The advantages with air rowers is that there is smooth action; there is only small wear and tear to its mechanism; its automatic feature adjusts according to your rate of strokes; and there is a wide range of the resistance readily available in replicating the feel of rowing through the waters. The only disadvantage of this machine is that it tends to be noise indoors.
The most commonly damaged piece of rowing equipment is the skeg, which is a metal or plastic fin that comes out of the bottom of the boat to help maintain stability, and to assist in steering. Since the skeg sticks out below the hull of the boat it is the most vulnerable to damage, however it is relatively easy to replace skegs by gluing a new one on. Hull damage is also a significant concern both for maintaining equipment, and for rower safety. Hull damage can be caused by submerged logs, poor strapping to trailers, and collisions with other boats, docks, rocks, etc.
Instead of air or hydraulic resistance, the Elite Wave Water Rowing Machine emulates actual rowing with lifelike water resistance. The paddles glide through the water housed in the reservoir, making the rowing stroke smooth from start to finish, and like rowing on a body of water, the resistance increases infinitely the faster you row. Not only does this feel like rowing on water, it sounds like water. Different stroke speeds and intensities vary water motion, resulting in realistic water resonance.
Noise level is another large factor that tips the scale more towards water rowers. Air rowers make a fairly loud “whooshing” noise every stroke, which makes them bad for people who like watching TV, have sleeping children, live in apartments, or like working out early in the AM. Water rowers do make some noise but the splashing of water in the tank is a lot quieter and more soothing than the fan noise produced by air rowers.
Outside of resistance type, we found the number-one arbiter of ride feel to be cord quality. Water ergometers tend to employ nylon cords, while air ergometers feature metal chains — a durability factor we anticipated would result in our favoring air. But while all three water rowers aced our expectation of smooth, high-tension strokes, perfecting the chain seems to be more difficult: Some tug with just a slight rumble, others feature bouncy, grinding chains that are incredibly loud, something akin to angry snoring. As for nylon, the best wind and unwind like elastic silk — no slack, no sound, no catching, just perfectly even tension throughout the stroke.