Sliding-Seat, Sliding-Rigger, FrontRower
A description of different types of rowing rigs and the differences between them.
At one time oarlock-on-gunwale rowing was the standard way of moving a boat with oars. The gunwale (pronounced gunnel) is the top rail on the sides of the boat. This is a convenient place to locate the oarlocks, especially if the boat has enough width between the gunwales to get a suitable span between the oarlocks. For a small boat traveling a short distance, one oarsman using a pair of oars with oarlocks mounted on the gunwales is all that is needed.
By all accounts sliding seat rowing was a race driven development. It began with oarsmen greasing their pants and "sliding" on the seats. This allowed them to go faster by bringing the large muscles of their legs into play. As racing rowboats got narrower, the oarlocks were placed on outriggers overhanging the side of the boat in order to get the desired span. The oars got longer—typically 9-1/2 feet long for modern sculling oars. On racing boats. the oar blades act as pontoons and are used to stabilize the boat, which can be very narrow and have no stability of it's own.
Using the lower body as well as the upper body muscles makes sliding seat rowing very good exercise, and the this motion is replicated on rowing machines used in gymnasiums.
Sliding-riggers were also a race driven development. There is a lot of weight shifting going on in the back and forth motion of a sliding-seat rig, and this wastes energy. You can generate the same amount of power with less weight shifting by sitting on a fixed seat and moving the outriggers (and oarlocks) with your feet. This method was used in the World Championship Competition in Munich in 1981 when Peter Michael Kolbe won the Men's Singles. By 1983 all the Men's Singles finalists were using sliding riggers. Then sliding riggers were outlawed from sanctioned competition.
You still see these rigs around. They give you all the power and exercise quality of a sliding-seat rig, but with more mechanical efficiency.
The FrontRower™ rowing system
The development of the FrontRower™ was not driven by racing, but by the need a more practical way of traveling in a human powered boat. It was designed for touring, which is traveling longer distances for the enjoyment of the trip.
The FrontRower™ uses oarlocks mounted on a central tower rather than on outriggers. This gives forward motion when pulling on the handles. It uses a fixed seat and moving pedals connected to the oars by ropes and pulleys. This has less weight shifting than either a sliding-seat or a sliding-rigger. You can row it hands free and the oars will lift, dip, and feather automatically. No other rowing system does this. You can row it with your upper body or your lower body, using completely different sets of muscles. Or you can row it with your upper and lower body combined.
Although not designed specifically for racing, it is more efficient than sliding-seat rowing and capable of outperforming these rigs in the same boats. And the exercise quality is the same.