Understanding oars on a drift boat is not easy.

In fly fishing, if the rod and reel balance at the front of the grip, rod use is balanced and less effort is needed.

In talking with Randy Dersham at the Fest, Randy talked about how the experienced guides had thoughts about the compromises with each boat design, but there was no doubt about a favorite pair of oars.

Brad Dimock recently hosted an oar tuning seminar to achieve oar shaping to reach a good user objective.

My perspective is limited to hours of rowing or maybe tens of hours, a newbie at best when others have decades of experience.

Does anyone have suggestions where the static balance point of the oar should be located? The oar lock variation could easily change a foot or so, but what about some suggestions. My Barkley Sound oars have a static balance point near the blade end of the rope wrap.

Also, William of Outdoor Adventures suggests a flat strap wrap instead of a rope wrap, as well as an oar lock yoke point as far above gunwale as possible.

I know there have been numerous discussions about boat beam and oar length, but let's assume the best length is already decided. What can be done to make the oars feel better?

Thanks for the comments.


Views: 1226

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

After much mulling over options and reading a whole bunch of web sites and posts here and on Wooden Boat Forum I decided to rework my oars to eliminate as much mass as I can below the oar locks. Before they are reworked I made a bunch of measurements and recorded them in a notebook for future reference.  I'll be making a set from basswood as soon as these are completed and back in the boat.

I am reducing the diameter of the shaft below the wrapping to 1.50" dia and tapering that to about 1 1/4" dia at the beginning of the blade.  Also I have reduced the thickness of the blade at the edge to approx. 3/8" from 1/2" to 5/8" and thinning it down approx. 3/32" leaving it a diamond shape (looking from the end).

The first picture below is of the spare oar reworked, the port oar partially reworked and the S'board oar still in original trim.

I am hoping to eliminate a pound or more, but that'll be a stretch.  I'll take whatever I get. Currently they are 8.4 lbs with the wrapping in place.

They have zero flex when pulling hard in current, I have had to do this several times this spring in fast water.  I expect that'll change after they are reworked.  Being Ash, I am anticipating they'll have some flex.  We'll see but I plan on the spare oar being in the boat next time it's in the water.

We'll see what happens,


I really think you are going about this the wrong way.  Ask a lot of people about oar setups and you will get lot of answers and they won't all be the same.  Just because Martin Litton did it his way doesn't mean it's right  for you.   I have friends who row aluminum oars with pins and clips.  I hate those things but they work for them.   I won't tell you what I row because it won't match what other like.  I have 2 boats and row 9 foot and 9 foot 6 oars.  Not commenting on the material.

Don't listen to anyone.  If possible your best bet is to borrow oars and row other boats.  You have got to determine the feel that is right for you.  The difference between tree trunk no flex ash oars, glass, aluminum, and spruce is huge and we all have a different preferences.  

I have been on Grand trips where I have rowed many different setups.   To me it's important to be able to step up and row whatever is put in your hands without getting hung up on the religious issue of what's right. If you are half way down Horn Creek and the oarsman get washed overboard you won't have time to worry about the oar setup when you need to take over.   When I need to take over with pins and clips I just deal with it like it or not.  While open locks are not for everyone it's worth getting used to them in case you need to take over.

Oar and oar lock devices are very personal.  Bard Dimock is a professional boater and I doubt he rows what I row.  That doesn't make either one of us wrong or right.

Hi lhedrick,

My experience has not included the opportunities to spend time in drift boat and row a variety of rivers. It would be a nice to try different oars and boats to come up with personal preferences.

My only opportunity to be around more than three drift boats was at the 2015 McKenzie get together. If I had thought about oars prior, I would have spent more time hefting oars instead chatting with a lot of new folks and seeing boat setups.

My background with oars spans a half century but drift boats are the newest chapter. Over the years I have rowed an Adirondack guide boat and St Lawrence skiff from the 1890's. The oars were probably close to original. On the other hand, I have an 8-foot sailing dinghy that works fine with the aluminum / plastic oars for rowing around easy water. Over the years of sailing and seeing nice rowing craft, I have come to appreciate the comments from author's like John Gardner and Pete Culler since they appreciate rowing and have put effort into writing to share the knowledge with others. I can get a copy of Pete Culler's book with an Internet search quicker than I can drive to the McKenzie event. It seems folks like Dorf also look backward for information instead of fellow rowers or the current commercial oar offerings. In Souther CA where I live, I would probably have to drive 300 miles to see a place that offered a variety of oars or find someone to compare notes. (The drift boat community is obviously bigger in OR WA ID MT etc.)

So, we are simply trying to pick your brains and find some comments that may shed additional insight. And, I am sure I will come up with the best plan until a good idea makes it better.

If I go overboard, I hope you are along to help save my butt. I can't guarantee that I could do as good of job if you went over, but I would certainly try. Of course, if it is a iffy rapid, most likely some one other than me would be at the oars.

I appreciate all comments. Thanks,

Today I finished reworking the the Port Side Oar, except the epoxy and varnish finish.  I weighed the reworked oar and it was down to 6.2 Lbs.  I am surprised it lost 2.2 lbs.  So I wedged the blade between a work bench and a cabinet and loaded it trying to bend it.  It has some flex where as the un-reworked oar didn't flex anywhere near as much.  So I think I accomplished what I set out to do, that is reduce the mass below the oar locks. 

Being new at this rowing thing, never have rowed any kind of boat before more than five minutes trying to impress some girl.  I was and am just trying to make my effort to manipulate my wooden drift boat in a flowing river for purposes of getting in a position to "Throw a Line" at fish.  I don't expect to ever take it down any of the Western Rivers where rowing experience is a vital necessity.  If I make it there I'll hire a guide to do that part for me, Rick you available?

After I researched a bunch of folks ideas on oars I came to the same conclusion as Ihedrick, there as many opinions as there are people and I decided to rework mine to suit my needs, period.  I think I have done that.

Remember, keep your stick on the Ice,


Yes, when are you coming West?


© 2021   Created by Randy Dersham.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service