Coxing: getting started

Basic introduction and Safety


What is a cox?

The cox (coxswain) is the person who sits in the stern of the boat, facing in the direction of movement (unlike the rowers!). The cox has control of the rudder, enabling steering, and also has a microphone, wired to a ‘cox-box’. The cox can therefore command the rowers without having to shout.

Why have a cox?




The cox has three responsibilities:


Firstly, and most importantly, the cox is responsible for the safety of the crew. This means that in an emergency the cox must command them so that nobody is harmed  (perhaps by quickly asking certain rowers to row on, or by giving the emergency stop command).  The cox must assess all situations and have the crew’s well-being as first priority. E.g., if the cox feels that the crew is about to hit an object with their blades an instruction to pull their blades in is given so that their shoulders are not wrenched by the impact.

The Cox should also check that the crew has warmed up properly and stretched before an outing (and especially before a race). He / She may also bring the crew doughnuts to cheer them up! Though in Champs it is often the other way round!!


Secondly, the cox is responsible for the safety of the boat

He/she is steering.  A brand new eight, costs well over £15,000.   Most of the Champion boats are worth around £4-5 thousand and although you may not be steering any of the newer boats, this is what it will cost to replace any boat that you write off.  It won’t be you making the payment, since Champs is generous and has good insurance (which is why we make you join us!) but you might take a while to live down the consequences and sometime people take a litigious route to gain compensation for injuries (depending on the circumstances of the crash).   Also, if you cox for another club many require coxes to pay for their own mistakes!! Anyway, this responsibility basically requires you to be constantly conscious of the boat and its place on the river.

To do this you must be alert, aware of other river users, be polite and stick to the rules of the river. The Cam has very specific rules due to the high usage. College crews are only allowed to row at certain times at the weekend and during the day so as a rule Champion crews avoid these times as training can be fraught and unproductive if the river is too busy.


As part of safety, it is vital that the boat is checked before each outing to ensure the riggers and gates are on soundly and the bow ball if firmly on, no bow ball, no outing.   At night time all boats must be fixed with two white lights either end and a red on the stern. You should bring duck tape to stick them on


To this effect carry a bum bag with spare 10 and 13 mm spanners and a multi tool, a few wing nuts and washers and a few spare rigger nuts. Pete Twitchett will give you some spares. Report all damage to Pete asap so the boat can be fixed quickly.




Thirdly, the cox has a contribution towards making the boat go faster

The ultimate aim of the rowers! This contribution is three-fold. In the first place, a good Cox can reduce the distance of a race by the steering.  For example, the Cam is very bendy, and if your crew is competing in a head race on the Cam they will thank you for cutting corners.   On the Thames, however, a crew would prefer it if you stay in the fastest stream, which is usually not very close to any bends.

Secondly, a cox will improve her boat’s speed by coaching the rowers during training, and encouraging them in races with their voice.

Thirdly-The cox is often required to come up with a race plan (which details where pushes and focuses will be in the race); and then, obviously, to carry it out. It should be emphasized, however, that this last point is very much the last of the cox’s responsibilities, although it’s probably the one coxes feel most pressured about.

At Champs we’d rather see all novice coxes worrying about responsibilities 1 and 2 before they start to think about 3.


What are the river rules?


Please refer to the map included when reading these. When you go out for the first time, try and match the names to the places, and call them out to the crew. They need to know them as well for the races ahead.

Keep to the right of the river at all times unless specified.

a)     When you boat from Clare boathouse, as soon as you push away from the bank you need to get the boat over to the right hand side. First, before you push away (and remember that it is you who gives the command to push away), check that there are no boats coming in either direction. When it’s clear, push away and then ask  2 to take a light stroke.


b)        Make sure that in narrow areas (ie most of the river!) you are well over on the right.  Don’t let theboat drift over into the middle of the river, but equally don’t push your boat into the bank! This takes practice, but persevere. If you do go too close to another boat, and it’s your fault, then ask the relevant side by saying “ blades in on strokeside” (or bowside) to pull in their blades so that they don’t hit the other boat. Make sure they get used to this call and carry it out immediately!


This rule  changes between the crossing over points – see below.


Cross over just before the Plough pub onto the left side of the river, and then cross over again onto the right just before First Post Corner.


c)     The Plough pub is the pub on the right side of the river just past Ditton Corner. There is a big white sign telling you to cross over there.


d)      Stay on the left until you are round Grassy Corner (a difficult corner to steer!) you will need strokeside to help you round, and then cross over when you see another big white sign,  which is opposite a small white boat house on your right as you go down stream.


e)       Don’t just cross over without any regard for other crews. Crews going upstream (back to the boathouses) have priority, so if you are travelling downstream, easy (stop) the crew at the crossing over point and wait until the river is clear.



