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“What length of oar do I need for my boat?” is one of the most common questions we get. We’ve tried to help you make that choice with our Oar Sizing Guide. It gives length suggestions based on the standard NRS frame widths. The key word there is “suggestions”. There really is no hard-and-fast: “this is the exact, and only, oar length that will work in this situation.” Oar length, like Life, has shades of gray.
There is a “rule of thumb” that’s pretty good: Approximately one-third of the oar length will be inboard of the oar mount and two-thirds outboard of the mount. Hmm, but if you take that formula and try to apply it to the Oar Sizing Guide, it doesn’t seem to work. Why? On the one hand, remember that with the NRS Oar Mount, the oarlock or pin will be positioned three to four inches out beyond the center of the side rail. When you add in that extra width, the math comes out pretty close. But then, on the other hand, after all it is just a rule of thumb. The rower’s height and the tube diameter of the inflatable or seating height in the drift boat probably only slightly affect the choice of oar length.
Now, before I totally confuse and depress you, let me say that if you follow those suggestions in the Oar Sizing Guide, you’re going to be okay. They’re close enough to ideal that they’ll work fine for you. Now, say for a 60” wide frame, if you have the luxury of trying three sets of oars, 8’, 8.5’ and 9’, over a period of time you’ll probably find you prefer one over the other two. However, if you only have the one set, you’ll get used to them and they’ll feel “right”.
A while back, my buddy Tyler and I were on a multiday trip. He’d put his boat together from our Company Use stock. The oar selection was pretty picked over and he’d grabbed a set that were at least a foot longer than they should have been for the frame width. Toward the end of the trip we swapped boats so I could get a feel for the new Revolution raft prototype he was rowing. I thought “What the ____!? How does he row this thing; there’s so much oar outboard of the oarlock that they’re super heavy and unwieldy.” When we swapped back, I commented on it and he said, “Yeah, when I grabbed your oars they felt funny and too light.” In just three-four days, he’d gotten used to an oar length that was well outside the suggested range.
One more personal anecdote: Way back in the day, when I bought my first raft from NRS, a six-foot wide Campways River Rider 13, I put 8.5-foot oars on it; I don’t even remember why. Being a frugal boater (some have crassly called me cheap), when I stepped up to a seven-foot wide NRS Sport II, I just added Oar Extenders to my oars. Then, when I got my current E-150 raft, about the same dimensions as the Sport, with its 66” wide frame, I stayed with 9.5’ oars. Had I started out with 8’ or 9’ oars, I might now be rowing with 9’ or 10’ oars and be as totally convinced that they are the “right” length.
The Hardcore, Double-Down Geek Solution (HDDGS)
If you’re still wanting to “get it right, no maybe about it”, here’s a way to dial it in precisely… well, pretty precisely.
First, two assumptions:
- When the oars are in the oarlocks or on the pins and the shafts are horizontal, there’s approximately four inches between the handle ends.
- When you’re taking a power stroke (pulling back on the oars) and the shafts are sticking out perpendicular to the side, your hands are approximately shoulder high and shoulder wide.
Here’s how I described the procedure in an email to a boater trying to figure out oar length for an NRS Raft Stern Frame:
“Here’s a clever-ish, though cumbersome, way to check for oar length. It will take the help of a friend and a few props.
“With the diameter of the frame pipe, the Oar Mounts and the oarlock, your oar shaft will be ~10” above the tubes. With the diameter of the frame pipe and the thickness of the seat, the bottom of your butt will be ~4” above the stern tube. Sit in your boat on a 4” block (or whatever) and with a long mop handle (or length of pipe or conduit) pivoted ~10” above the tube where the oarlock would go (this is where the friend comes in). Then with your hand on the “pretend oar”, arm extended in a natural mid-stroke position, measure the distance from where the end of the “oar” touches the ground to your thumb (again, thank your friend). Add 24” (which would be the length of the oar blade in the water) to that measurement and you’ll have the approximate length of your oar.”
This works no matter what kind of boat and size/style of frame you have. You just simulate the height of where you’ll be sitting (take into account that three to five inches of your boat tubes will be under water). Also, remember that the pivot point of your oar on the NRS Oar Mount will be three to four inches beyond the center of the side rail. And, be aware that the lengths of Carlisle and Cataract oar shafts is given as though an oar blade (with 27.5” of exposed length) is attached.
- The NRS Oar Sizing Guide gives good guidance on choosing oar length for your boat. It conforms pretty closely to the one-third/two-third rule of thumb.
- To help fine tune your choice of oar length, you can play around with the HDDGS test method.
- If you have buddies with oars or can borrow or rent from a local dealer or college outdoor program, you can also experiment to find out what you like best.
- But most of all, take to heart the words of that great philosopher, Bobby McFerrin, and Don’t Worry, Be Happy.
Boat Often, Boat Safe and try to have Fun while you’re doing it,
Lead NRS Geek