women wearing red robies rowing a gig boat out to sea in the sunshine

As a nation surrounded by ocean, it’s no surprise that water sports are a deep part of our tradition that have survived the test of time. Whilst swimming and surfing are popular sports practiced by many around the UK, the roots of our seafaring excursions lie in sailing and rowing. Enter the Isle of Scilly Pilot Gig World Championships, an international competition celebrating not only the activity but our heritage and history. 

 oars on the water

A pilot gig is a long, narrow, oar-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 sailing 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. Whenever a new gig was built, it would be tested against other boats in the fleet to ensure it was as fast as possible. 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.


Alongside scooping the trophy at the world champs, teams also venture to the Scillies for the social scene. Gig rowing is a notoriously communal sport, and most teams will head to the local pub post-training for pints, partying (especially on the Isles) and camaraderie. The competition brings together over 150 teams from around the world, and many rowers develop strong friendships not just within their own crew, but amongst the entire community. 

 women rowing wearing red robies

Rowing is a full-body workout. It strengthens major muscle groups in your arms, legs and core, and increases cardiovascular endurance. Endurance exercise such as rowing not only causes your body to feel fitter, but have an uplifting effect on your mind too. Endorphins are released, triggering a positive mental attitude. Couple this with being out on the water, enveloped by fresh sea air and a supportive team, and you have a recipe for health and happiness like no other.

Sound like something you’d like to get involved in? We are proud to be partnered with Falmouth Gig Club (who’s Ladies A team scooped 6th place at the championships this year!), and below you’ll find their tips for learning to row and joining the team.


“At Falmouth Gig Club we teach people aged 16 and over to row gigs, from scratch, all year round.

 Our Novices sessions run on Wednesdays at 6pm from early May until late September. Through the winter months they are on Saturdays at 12pm. Updates on the exact dates of the transition will appear on the club Facebook page

You don’t need to sign up beforehand, just turn up! Come along to the Watersports Centre (between Trago and Events Square) for an introduction to gig rowing. You'll be given instruction from an experienced coxwain, and no prior experience is needed. It costs just £2 a session.

You won’t need any special gear. Most people just wear comfortable clothing appropriate to the weather, and trainers. If you enjoy the session, you can join the club. We have excellent facilities, lots of top rowers and coaches, and a huge amount to offer in both competitive and non-competitive rowing.”

You can contact Falmouth rowing club via their website.  

 gig boat rowing through Falmouth harbour

If you’re not based near Falmouth, or in Cornwall, you’re sure to find your local gig club on Google. Most will run novice training sessions, and welcome new members. Good ways to keep fit for rowing, or prepare for the activity, involve rowing machines, which you’ll find in most gyms, weight training, squats and pull ups. General cardio is also important, and can be improved through running, cycling and swimming. 


We hope this blog has inspired you to try something new, and that you enjoy taking to the water. Happy rowing! 


woman wearing red vest top reading Falmouth Gig Club rolls up her towelling robie