Crews travelling upstream (back to the boathouses) have priority at all times over boats travelling downstream (away from the boathouses), unless they’re in the wrong place on the river.



You can spin at the end of the Reach before the last blue post 100m before the  willow trees on Fen Ditton corner, Check to see it is clear and that no one is coming upstream round the bend. Generally, it’s a very bad idea to spin too close to any corners. Another good place to spin is in front of the car park by the Penny Ferry.


Do not easy along any corner, unless you are in a queue and it’s unavoidable. If you are going to be easied for some time along any bank, then pull into the bank and bring the blades in.


Faster crews have priority over slower crews. So, if you are stuck behind a crew that’s going very slowly, you can overtake. However:


You must ask to ‘come by’. Say: ‘Can we come by, Cantabs [or whoever]?’ Say it loudly and persistently. They will either answer, ‘Yes, come by Champion’ or, ‘No, you may not come by’ if it is not safe.


If they say yes, then pull out into the middle of the river and come past, making sure that you do not clip their blades with yours. You need to make the crew go faster at this point so you are overtaking quickly and not causing an obstruction in the other direction.  On the Long Reach, where there is room for 3 crews abreast, make sure that you’re watching both strokeside and bowside blades.


Bear in mind that lots of dappy coxes say ‘Yes’, but don’t check that the river’s clear. If in doubt (i.e. near a corner), ask your coach if it’s clear. Alternatively, ask the cox of the boat ahead. Call out, ‘Is it clear to come by,Nines?’


Remember your first responsibility  is safety not speed and don’t pull out until you’re certain.

Do NOT overtake on a corner or in the Gut.


If you are being overtaken, remember that they have priority, so if necessary pull in blades on the relevant side. However, if the river is not clear, then tell them firmly that no, they may not come by. .


In time you’ll learn the different colours of College and Club blades. This is how you’ll know how to address a boat you’d like to overtake.

Map of the Cam

Getting started

What to wear

Firstly—a lifejacket. This is mandatory for all coxes everywhere, no matter how well you can swim. They’re in the corner near the cox boxes in the boat house. Champ ones are all labelled and young coxes should wear the poly vest style as they require no action if you go in. The  others inflate when you un-velcro the left or right side (check which one before the outing) and pull the cord. Throwline ,mobile also.

Secondly— warm clothes. It gets really cold out there. I recommend thermal underwear and many layers with artic fleece hat and gloves and a waterproof/ windproof coat and trousers, since when it rains the cox is basically sitting in a shallow bath of not so warm water!. Cap and sun screen and sun glasses in the summer

Thirdly— equipment. A cox-box, unless you want to stretch your vocal cords, some electrical tape or duck tape and your spanner set (handy for lots of things). If you wear glasses consider contacts as they do not steam up!

Stage 1

Get everyone lined up (in the right order, ie. Stroke,7, 6, 5, etc) next to the boat. Shout hands on and they will grip the boat ready to slide it out. Then shout pull her out and they will slide the boat out on.the rack.

Next, lifting, Minding backs, ready… go! and they will lift it off. (Make sure you don’t say go! until everyone is in position and ready.) If on a low rack allow time for them to limbo out!

Then, you may need to turn the boat on its side so that you can walk it out without hitting the riggers. If the boat is on a low rack, and so everyone’s holding it at waists, then one side will need to take it up to shoulders. So shout bowside/strokeside take it to shoulders… go!

Or, if when you lift the boat off the rack everyone’s at shoulders, then get one side to take it to waists. Bowside/strokeside take it to waists… go!

Then they’ll start walking out of the boathouse.  Walking her out slowly minding the riggers. You hang on to the stern a until you are well clear of the door frame. Call to anyone standing on the water front  Mind your backs if they are in the way. Or heads if on the river and you have to swing the bows over their heads

Stage 2

Once the stern is clear of the boathouse, get the boat horizontal again by calling level to waistsgo!

Or, more quickly, level it out to waists… go!

Then they’ll walk it round until they’re parallel with the river. Usually having to swing the boat round until it is facing down stream.

Then when along side the river within a few feet, call to Heads on Three. They will then swing the boat to  their heads

Then  say bowsiders step under and then the whole crew will lower her down on your command of gently down to the water .

If it’s old and  heavy, or the crew are very novice then they will not throw it up, the side next to the river will have to run around, one by one whilst the   other side holds it steady.

Tell them to do this  in stages so there is no risk to them or the boat.


