On 16 March 1887, at the instance of William Fitzgerald of the Star Boating Club, Wellington, representatives of nine clubs established the New Zealand Amateur Rowing Association, which was formed under the patronage of Sir W. F. D. Jervois. J. O. Jones, of Christchurch, was the first president and A. G. Biss, of Wellington, was secretary. The nine clubs which formed the association were: Union Rowing Club (Christchurch) (1866); Star Boating Club (Wellington) (1867); Canterbury Rowing Club and Wanganui Rowing Club (1875); Union Boating Club (Wanganui) (1878); Napier Rowing Club (1886); Wellington Rowing Club (1885); and the Nelson and Whakatu Rowing Clubs (Nelson).
As rowing became more popular, the number of clubs affiliated to the New Zealand Amateur Rowing Association increased. The original nine became 34 in 1892 and 45 ten years later. On 4 October 1902 the association's annual meeting approved a proposal to provide for the sport to be administered on a regional basis under a central managing body. Accordingly, on 5 January 1903, nine local provincial rowing associations were set up. These were the Auckland, Canterbury, Hawke's Bay (now East Coast), Marlborough, Nelson, Otago, Southland, Wanganui, and Wellington Provincial Rowing Associations.