and compete in the South West Coastal Rowing League. The Coastal Barbarians is made up of individuals and members from different rowing clubs that come together to train and race. We row in singles, doubles and sometimes form composite crews for quads. We encourage all those who want to try coastal rowing to become a Barbarian or contact the South West coastal clubs so they can take part in these events.

The South West Coastal Rowing League has eight events each year, it welcomes novice to experienced rowers, it is run by great people in fantastic rowing locations; with boats available to borrow or hire. And yes it would be great to have more “idea sharing socials” and a training day before or after each event.

Our objective is to make coastal rowing events more accessible and inclusive.



Let’s increase participation in ‘all’ rowing communities; let’s not compete amongst ourselves, let’s help each other, by sharing facilities, sharing events and knowledge.

People want rowing to be more accessible; so there will be more rowing ‘companies’ delivering rowing in innovative ways; and more rowing boats being privately owned, kept at home to give people the freedom to row when and where they want.

The key factor in improving access to rowing is boat design. The shorter, more stable boats are easier to row, can be stored at home, or club, and put on the top of a car easily. They enable people of all ages, and abilities, to row all year round, anywhere.

We need to do more to generate interest in rowing from the ground up, we need more initiatives like Mini-Rowing to include youngsters.

Row for Life focuses on Endurance because it is accessible and inclusive. We need to be innovative and develop new engaging event formats. We welcome your ideas.

The Coastal Barbarians will help everyone interested in competing in coastal rowing events. Look up the South West Coastal Rowing League; hope to see you there.

Coastal rowing is a game changer; it will build grassroots participation because it is accessible and inclusive.