Stage 3

You need to hold the boat while the rowers go and collect their blades. The easiest way to do this is to put a leg through a rigger. When the rowers are back and their oars are laid over the riggers, you need to say, strokeside hold it, bowside in. Strokeside will hold their riggers down while bowside get in. (If nobody holds it, then bowside could end up tipped into the water.) When all the bowside oars have been fastened into their gates and pushed out over the water, then say, strokeside in. Then get in yourself and attach up the cox-box. When it’s working, ask,

Can you hear me at bow? When he/she shouts yes, tell them to

Number off from bow when ready. They’ll call out their numbers.

When stroke’s ready, check the river to see if it’s clear. If it is, say,

Pushing off, and then ask

2, tap it.  And then

Bow pair will need to row it on for 2-3 strokes until you are on the correct side of the river.

You are now ready for the outing!

Then clearly State to the crew, bow four fixed seat paddling,  Square blades, arms only, are you ready, go.

Then progress to body lean, go. Do about 5-10 strokes of each type

Then quarter slide, go.

Then half slide, go.

Then ¾ slide ,go.

Then full slide.

Then five strokes firm pressure.

This is the standard warm up which gets the crew’s muscles stretched ready to row properly. You have to mindful of the traffic on the river whilst you are doing it.


Getting started… getting to know your cox-box

The cox-box is an vital piece of equipment. It’s also a valuable one; they each cost over £500. So look after it!  (Nb. The coach or boat organiser will tell which cox box has been booked for the outing. Make sure you do not take the wrong cox-box, because the other may not be charged or they may be Clare’s The Champs ones are clearly marked with Champs orange tape. Never take a Clare one.

The microphone, detachable from the box, is the most immediately significant part. You hold it to your head with an elastic strip or a hat. The volume can be turned up, down, or off with the dial on the right of the box. (Turning it off also turns off the display.) Turning it too far up usually results in feedback, however. At the end of each outing you must switch it Off or it will not charge up. Never pick the cox-box up using just the microphone, because this damages the connections. Always use the cord handle.


In the top display is the rate meter. The number displayed here is the number of strokes per minute, calculated using a magnet on the bottom of stroke’s seat. Normal paddling usually has a rate of 18 – 22, with race ratings of a good crew being 34 – 38. The coach will advise on ratings, and may well ask you for the rate on a regular basis.



The next display down is a stopwatch. The flick switch next to the volume dial will reset this to 00:00.0. If you need to time a piece, this is how.

The two displays below that are the information display and the stroke count. The information display (on the left) will say if the battery is low – by displaying BATT. – every cox’s nightmare during a race!  Deal with this by saying little but make it really worthwhile, warn your crew in case they are used to you being vocal.

The stroke count displays the number of strokes since the cox-box was last switched on or reset. This is useful if the coach wants to do 10 strokes at firm pressure, for example. (Remember: since the cox-box works by using a magnet on the stroke’s seat, the stroke counter  will not help if only bow four are rowing!

After the outing make sure that the cox box is returned to it’s  Champ orange slot and is set to charge, you will be shown how.  Check that the red light is on. You should put it back into the numbered slot it was taken from. The Champs cox boxes are marked with our name do not use Clare’s under any circumstances.


If it is broken or dumping its charge, tell Pete do not leave it for someone else to find.

Female coxes should know to knock on the men’s changing room door as you may get an eyeful of something you did not wish to see otherwise!!!!

Coping in an emergency or difficult situation


There are a few commands that you need to be able to give in an emergency. An emergency counts as any situation likely to result in boats crashing, a situation unfortunately quite common on the over-crowded Cam.


At all times a cox needs to keep a cool head. Even when the situation is your fault, your first priority (thinking about safety again) is to resolve any danger. So don’t sit in the boat, flapping your arms, going, ‘I don’t know what to say! Er, er…’ Keep calm, work out what to call, then give the commands in an authoritative and calm voice.



‘Bowside/strokeside blades in!’

If you have strayed over to the wrong part of the river, or another boat has, then use this call. Make sure that they know to bring their blades right in on this command. The other side should keep the boat stable by resting their blades on the water – if both sides bring their blades in, the boat could well capsize!


‘Hold it up!’

This is the emergency stop call, and when your crew hear this they will square their blades in the water – whatever part of the stroke they’re in – to stop the boat. Don’t ever use this call unless you’re about to hit another boat, or the crew won’t do it properly in a genuine emergency.




‘Everyone grab hold of the boat!’

