Hydrodynamics of rowing propulsion

E. J. Grift*, M. J. Tummers, J. Westerweel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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This paper presents the results of the time resolved flow field measurements around a realistic rowing oar blade that moves along a realistic path through water. To the authors' knowledge no prior account of this complex flow field has been given. Simultaneously with the flow field measurements, the hydrodynamic forces acting on the blade were measured. These combined measurements allow us to identify the relevant flow physics that governs rowing propulsion, and subsequently use this information to adjust the oar blade configuration to improve rowing propulsion. Analysis of the instationary flow field around the oar blade during the drive phase indicated how the initial formation, and subsequent development, of leading-edge and trailing-edge vortices are related to the generation of instationary lift and drag forces, and how these forces contribute to rowing propulsion. It is shown that the observed individual flow mechanisms are similar to the flow mechanisms observed in bird flight, but that the overall propulsive mechanism for rowing propulsion is fundamentally different. To quantify the rowing propulsion efficiency, we introduced the energetic efficiency and the impulse efficiency, where the latter can be interpreted as the alignment of the generated impulse with the propulsive direction. It is found that in the conventional oar blade configuration, the generated impulse is not aligned with the propulsive direction, indicating that the propulsion is suboptimal. By adjusting the angle at which the blade is attached to the oar, the generation of leading- A nd trailing-edge vortices is altered such that the generated impulse better aligns with the propulsive direction, thus increasing the efficiency.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberA29
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • propulsion
  • vortex shedding
  • wakes/jets


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