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What are Oar Locks?

Oar locks are pivotal devices in rowing, acting as a fulcrum for oars to pivot on and enabling rowers to propel and steer their boats efficiently. These simple yet ingenious fittings ensure oars remain in place, allowing for precise control and powerful strokes. Curious about how oar locks evolved and their impact on the sport? Dive deeper into the history and mechanics of rowing with us.
Cassie L. Damewood
Cassie L. Damewood

Oar locks are devices attached to the sides of a small boat that hold the oars in place. As useful as oars and paddles are to move a boat, they are easy to lose, especially in rough waters or inclement weather. Oar locks not only keep the oars from falling into the water, they also keep the oars steady and straight to facilitate the oaring process. The fulcrum created by the oar lock provides the control needed to successfully navigate the vessel.

The oar lock consists of an oar-supporting member, a hinge, and a bolt to connect the two. The oar-supporting member consists of a cylindrical clamping plate and a rectangular bottom part with a rectangular opening. The oar is secured through the holes of supporting member and through the hinged part. The movement of the oar is restricted within a specified range to optimize the movement between the oar and the water and provide control to the person navigating the boat. The dynamic force the rower applies on the water with the oar is transferred to the boat by the force exerted on the oar lock.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Depending on the vessel, oar locks are attached to different parts of the boat. On regular rowing vessels, the oar locks are attached to the gunwales. On boats used for sports rowing, the oar locks are attached to outriggers, often more simply referred to as riggers.

Oar locks were originally constructed out of two wooden posts that cradled the shaft of the oars. Today, oar locks are made of a variety of materials including bronze, galvanized steel, chrome, and zinc. They are available in ribbed and round horn designs, and all have an end hole for safety chains. Safety chains provide extra protection from the oars getting lost as they can fairly easily be dislodged from oar locks during vigorous use or by simple carelessness.

Other safety products to protect the oars include oar stops, which prevent the oar locks from slipping. Oar leathers provide protection for oar shafts when round oar locks are used. The buttons on the leathers keep the oars in place so they cannot slip through the locks.

Outboard motors may provide record-breaking speeds and sails may dramatically unfurl in the shadow of the setting sun, but rowing remains the simplest and most common method people use to get to and from their moored vessels from the shore. Oar locks help ensure that those people are able to get there more efficiently and safely.

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