There are two kinds of rowing shells (or boats), sweep and sculling. In sweep boats, rowers handle one oar each; in sculls, each rower handles two oars.
Sculls can be for one, two or four people and rarely have a coxswain. Sculls are identified by the designation "x", so 2x would indicate a two-person scull.
Sweep boats hold two, four or eight rowers, sometimes with a coxswain. They are designated as with coxswain (+) or without (-), so 4+ would indicated a sweep four with coxswain.
Although the Tar Heels have other boats for training, the team generally races in eights and fours, both with coxswains. The Tar Heels' stable of boats includes five eights, four fours, four pair/doubles and two singles.
Eights are the focal point of collegiate-level racing. Most teams field a varsity eight (the team's top boat), a second varsity eight, a varsity four and a novice eight, with some also racing a second novice eight.
Eights are approximately 60 feet long and weigh about 250 pounds. They cost around $25,000.
The coxswain, sitting in the stern or lying down in the bow, steers the boat and calls out the stroke count. Coxswains act as coaches in the boat, steering and encouraging the rowers.
Each stroke consists of a catch (oar enters the water), drive (the oar is pulled through the water), release (oar is removed from the water) and recover (oar is positioned for next stroke). In a varsity eight race, boats row an average stroke count of anywhere from 32 to 40 strokes per minute.
In sweep boats, rowers are designated as port or starboard. Portside rowers have their oars on the right side of the boat (as seen from the persepective of a rower) and starboardside rowers have their oars on the left side.
The bow is the front of the boat and the stern is the rear end. Rowers row with their backs to the bow, facing in the direction from which they have come. The coxswain usually is seated in the stern.
The seats in each boat are numbered, counting up from one. The seat closest to the bow is known as the bow seat and is seat 1. The seat closest to the stern - seat 8 in an eight, seat 4 in a four - is known as the stroke. That rower sets the cadence for the boat.