Choosing Your Perfect Oars
By Paul Bagshaw

Paul builds custom oars in Nanaimo, British Columbia. You should visit his website at:

One may ask "why row"? There are many reasons ranging from pleasure to neccessity, but finding the type of oar you need can be daunting to the newcomer as there are many different designs, lengths, and wood types available.

The 1st thing to sort out is, what length of oar do you need. The general rule of thumb is usually twice the beam of the boat or the following formula can be used for a more accurate measurement: Measure the beam of your boat between the locks in inches, divide by 2, add 2, divide by 7 then multiply by 25. This will give a rough idea of the length of oar needed in inches.

There are many other things to consider for determining the proper length and this can make a large difference in the comfort and efficiency of your oars. If the boat is easily propelled through the water and requires little effort to get moving ie. sculls, wherry's, whitehalls, glouchester dory, etc. - anything with fine lines, you will want a longer oar to keep pace with the faster speed travelled through the water. Outriggers and sliding seats can also let you use a substantially longer oar if you are rowing a narrow fine-lined hull. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the oar that is used in river rafting or backup propulsion for sailboats, aluminum and fiberglass fishing boats, etc. Fundamentally any slow moving vessel that has a lot of mass and displacement and requires a substantial effort to keep the vessel making progress will need a more robust, shorter oar if possible. It all boils down to fulcrum and leverage points and trying to produce a rowing pace of 20-30 strokes per minute.

Shaft flex is another important aspect to consider. A oar with very little flex can be hard on the joints and tendons over a longer session of rowing. Having a bit of flex at the end of the stroke creates a nice "kick" for that extra push, but you must take into consideration durability as well. A broken oar will only leave you rowing in circles, which brings us to the fact that one should always carry 3 or more oars onboard at all times because oars can break or get lost overboard. We offer a 20% discount on the 3rd oar if you decide you need a backup.

The styles of oars available for use are generally the flat (tradional) blade or spoon (cupped) blade oar. The spoon blade is 33% more efficient as it holds the water for 30 degrees of the stroke compared to the flat blade that holds it for 20 degrees. Obviously if you are doing a lot of back strokes on the oars, ie. river rafters, a flat blade is a much better choice. The cost of a spoon blade is well worth the extra money if oars are the main form of propulsion for your boat and backstrokes are rarely used.

Wood types are another major concern to help decipher the perfect oar for your application. The most common species of wood used in oar construction are spruce, fir and ash, spruce being the lightest and most popular. The fir and ash are used primarily for river rafting and high stress applications where strength rather than weight is the priority. Hybrid oars are another good option as well, if you are river rafting in calm water but occasionally come into contact with rocks, a spruce shaft with ash blades would make an excellent choice.

You should also make sure there are few if any knots in the oar, although a few pinhole knots will not affect the overall integrity. The grain of the oar shaft should be 90 degrees to the blade or run in the same direction as the sweep of the oar and the blades grain should also run vertically through the blade.

I prefer an unvarnished handle as they are less prone to causing callouses but you must take care that the oars are not left in the elements too long. Another option is the foam grip that slides over the handle as they form nicely to the hand and offer a cushioning effect as well.

Hopefully this will help you to find your "perfect" oar and that you use them to log many enjoyable miles under your keel.