They’re beautiful alright. But are they worth the £1000 pound price tag? In this guide, we’re weighing up whether water rowing machines provide any real value, or if they’re just a better-looking version of what’s out there.
What are the real water rowing machine benefits?
When WaterRower was founded in 1988, they had 1 employee and were making a max of 4 machines each day. Now they have around 200 employees and can build as many as 400 machines in a single day. Setting aside how good these machines look, let’s dive into some of the actual pros to owning one.
They’re quiet (and that sound…)
If you’ve ever used a Concept 2 (or other air-based rowing machines) you’ll know they have a certain sound that roars out when you’re rowing. If you’ve used these rowers in a noisy gym, you might be surprised how much louder they sound when you use them at home.
Water machines have turned sound to their advantage. They have a lower volume output and the actual noise they make is a gorgeous swooshing. There’s something really cool about the swoosh they make on every stroke.
Personally, I don’t mind the noise of the Concept 2, but I know it drives some home users up the wall.
They mimic the feel of rowing a boat
Another thing that you can’t really get from pictures and reviews is how they feel. The experience is much closer to rowing a real boat. Water resistance rowers have a different sensation to other forms of resistance, even if you’re performing a similar action to what you do on another rower.
This certain feel comes from the impellers pushing against that water, in the same way, real oars would on a body of water.
You get a smooth, consistent pull throughout your stroke
Another noticeable difference with water-based rowers is that you’ll enjoy a consistent, even resistance throughout your stroke. This is down to 2 main things:
- Water-resistance is consistent from the start of the pull
- The belt drive system means when you start to pull, the resistance is ready to go.
They adapt to anyone using it
Whether or not you go for a machine that has adjustable resistance, all water machines adapt to whoever is using it. Is it some kind of mystical technology? Nothing so exciting. Water just pushes back the more you put into it. Anyone from a grandparent to an Olympic athlete will get the perfect workout from a water rowing machine.
In short, the harder you row, the more resistance you’ll get.
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Why are water rowing machines so expensive?
We’ve written on Home Gym Experts a bit about the joys of budget rowing machines and it’s true: you can technically get a rower for under £200. Sadly, I don’t remember seeing a wooden rower for under £800, but I could have missed one! So why do they cost so much?
Check out this video on how they are made, and a bit about the quality of the WaterRower brand of machines:
They’re a different quality to the budget rowers
Wooden water machines ooze quality. They look a certain way bit when you use them, they have a certain feel. You’re paying for studio quality gear. They do cost a lot to make and the components are all the best you can get. Sadly, that kind of machine doesn’t come cheap.
Here’s a review from Craig on the WaterRower
Water Machine Problems – What can go wrong?
Reading product descriptions makes water rowing machines sound like the best thing ever to happen to the rowing world. But, like any product, things can go wrong. There are several brands of water machines out there, with many different models. Each potentially with their own issues. So bear in mind, you’ll likely never see these problems yourself!
Disks in the clutch can move out of alignment
If you’re getting a scraping sound when you perform your stroke, it’s likely the two wheels used in the clutch are scraping against one another. If you’re still within your warranty, this isn’t a problem. If you want to have a go fixing it yourself, I know some people have successfully used a thin tool to gently move the plates apart.
Parts can wear out
While there’s not exactly a lot of maintenance to do with a wood rower, there’s still moving parts that can wear out. Key culprits are:
- The seat cover
- Rowing track
- The water tank
- Bearings on the wheels
- Wheels themselves
It’s highly unlikely you’ll see any wear on these for home use, but in a commercial gym, this will be more of an issue. Thankfully, you can replace all of these parts yourself by ordering them online.
Getting spare parts
If you’re like me and like to be prepared – even before your water-based rower arrives – then fear not. Checking out the various manufacturer websites shows there’s plenty of spare parts available should you need a replacement.
Some starting at £3 (some going WAY higher!) But simple things like a wheel assembly can be replaced for under a tenner.
WaterRower replacement parts – Anything that’s likely to wear out (and every other part) can be bought at a decent price directly from the WaterRower website. The prices seem very low from what we’ve seen.
