I have seen 'Single-oar sculling' on Gondola's and in crowded harbors (i.e Asia). From what I have seen on TV it looks like it is mostly an attempt to combine higher sight lines (paddle while standing) and paddling in a narrower path (i.e. the power stroke can be inside the beam of the boat, unlike a row boat that has oars extending several feet to each side)

Single-oar sculling is the process of propelling a watercraft by moving a single, stern-mounted oar from side to side while changing the angle of the blade so as to generate forward thrust on both strokes. The technique is very old and its origin uncertain, though it is thought to have developed independently in different locations and times. It is known to have been used in ancient China,[4] and on the Great Lakes of North America by pre-Columbian Americans. Source

Sculling Image source Wikipedia

In recreational boating you normally expect to have less traffic and are less desirous of spending all your paddle time standing.

Is there any current usage of 'Single-oar sculling' in recreational boating?

  • Does punting count?
    – ab2
    Aug 30, 2018 at 16:51
  • I was also thinking of coracles, but the usual stroke there is a form of sculling draw stroke.
    – Chris H
    Aug 30, 2018 at 20:10

6 Answers 6


Yes ! In Britanny (France) we do 'Single-oar sculling' for recreational boating. I have 2 boats (4 and 5m) in which single oar sculling is the only way to propel the boat (no motor, no sail). I use the smaller boat to go fishing at sea (line and baskets) and the bigger one to scull with friends or for cruising. We sail for few days (2 to 8) in relative quiet sea, sculling 3 to 15 miles a day, sleaping, eating on board... more info : https://universitedelagodille.org/ G. R.


It's mostly a lost skill (in the UK) for forward propulsion, though I have seen older fishermen use it for moving small dinghies around. I've played around with it a little myself and it's fairly easy going once you get the rhythm. The primary advantage over rowing is that you can see where you're going which becomes significant in busy waterways. It's otherwise considerably slower and feels less efficient.

For kayaking and canoeing there's a similar stroke primarily for lateral movement under the heading of sculling draw, though that's a pull rather than a push stroke, coracles are also powered in a similar manner.

  • It's also possible to do a sculling pry stroke, but again that's sideways rather than forwards movement
    – Chris H
    Sep 1, 2018 at 6:10

I know of a sailboat owner/restorer who has made a point of installing yuloh fittings and uses the yuloh (specialized oar for sculling) preferentially over the outboard motor when possible.


She's a sailmaker by trade, but her use of her Nordic Folkboat definitely falls into the "recreational" category.

"In recreational boating you normally expect to have less traffic" - well, maybe for certain values of "normal". Just because you might spend significant amounts of time outside of crowded waterways doesn't mean that you won't encounter them, especially if you're traveling between different coastal locations with your boat, and especially if your home port happens to require you to negotiate shared fairways for several minutes at a time at the beginning and the end of your day's outing.


My brother learned it in sea scouts and used it then to bring in the small boat alone, while the others took care of the sail and tidying up.

Later in life he used it in a boat which was too wide to row alone, in cases of outboard motor failing and some other cases where arrival time was improved based on knowing how to move a boat forward alone on man power.


There’s apparently a version of single-oar sculling performed lying on one’s back in a low, flat boat custom built for the purpose of stealthily approaching waterfowl:



One time I've seen it done is by the steersman of a dragon boat when going straight. It only adds a little thrust but an experienced helmsman can help novices along a little.

  • I'm trying to find a reference to back this up but haven't got the right search terms yet
    – Chris H
    Aug 30, 2018 at 16:34
  • 2
    Dragon boating is pretty popular around here, I'll ask some people I know about it.
    – ShemSeger
    Aug 30, 2018 at 19:17
  • 2
    Hi, dragonboater here. Yes, coxswains (steers) often do this especially when we're untying and bringing the boats to the rest of the crew from their docks and have no one else on the boat. No, we never do this to 'help novices'. It does extremely little in terms of forward propulsion and is more used more for the sake of just getting it from the storage dock, to the crew if there happens to be no extra rowers to follow the cox/steers.
    – S. Ong
    Aug 7, 2019 at 8:45

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