Well, we’ve put this one in to scare you… because it’s what you should call if the boat capsizes. Capsizing is rather rare, but it can happen to inexperienced crews, often when getting into the boat (when one side doesn’t hold their riggers), pulling in blades (when both sides do it at the same time), or spinning (when the crew doesn’t know how to sit the boat properly) or if someone catches a stupendous crab.  It is more common in a four than an eight. Anyway, if it should ever happen, as soon as you’ve come up for air you should shout for the crew to hold onto the boat and repeat it as they may not hear you in the ensuing pandemonium.


They’re not wearing lifejackets like you are and the boat will be the most buoyant thing around. Then check to make sure all the crew are there and uninjured. Tell them not to move and count heads. If everyone is there, then get the boat to the bank and out of the way of oncoming crews as soon as possible. The Cam is shallow in most parts and you can stand in most bits but it is vital to get everyone out of the river as soon as possible and the boat the correct way up.


Try to get to the bank with the tow path as there will be more help.

Anyone who is hurt needs attention first before worrying about the boat.  Remember if someone is very quiet they may be more injured than the one who is shouting the most.

It is good to be first aid aware or know who is in your crew. Your next thoughts a re hypothermia so get help as quickly as you can and keep folk moving to generate heat.



Rowing is full of wonderful commands such as “hands on” and “hold her up”. It is a whole new language   and you do need to learn it because they will be waiting for your commands.

A good crew will obey you despite the fact that they may be 2 feet taller than you!!

You need to be  commanding so the crew to take the boat out of the boathouse and onto the water efficiently.

Each command should be followed by go so the crew know you mean the next stroke.

We have included the most common for you below.





The Basics


Hands on. Pick up the boat

Down to slum. Practically no effort

Light pressure. Gentle rowing

Half pressure. A little firmer in the leg drive phase

¾ pressure. Almost up to full

Firm pressure. Full kick down, a racing style of rowing

Ready –go! This is not a question but a command, the crew should be ready to go at this, their blades should turn to 45 degrees and they should move on the go.

Easy there! This is the normal non-emergency stop call. The crew should hovver their blades over the water until you say drop

Take the run off! This is a stop using the blades to slow the boat ie when the stream would carry you too far.

Balance the boat. Get the balance straight

Hold it up! The emergency stop call!!! All blades are buried in the water to act as a brake whatever part of the stroke the crew are in.

Squaring up. Turning the blade to 90 degrees to the water

Feathering.  Turning the blade parallel to the water.

Mind your blades on … side. Pull them out the way quickly

Backing it down. The crew turn their blades round to pull the boat forward instead of pulling back wards- useful for turning or aligning for races.

Take it up 2 pips. Increasing the slide speed to increase the rating by two notches on the rate metre.

Regaining the ratio. Getting the slide time to be longer than the drive phase..

Spinning the boat. Turning the boat round using one side to back it down and the otherside to row on, usually with full slide and each side takes a turn.

Frontstops. The slide forward position

Backstops, the usual starting position with hands resting on the blade at chest height.

Tap down, the request to get the hands down into the back turn at the extraction.

Sharpening the catch, alludes to being ready to take the catch early and getting the blade in cleanly.

Time on the slide, Think about the ratio and slow down the slide.

Glide! Take the slide in a controlled manner.

Legdrive. Push down with your legs when the blade is placed n the water.

Your early, means you out of time with the stroke and 7.

Push the corner/bridge away! This means concentrate all efforts and look up to focus.

10 on the legs. Means give me 10 really meaningful leg drives.

Sit Back. Said when the crew is slightly off balance and rattled to focus the drive back and keep it long

Sit up! Use when the crew is tired and hunching over their blades it improves oxygenation and effort.

Increase the cover. Work on the power through the water and take time on the slide to maximise the glide of the boat

Take up one on the work and down one on the slide. Increase the drive phase and slow the slide



Cam specifics


Anticipate, anticipate, anticipate.

The Cam has several sharp corners (Chesterton corner-and Grassy corner being the worst) but you should be able to get round all of them with the rudders on Champ boats. The only reason it could all go horribly wrong is if you do not steer in time.


So… steer early! Use your crew to ease you round. Remember the boat pivots under 3’s seat and use the bow section  and certain pairs to pull you round.





Sitting in the cox’s seat, take hold of the handles in your hands. They are connected to the wire that is attached to the rudder.


Steering a boat is opposite to steering a car. If you push your right hand forward, or pull your left hand back, the boat will turn to the right. If you push your left hand forward, or pull your right hand back, the boat will turn to the left.


The boat pivots around the three seat, not the middle, so the angle taken by the boat may not be what you expect. It also operates on a time delay, ie. it doesn’t turn as soon as you move your hands. It takes up to three strokes to turn, and will continue turning after you have put the rudder back to neutral. This means that you need to look ahead, anticipate bends and corners, and steer in advance. This is something that only practice can achieve.