First Degree Fitness (FluidRower machines) – They have a dedicated spare parts section, where you can troubleshoot problems and also order any bits you need. You can buy things like washers, wheels and every other bit you’ll need. Again, they’re not gouging the prices here and they seem very fair.
As a quick tip: we have seen replacement parts for various water rowing machines on 3rd party websites, but it’s cheaper and just as easy to order direct from the manufacturers directly.
Why you might NOT like a water rowing machine
Every website out there is saying how great these things are. So what’s not so hot in the world of wooden rowers?
The design isn’t to everyone’s liking
You’ll either love the wood rowers or hate their design. And there’s no point in getting a machine you don’t like the look of.
They’re not that quiet
We love the sound of wooden rowers as much as the next person, but the fact is you’re pulling a cable that’s spinning an impeller in a plastic tank full of water. It’s not silent.
Some people buy these for home use and expect them to be super-quiet. They are a lot fewer decibels than air rowers, but not exactly ‘whisper’ quiet.
The displays aren’t that advanced
Water rowing machines typically don’t have an advanced display. Although they do increase in quality and features with more expensive machines, the best ones (like the Series 4 or ‘S4’) are still not as good as the monitors you’ll get on air rowers. The PM5 monitor there can far outreach the S4.
Another knock-on effect of this problem is that you might have trouble finding compatible rowing apps. If you’re serious about online racing events and using apps like the KinoMap, double-check the rower you’re buying is supported. A lot of rowers aren’t.
Water takes some looking after
While you’ll never have to do much with the fan on your Concept 2, the same can’t be said for the water tank on your water machine. You’ll need to add water purification tablets into your list of ‘life jobs’, once every 6 or so months. The water can actually get cloudy (yuk) if left too long, especially in bright sunny rooms.
While not the hardest task you’ll ever have to do, some people don’t want the hassle and would rather opt for a good air rower.
Captain, we’ve sprung a leak!
There are some questions to be asked about the long term life span of a water-based rowing machine. It’s not a lot of fun if your WaterRower tank is leaking! After all, it’s made from plastic and eventually it can crack, or spring a leak somewhere.
When this happens you’ll want to replace the tank. But they are one of the more expensive ‘bits’. Costing generally over £200!
While you might NEVER experience a leak, there’s one thing for sure – the Concept rower won’t even spring a leak.
Can you get a decent used wooden rower?
Good old eBay. A quick search on there will usually reveal at least a handful of decent looking WaterRowers for sale. The only thing I’d say is the ones I’ve seen on there aren’t that cheap.
And as second-hand machines climb into the £800 bracket, you might be better of looking at something like the FluidRower machines. They can normally be found at that price range anyway. Here’s some that are available today:
If you still can’t decide whether or not to buy… Rent a water-based rower
By now hopefully, I’ve given you a good idea if a wooden rower is a perfect machine to accomplish your fitness goals. If you’re still on the fence, and who wouldn’t be – these machines don’t come cheap – you could try renting one of these rowers. Companies like WaterRower actually have rental schemes you could use to test the … water?
Summing up – should you buy a water rowing machine?
Wooden rowers are used in both commercial gyms and homes all over the world. They have a fantastic look, feel and sound and offer a unique rowing experience. You’ll need to perform basic maintenance a couple of times a year but other than that, it should be all plain sailing.
If you’re looking to make an investment in your home gym in a new rowing machine, you could do a lot worse than a water-based machine.
Rowing resources and further reading
- There’s an extremely good comparison between the WaterRower and the Concept 2 rower here.
- First Degree Fitness have a very insightful guide to the benefits of water resistance on their website.
- Rowing machine King has a seriously in-depth guide to the difference between air and water resistance.
- Visit the official WaterRower website for a look at some of their latest rowing machines.
- The WaterRowers service page has instruction manuals and a lot more besides for WaterRower owners
- The official Fluid Rower website
- If you can’t decide between the C2 and a WR, check out this excellent thread on Reddit