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Rowing differs from paddling in that the paddles of a rowboat—the "oars"—are secured in oarlocks. This creates a lever, allowing a much longer stroke and making it easier to apply the force needed to move the boat. This is why many rowboats can be both wider and heavier than canoes and kayaks. Most rowboats except sculls also have square sterns, so that they can be operated with electrical or gasoline motors as well.

Rowboats used to be planked or plywood, and a few custom builders still lovingly put together such collector's items. But the most common material in rowboats today is aluminum.

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