Row Row Row Your Boat Nursery Rhyme­- Lyrics, History, Video, Lesson Plans & More

Row Row Row Your Boat is a famous nursery rhyme sung by kids and adults alike. I bet reading the title alone has the tune floating around in your mind.

In this article we are going to take a look at everything you might want to know and more about this famous rhyme.


Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream

The four lines can be repeated over and over or adapted as you can read about in our alternative lyrics below.

The singing is often accompanied by hand actions to signify the rowing of the boat. The actions make the song an ‘action rhyme.’ These lyrics have remained the same ever since the song was first heard.

Alternative Lyrics

Like all songs enjoyed by many people, this song also has alternate versions. People sometimes add different words to come up with different versions or make the piece more enjoyable to the given audience.

Here are some explains of how you can play with the lyrics for an alternative version.

1. Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
If you see a crocodile,
Don’t forget to scream.


2. Row, row, row your boat,
Underneath the stream.
Ha Ha! I fooled you,
I’m a submarine.


3. Row, row, row your boat,
Gently to the shore.
If you see a lion,
Don’t forget to roar.


4. Row, row, row your boat,
Gently around the bath.
If you see a large giraffe,
Don’t forget to laugh.


5. Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the river.
If you see a polar bear,
Don’t forget to shiver.


6. Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Throw your teacher overboard,
And listen to her scream.


7. Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Try to make it back to shore,
Before your boat sinks.

8. Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the creek.
If your boat fills with water,
Then you’ve got a leak.


Who Came Up with Row Your Boat?

Although the song has the first-ever printing date of 1852, there is no record of the author or composer. The tune differed from today’s version when first printed in 1852. And that’s because no one had thought of adding the melody we use to the lyrics.

That was until Eliphalet Oram Lyte came into the picture. The first recording of the song with the modern-day tune was in 1881. The lyrics remained the same, but with the infusion of the modern-day tune. That was in a book called The Franklin Square Song Collection.

The book vaguely mentions Eliphalet Oram Lyte, an American author, and teacher. However, it is not clear whether he merely adapted the song and added the tune as we know it today or is the composer.

But since he is the only name associated with the early printed versions of the song, he is often credited with developing the modern-day tune.

How Old Was Eliphalet Oram Lyte when He Composed the Row Your Boat Tune?

Eliphalet Oram Lyte was born in 1842. He adapted the lyrics to the song Row your boat and affixed the modern-day tune to it in 1881. That means he was 49 when he came up with the famous rhyme as we know it today.

Besides being a teacher, he was also an author. He wrote composition and grammar books.

What is a round and what type of Song is Row Your Boat?

Row Your boat is a polyphonic song commonly sung as a round song. This means the melody can be sung by different people starting at different times in this case after the first line, and the songs will sound harmonious.

However, few people sing it as a round song when singing it for children.

Here is how to sing the song as a round song with different voices:

Row, row, row your boat,   
Gently down the stream,Row, row, row your boat,  
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,Gently down the stream.Row, row, row your boat, 
Life is but a dream.Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,Gently down the stream.Row, row, row your boat,
 Life is but a dream.Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,Gently down the stream.
  Life is but a dream.Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
   Life is but a dream.


Sometimes people also call Row Row Row your boat an action song since you can dramatize the words in the song.

The most simple actions are to simply row your hands backward and forwards or rock back and forth as if you are in a rowboat in time with the beat of the music.

If singing one of the variations of the song for example seeing a crocodile you can add in actions such as putting a hand above the eyes for looking and then around the mouth for screaming.

Row Row Row your boat actions can also be performed in a pair. A parent and child or two children sit opposite each other holding hands, rocking back and forth as they sing.


What is a boat?

A boat is a water vessel propelled by oars, engines, or sails. Boats played a significant role in discovering new lands back when modes of transport weren’t as advanced today. People sailed over oceans and seas to discover unknown places.

For a long time, boats and their larger counterparts, ships, were the only way to travel from continent to continent over water.

In this particular song, our boat is a small man-powered row boat that uses oars being pushed back and forth through the water to move it in the direction intended by the person rowing.

Although it can be sung the fun when larger boats break down and need help to be helped to shore.

What Does Row Mean?

Row in this context is the action of moving the oars of a boat, so it moves in the direction you intend the boat to move. The rowing can be fast and furious or gentle, as in the song.

What Does the Word Merrily Mean?

Merrily means happily. It describes how you should row your boat. You should be happy or, in this case, merry when doing it.

What is a stream?

A stream is a small water body akin to a river, but not as large. Streams atypically have less water than rivers or other large water bodies.

What Does “Life is but a dream” mean?

Dreams are usually effortless worlds where you don’t need to do anything to earn something. Life, however, is the opposite of that, since you have to put effort into whatever you want.

Therefore, the phrase life is but a dream means you can make anything you want to of life but not a dream. Nothing is a given in life. That’s one way you can choose to look at it.

The phrase also has been thought to mean that we shouldn’t take life that seriously since it only is a dream. It is fleeting, and we thus do not need to take ourselves too seriously, especially when encountering challenges.

In the context of this song, rowing along a river on a serene afternoon can be pleasurable, calming and restful – like an effortless dream.


What Is the True Meaning of the Row Your Boat Song?

For kids, the song means what it says. It is a story of a boat moving gently over water as you row it. That’s the common meaning. However, most people agree that the song has a hidden meaning with a life lesson.

Besides being a nursery rhyme to entertain kids, the song also has a powerful life lesson anyone can apply in their daily life.

The stream here is life. And with your boat, you will be working through life. The word gently means that you are supposed to go through life at your own pace. You can’t go through life at a rampant pace to keep up with friends or other people’s speeds.

As you row gently, you should take a moment to enjoy life and all it offers. That means to remember to smile, be present, positive and be happy as you row away through the stream that’s life.

A stream is not always serene though, it can be turbulent and rocky, but the rhyme is reminding us to keep on going, to keep rowing, and to see the positives when navigating the easy parts of the stream or in this case our lives.

Of course, explaining that meaning to children could prove difficult. That’s why you need only sing with them and wait till they are old enough to understand the song.

Also, different people have different explanations of the song. But again, a song can stand for anything you want it to, can’t it?

Is Row Your Boat in The Public Domain?

Row your boat is in the public domain. You can use the lyrics and tune for your performance without worrying about copyright rules. That’s because the song’s early printed copy is from 1852.

By international copyright laws, songs recorded before 1925 are usually free to use in public by anyone.

However, laws vary, and you should check with the copyright laws in your local area before using the song.

Does Row Your Boat Share a Tune with Any Other Song?

Row your boat doesn’t share its tune with any other nursery rhyme. That’s although most nursery songs usually sound the same. But then a blend of unique songs might be all you need to shake up a class with kids.


The following is a selection of Lesson Plans. You need to click on the images to learn more and download the resources from their websites.


What Time Signature is Row Your Boat Played in?

Row Your Boat is a perfect song for the 6/8-time signature. Thanks to its varying examples of sounds on a beat from one to three. The time signature especially works if you sing the round song format.

How to sing Row Row Row Your Boat in Sign Language

The following resource from YouTube will teach you how to sing row your boat in sign language. Check it out.


Below are excellent resources from youtube that will help you learn how to play Row Your Boat.


Samantha Bellerose has a Bachelor of Education as well as a Diploma in Performing Arts. She is a mom to four children and is passionate about education and learning. Samantha created Nursery Rhyme Central as the go to place for parents, teachers and carers about all things to do with Nursery Rhymes. She is also the Main Author and creator for websites Dance Parent 101 and Move Dance Learn, where she shares her knowledge and expertise for dance and learning through movement.

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