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Pins and Clips vs. Open Oar Locks

ArticleApril 11, 2020

There are arguments about whether to choose open oar locks or pins and clips for attaching the oars to your raft frame. Like any debate—“Ford vs Chevy” or the orientation of toilet paper on the roll—some will claim that there’s only one right way. At NRS, we think there is persuasive reasoning on both sides of this long-running debate.

Rafter holding oar situated in open oar lock.

Sometimes it’s simply personal preference or an article of faith. Boaters should be allowed to make their own choices. To that end, here is some information to consider when choosing open oar locks or pins and clips. We even go so far as to offer a bit of a compromise third option.

Open Oar Locks

Open Oar Locks Diagram
  • Open oar locks allow the oar shaft to spin 360° in the oarlock.
  • It’s easy to pull the oar inboard to avoid objects in tight spots.
  • You control the angle (referred to as “feathering”) of the oar blade in the water with your wrists.
  • You can vary the angle of the blade to control micro-differences in speed and direction.
  • Since your wrists are controlling the blade angle, you’ve got to be on your game when you absolutely need that power stroke; a slight misalignment will mean a loss of efficiency.
  • If you hit an object with the oar and it pops up through the horns of the oarlock it does take both hands to get it back in the oarlock; make sure you have the oar tethered to the frame.
  • A Molded Oar Sleeve or rope wrap is added to the oar shaft to protect it from the friction of the oarlock.

Pins & Clips

Pins and Clips Diagram
  • Your blade is always oriented at the same angle; you don’t have to control it with your wrists. If you need the blade in its most powerful position, it’s always there.
  • You lose the ability to feather the blade angle and to get the nuances of angle control.
  • It’s harder to pull the shaft inboard to miss objects in those tight spots.
  • The clip attaches to the oar shaft with metal hose clamps and then fastens around the pin. (For security you should also add the Oar Stirrups to the setup.)
  • You want to have the clip around the pin so that the oar shaft is on the opposite side of the pin as you’re facing it from the rowing position. That way, when you’re pulling back for your most powerful stroke, the force is against the shaft, not the clip.
  • If the clip pops off the pin the Oar Stirrup will contain it and you can slide it back on one-handed.

Oar Rights: A Third Way

  • Some boaters choose to use open oar locks and add Oar Rights over their Molded Oar Sleeves or rope wrap.
  • The spline of the Oar Right fits between the horns of the oarlock and fixes the blade angle, allowing you to easily pull the shaft inboard when needed.
  • When using the Convertible Oar Right you can switch between having a fixed blade angle and being able to feather the oar. The Oar Right’s spline can rotate 180° on rope wrap; the raised top of the Molded Oar Sleeve prevents a full rotation of the spline.

We realize this will not solve the debate around oar locks vs pins & clips. Our hope is this information will give you a bit more empathy for those who choose opposite of you. Just be aware that there are otherwise right-minded folks who use both systems. They’re relatively sane and fun to hang with on the beach after a hard day of rowing!