Pins and Clips vs. Standard Oarlocks

I’m going to start off  by telling you I am extremely biased in my opinion regarding pins and clips and standard oarlocks.

I’ve been rowing drift boats and rafts since I was 12 years old and I’ve always used standard oarlocks. However, since I’m reviewing each method, I’ll be as balanced as possible (pins and clips are for wussies).

Advantages of Standard Oarlocks

1. The oar isn’t locked into one position. Some people  would deem this a disadvantage, but it’s better to have your oar free. You need to be able to move your oar around in the oarlock.

There are countless times rowing that you need to pull your oar in to avoid hitting the bank or some other obstacle. The standard oarlock allows the free movement of the oar, it’s easy to pull them out of harms way. 

It’s also a lot easier to tuck your oars forward or back when you need to, like when you’re slipping through a tight slot. Hell, I’ve even had instances where I’ve had to pull the oar free of the oarlock altogether to keep it from snapping. This is impossible to do quickly with pins and clips.

2. Feathering the Oar. Some oars-people consider this showing off, but whenever I’m pushing a raft down river with standard oarlocks I always feather the oar so the blade is horizontal to the water as soon as I’ve pulled it from the water and am pulling it back to the top of the forward push.

I do this to help the blade cut through any wind resistance. It’s become a habit for me and I do it even when there isn’t any wind.

With pins and clips the oar is locked in place and can’t be feathered. It’s quite noticeable when a brisk wind comes up.

3. Adjusting arm width. Standard oar locks allow a rower to pull the oar handles closer to the body or farther away. When I row, I’m constantly adjusting where my oars are. 

Sometimes I want my oars way out and sometimes I want them close to my body. Pins and clips are immovable in this regard so you better hope you have them set up appropriately.

4. Easier to rest with Standard oar-locks. Since standard oarlocks allow movement up and down the oar shaft, it’s easy to rest your arms without having to let the oars dangle in the water.

When i’m drifting, I’ll pull the oars in until the balance point is weighted towards the inside of the raft. Then I’ll either let the handles fall into the bottom of the boat, with the blades harmlessly out of the water, or I’ll tuck the handles under my legs and relieve some strain on my shoulders.

This is impossible with pins and clips. The only way to take your hands off the oar is to either stow them alongside the raft with the blades tucked into the front of the raft, or you have to allow the blades to float in the water and hope they don’t get caught on the bottom and break the raft frame or the oar itself.

Advantages of Pins and Clips (not many)

1. Hard to lose an oar. Like most rafters I’ve had oars pop out of the standard oarlock. I’ve never actually lost an oar, we usually have them tethered to the raft, but it does happen and can be dangerous.

Pins and clips won’t pop because they are secured to the oarlock. The only way you could lose an oar would be if the oar-lock itself broke.

2. Angle of oar never changes. To me this is a huge disadvantage, however for pins and clips enthusiasts this is the most important point.

No matter what’s going on in the rapid the angle of the oar entering and pulling through the water never changes. You never miss a stroke due to improper oar placement.

This is a disadvantage to me because I like to use different angles based on how the current is hitting the oar.

If I want a full, hard stroke I place the oar as perpendicular to flow as possible, but sometimes the flow isn’t totally linear.

Water is fluid movement; constantly changing. I’ll sometimes change the angle of the blade in the middle of  a stroke because i’ll feel the waters’ direction. It’s subtle and I enjoy the tiny adjustments.

In fact this last point is why I hate pins and clips so much…they’re basically training wheels. They take out any error you may make with oar placement, they don’t allow you to play with angles and feel the water. You’ve gotta take off the training wheels if you want to feel the true potential of the bike.

My Final Point

I was exposed to pins and clips when I lived in Spokane Washington for 3 years. For some reason everyone has pins and clips there.

When I told them they should graduate from the training wheels, they acted like I was insane. Their big thing was losing oars… they were terrified of losing an oar at the wrong instant.

My rebuttal to this was, if you’re rowing correctly you shouldn’t lose an oar and if you do, you should be ready to crank out the spare. I can replace a lost oar with a spare in about 2 seconds.

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