There is a super simple test you can do to see if your rigger height is set in the correct spot—it’s called the Height Check. It will help you easily determine if your oarlock has the proper height. Here’s how you do it. (Steps are the same for sweep or sculling).
Step 1: Prepare. Launch your boat and find a relatively calm spot of water. The rower(s) should then sit at the release position with the blades square in the water.
Step 2: Set Hands. The hands should be placed lightly on the handle, and the blade of the oar should be allowed to find its natural depth.
Step 3: Position Oar. At this release position, the handle should just be touching into the rower’s chest area. (Or in sculling, about a thumbs width from the rib cage.) It is important that the shell is on an even keel, so I recommend you do this test with at least one pair keeping the shell balanced.
Now check where the oar handle touches the rower’s body.
Step 4: Look. If the height is properly adjusted, the butt of the handle should be just an inch or two above the xiphoid process, which is the bottom of the rower’s sternum (chest bone). The rower’s outside forearm should be parallel to the water’s surface.
Step 5: Assess. If the outside arm is NOT parallel to the water, then look at its position:
- If the wrist is higher than the elbow, the oarlock is too high.
- If the wrist is lower than the elbow, the oarlock is too low.
Step 6: Adjust. If the oarlock has snap spacers, have the rower, or you, adjust the spacers.
If there are not snap spacers, or you would rather not adjust on the water, bring the boat in to the dock and adjust on the dock, or do it in slings.
Either way, try to adjust as soon as possible, because the rower will be more efficient and more comfortable with the correct height.
The Height Check will give you a good idea if your heights are correct. However, there are two other signs to keep your eyes and ears alert for that may signal you that the rigger height need adjusting.
- When a rower complains of discomfort, especially in the small of the back or in the shoulders.
- When a rower has difficulty extracting the blade cleanly from the water.
Either of these may be due to something else, such as pitch or a technique problem or previous injury. However, having trouble at the release (such as rowing it out or feathering underwater) or rower’s complaint of discomfort, is a fairly good sign you need to check the height.
Don’t be surprised, or overwhelmed, if you end up adjusting a rigger’s height several times before you get the height right. A good rule of thumb is:
Adjusting the height tends to be a constant process and may take a couple of tries before you get it perfect, but it will be worth the time and energy.
Watch this video (Measuring the Height of a Rigger) if you’d like more info about riggers, oarlocks and height.