A Brief History of Gig Rowing

The historic tradition of gig rowing has been alive in Cornwall since the 18th Century. Once a lucrative form of employment for seafarers, and now a popular sport, pilot gigs clubs are found in nearly every seaside and harbour town throughout Cornwall.


A pilot gig is a long, narrow, paddle-powered vessel with 6 fixed seats for oarsmen and helmed by a coxwain. Gigs were originally used to transport a ‘pilot’ from land to large vessels in need of specialist navigation to get them safely into port. Whichever gig reached the ship first won the right to pilot her in, plus the pot of prize money. The crew also gained the work of repairing or servicing the boat during it’s stay. Gigs were also historically used as lifeboats and for smuggling. 

As the pay was so sought after, pilot gigs were made to be as fast as possible, due to each team being desperate for victory. Whenever a new gig was built, it would be tested against other boats in the fleet to ensure it was as agile and streamline as could be. Due to a healthy dose of competitive spirit and an element of sportsmanship, these trial runs became permanent fixtures between crews, and pilot gig racing came into fruition. 

Gigs nowadays are created to the specifications of Treffry, a pilot gig that was built almost 200 years ago in St. Mawes. Treffry, crafted by William Peters (who declared her to be “his finest gig yet”), measures 32ft in length and 4ft 10in in beam (width) and is still in use today. Over 100 of these beautiful boats land on the shores of St. Mary’s, Isle of Scilly, ready to race, in late April or early May every year. 


The most well known pilot gig race is the world championships on the Isles of Scilly. The World Pilot Gig champs have been running since 1990, and attracts crews from both the south west of England, across the UK and even internationally. Gig rowers of all ages descend upon the Scillies in droves, with 150 teams entering the championships every spring. 

We are proud to be supporting the women’s A team of the Falmouth Gig Club, who have scooped gold at the world champs 16 times. Good luck ladies! 


gig boat on a blue ocean surrounded by the isles of scilly