“The Physics of Rowing” is written by Jacqueline Carr, a 13-year-old 8th grader at Venado Middle School in Irvine, California. Jacqueline is a member of student council and Junior National Honor Society. In addition to rowing, she loves music, science, and dogs.
The Physics of RowingBy Jacqueline Carr
My new sport is rowing–think the Geico commercial in which the guinea pigs are rowing and the coxswain says, “row, row, row.” I row the type of boat that students from Harvard University rowed in the movie “The Social Network.”
I discovered that understanding physics can help athletes excel in sports. In the Disney movie “Ice Princess,” a girl applied principles of physics–centripetal force and moment of inertia–to spin faster and become a more competitive figure skater.
The rowers on my team practice five days a week, three hours a day at the Newport Bay. Many hope to get college scholarships and one of our coaches won a medal in the Olympics. In addition to getting a great workout, we enjoy going out on the water–and often see dolphins, seals, seagulls or pelicans.
Rowers from Newport Aquatic Center carry the boat and prepare for a race in Long Beach.
The boat is over 55 feet long. There are eight rowers, and because it is difficult to get the rowers to all row together to optimize the speed of the boat, we have a coxswain who faces us, motivates us, and keeps us rowing in sync and heading in the right direction.
We try to use the minimal amount of work to create power and let the boat glide on the water between strokes. Our coach, Allie Greene at the Newport Aquatic Center (NAC) explained the mechanics of using the boat and oars and the forces on the water –buoyancy, resistance, drag, and friction.
Although I just started rowing this year–turning to the sport as many rowers do because they were injured in a different sport–it doesn’t hurt to understand the physics and rowing to get a competitive edge. This article by an Oxford University physics lecturer and a rowing coach, Anu Dudhia, answers many questions:
- Why don’t you go twice as fast if you pull twice as hard?
- Why are heavier rowers faster than lighter rowers?
- How much does the weight of the coxswain affect the boat speed?
- Why do boats continue to accelerate (and move quickest) after the end of the stroke?
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