Catching a Crab While Rowing and How to Recover

Have you ever had that feeling when you’re rowing and all of a sudden, your oar catches on something and you feel yourself being pulled backwards? You’ve just caught a crab! This happens when the blade of the oar catches on the water wrong, which can cause you to lose power and momentum. In this article, we’ll discuss what catching a crab is, where the term originally came from, how you can recover from catching a crab, and the science behind why this happens in a boat. We’ll also provide some tips on how to avoid this while rowing.

What does it mean to catch a crab?

When rowing, there is a phenomenon known as “catching a crab.” This occurs when the oar gets caught in the water, causing the rower to be jerked backwards. The oar can also get tangled in the rower’s clothing, which can lead to capsizing. While it may seem like an accident waiting to happen, catching a crab is actually quite rare. It typically only happens when a rower is inexperienced or careless. 

However, even experienced rowers can catch a crab from time to time. When it does occur, it is usually not serious and can be easily rectified. It should be mentioned however that catching a crab can occasionally wind a rower, so it’s important that the rower is tended to quickly to make sure that they are okay and safe to carry on rowing.

Where did the term come from?

catching a crab
Photo by John Chase on

The term “catching a crab” is believed to have originated in the sport of rowing. In rowing, catching a crab is when a rower’s oar becomes caught in the water, preventing them from making a proper stroke. This can happen for a number of reasons, including bad technique or poorly-maintained equipment. When a rower does this, it not only prevents them from moving forward but can also cause the boat to veer off course. As a result, this is considered to be a serious mistake that can jeopardize the success of an entire race.

While the exact origin of the term is unknown, it is thought to come from the similarity between an oar caught in the water and a crab caught in a net. Over time, the term has become widely used in both rowing and non-rowing contexts as a way to describe someone who is struggling or not performing up to par. 

How do you recover from catching a crab?

catching a crab
Photo by Patrick Case on

If you catch a crab while rowing there is a small possibility that it may leave you feeling winded or even dizzy. It is important to take a few moments to recover before continuing. First, try to assess your surroundings and make sure that you are in a safe area. If you are still in the water, hold on to the boat or dock until you feel steady enough to stand up. Once you are out of the water, take a few deep breaths and sit down if you feel lightheaded. Drink some water and eat a snack if you have one handy. 

If you are still in the water and feel like you are unable to row. Hold your oars in the stable position and stay there until you can see someone to ask for help or until you recover enough to start rowing again. 

A lot of the time when you do catch a crab (however rare that is) you will most likely find that you feel fine afterwards however if you are feeling nauseous or have any other symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. 

Taking a few minutes to recover after catching a crab can help ensure that you stay safe whilst rowing.

The science behind why this happens in a boat

This occurs when the oar blade hits the water at an angle, causing the roar to stop abruptly. The momentum of the rowing motion can then cause the rower to be ejected from the boat in highly extreme cases but most of the time it will just end up either stopping you in the water or slightly winding you. While this may seem like a freak accident, there is actually a science behind it. 

When the oar blade hits the water, it creates a force that is perpendicular to the direction of motion. This force opposes the motion of the boat and can cause it to stop suddenly. The rower’s momentum, meanwhile, continues in the direction of motion. As a result, the rower can be ejected from the boat in some small cases. While this may seem like a dangerous accident, understanding the science behind it can help to prevent it from happening.

How to prevent catching a crab in rowing

Crabbing is a common rowing mistake that can be easily avoided. When rowing, it is important to keep your oars clear of the water until you are in the catch phase of the stroke. If your oars enter the water too early, they can catch on something beneath the surface and cause you to lose control of the boat. Additionally, be sure to keep your hands close to your body and avoid reaching too far forward. This will help you maintain balance and avoid tipping the boat. By following these simple tips, you can prevent crabbing and enjoy a safe and enjoyable rowing experience.

Additional tips for avoiding catching a crab while rowing

One thing I always found quite helpful to try and avoid catching a crab early on in my rowing days was to sit in a quiet part of the river and practice where my oars go when I move into the catch phase. It’s important for your oars to not go too deep when you enter the catch phase as this will not provide you with the optimal amount of water coverage on your oar as there is more oar to pop up and out of the water.

Ideally, once you have the hang of finding that optimal position in the water you should be able to avoid catching crabs a lot of the time, but it happens to the best of us every so often so don’t beat yourself up if it does happen.

Stay safe and have fun

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