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A rowlock on a rowing boat
A rowlock used for the sport of rowing

A rowlock[1] UK: /ˈrɒlək/, sometimes spur (due to the similarity in shape and size), oarlock (USA)[2] or gate, is a brace that attaches an oar to a boat. When a boat is rowed, the rowlock acts as a fulcrum, and, in doing so, the propulsive force that the rower exerts on the water with the oar is transferred to the boat by the thrust force exerted on the rowlock.

On ordinary rowing craft, the rowlocks are attached to the gunwales. In the sport of rowing, the rowlocks are attached to outriggers (often just called "riggers"), which project from the boat and provide greater leverage. In sport rowing, the rowlocks are normally U-shaped and attached to a vertical pin which allows the rowlock to pivot around the pin during the rowing stroke. They additionally have a locking mechanism (properly known as "the gate") across the top of the "U" to prevent the oar from unintentionally popping out of the rowlock.

Originally, rowlocks were two wooden posts or thole pins that the shaft of the oar nestled between. Single thole pins may be used when the oars have holes cut into the loom, which then sits over/around the thole pin.[3]

Sport rowing[edit]

In sport rowing oarlocks were originally brass or bronze and open (no gate). With the advent of modern materials oarlocks are now injection moulded plastic and precision made to minimize play (slop) between the oar collar and the oarlock. The most recent sport racing oarlocks have a spring loaded feature to keeps the oar collar firmly against the pin at all times.

Oarlocks are technical pieces of equipment in sport rowing, holding the oar shaft and therefore the oar blade at the correct angle in the water to ensure optimum performance.


A coat of arms of Hailuoto

The Norwegian municipalities of Fosnes, Radøy and Tjøme have rowlocks in their coats-of-arms. Also, the theme of the coat of arms of the Hailuoto Island in Finland describes the economy of the municipality; the explanation of the coat of arms is "in a blue field with a silver rowlock."[4][5]


  1. ^ "rowlock Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary". Retrieved 14 January 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ "Oarlock - definition and common misspellings". Retrieved 14 January 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ Captain Dennis Robinson FNI, Master Mariner
  4. ^ Suomen kunnallisvaakunat (in Finnish). Suomen Kunnallisliitto. 1982. p. 129. ISBN 951-773-085-3.
  5. ^ "Sisäasiainministeriön vahvistamat kaupunkien, kauppaloiden ja kuntien vaakunat 1949-1995 I:8 Hailuoto". Kansallisarkiston digitaaliarkisto (in Finnish). Retrieved March 15, 2021.