We did four days of racing at the Master's World Regatta in Sarasota, FL. We didn't have a trailer for our group so we rented all our boats - a totally new experience for all of us. We often couldn't get our boats until an hour before race time and sometimes, even less. Despite the lack of time, there were a few things we made sure to check each outing. If you row in club boats, used by all different sizes of people, you might find it beneficial to do the same.
Setting the height of the oarlock is pretty basic, but many people don't understand what affects the height. It is not the weight of one individual in the crew but rather the average weight of the crew you should be calculating. Depending on how much weight is in the boat, that is how much displacement there will be of the hull in the water - more weight and the hull will sit lower in the water, less weight and it will sit higher.
Next, find out what weight the hull is designed to carry. If it's designed to carry a crew average of 150 to 175 lbs and your crew averages 125, you'll likely want to put every oarlock as low as it will go, with all the washers on top. The overall height of an individual will have little effect – all that matters here is the height from your hip to your oar height and that doesn't vary much between someone who is 6'4"or 5'4".
Knowing the average weight of the crew and what the hull is designed to carry, you can make a good guess as to how many spacers you want under the oarlock. To make a final check, you need to be on the water and away from the dock. Have the crew sit at the finish in the normal layback position with the blades feathered on the water. Be sure the boat is set. Where does the oar handle come to? We look for the handle to be at the level of the bra strap or heart rate monitor strap. You'll need pop out washers to make this adjustment on the water.
We would also routinely check the height of the foot stretchers and often found ourselves lowering the shoes in the boat. Older boats may not have this option or it may take too much time but the newer boats make it easy. We would lower the shoes as far as they could go without letting the heel touch the bottom of the boat. This made it much easier to get compaction at the catch. This is a mistake people often make on the erg, pulling the tab way up because they have small feet and are more concerned about where the strap fits across their feet than where the heel is.
Some boat manufacturers are also making it easier to adjust the angle of the foot stretcher. While we rarely got around to adjusting this, it's worth checking in your own boat. Too steep an angle, particularly if you're not flexible, and again, you'll have trouble getting full compaction (shins vertical) at the catch.
Shins vertical, full compaction
We were also renting oars, and while most of us knew what length and inboard we row with in our singles, most of us were clueless when it came to sweep oars. After consultation with Concept2, we came up with some numbers, but then had to adjust the foot stretchers to work with our oar length. This we couldn't check until we were on the water, but it could be done at the dock.
Again, we would sit at the finish in the layback position and see where the oar handle came to. In sweep, we were looking for the end of the oar handle to line up with the outside of our body (as in Photo 3). If sculling, we wanted to have our thumbs just brush the body at the release but certainly not hit (as in Photo 4).
Having a boat that fits you will, at the least, make for a much more comfortable row. It can also make you faster and possibly help you avoid injury.