The angle and the speed at which you approach a corner has an effect on how well you’ll get round it.  The slower the boat speed the slower the boat is to respond.  Again, this is a trial-and-error process. If you think the boat is about to crash or clip the bank, then ask one side to put more pressure on, call Stronger on bowside, lightly strokeside go or ask some rowers to drop out entirely 2 and 4 drop out… go!. Be cautious to begin with.


Also bear in mind that the speed you are moving at affects the effect of the rudder. A fast­moving boat can turn through a larger angle in a shorter time than a slower boat. Obviously if the boat is stationary, the rudder has no effect at all. So make allowances for these changes around corners. For example, perhaps make sure that you are rowing in sixes by the time you get to Chesterton bridge, so that you can take the sharp angle without having to drop rowers out or ask one side to pull harder.


When you’re more confident in the cox’s seat, try to refine your steering slightly. Every time you move the rudder, it creates drag on the boat and slows it down. It also affects the balance. So try to steer gently, without any sudden changes, and in- anticipation of corners. This will help your crew to sit the boat and move faster.

Make sure you are sitting centrally in the boat and that your body movements are minimal.



Advance steering

Remember that the boat will start turning under 3s s seat and it can be delayed in the turn for at least 2 strokes, the faster you a re going the more acute the turn. The slower then you will get less of a turn.


Getting it straight…

It’s important not to use the rudder very much, for two reasons. Firstly, because the water resistance will slow the boat down; and secondly because the water will pile up on one side, causing the boat to lose its balance. In a more senior crew, where good balance is a given, a cox who continually wrecks their hard work will not be looked upon favourably.


So… here are some tips for using the rudder less, or less obtrusively.


Make sure that when you go off from stationary that the boat is lined up. Ideally you don’t want to steer for as long as possible, so ask bow and 2 to tap it until you’re perfectly straight. In races, this will become very important, as steering during a start can sometimes kill a crew’s rhythm completely!

The rudder has more influence on the balance and speed of the boat at different times in the stroke. If you push one of the rudder handles just after the catch, for example, then the boat will turn more effectively than if you put the rudder on just after the finish. The rudder will also -disrupt the balance less if you put it on just after the catch, in the ‘drive phase’ of the stroke.

So, if you’re coming up to a corner and need to turn, try putting the rudder on just after the catch.

Then try and do that every time you need to steer. After a while, it becomes subconscious and you will hardly need to think about it.


Taking the rudder off (i.e. putting the handles back to the neutral position) should also be done during the drive phase, but not necessarily during the same drive phase as when you put the rudder on. You can hold the rudder on for as many strokes as necessary.


Try not to ‘pulse steer’, where you steer a little bit on every stroke. This usually results in a snaking pattern, where you steer, overcorrect, overcorrect, overcorrect, etc.


It helps to find a landmark in the distance which you can line the boat up with, and then just make occasional adjustments when necessary.


On many parts of the Cam this isn’t entirely practical, as there are certain places (e.g. the end of first  post reach, by 1 sl post corner) where you need to stick very closely to the bank. But you’ll need this skill for races (particularly any off-Cam races), so try it out on the Long Reach.


Motivating your crew


Really great coxes stay calm despite adversity!!! There will be outings that you wished you had stayed in bed for but the crew will feel worse already without being laid into!!


It is really vital that you find out from the crew what they like to hear called. And how vocal they like their coxes to be. Most will say very vocal.!!


Crews are hungry for feed back and encouragement in a race. They are not asking for drivel or a driving wit and it is ok to be silent but it is good to be seen to be alert and switched on to the crew.  Most crews respond to feed back whether it is directed at single oarsman or to the crew as a whole, They are usually motivated to improve and as long as they do not feel picked on will happily tolerate being told if there is an issue with their technique.   It is a question of how you put it and if they change you must tell them they have made a good change. People respond well to praise, in fact they lap it up, so give it where it is due especially if it has been a difficult or trying outing.


It is a good idea to have a game plan for the outing. The boat organiser will tell you what they are aiming for and what needs to be covered. Tell the crew the plan for the outing and try and stick to it. Sometime events overtake an outing but useful work can be done whatever the outcome. The most important thing for motivation is to give feedback and to encourage them to perform better and push themselves more.


Men’s and women’s crew seem quite different psychologically. Womens crews often seem to  blame themselves for bad rowing and can come off the water low. Men tend to be more bullish and often are to be heard blaming other crew members.  Sometimes the right information  effectively communicated can prevent these mishaps and it often falls to the coach and cox to be constructive.


It is good to go down the boat  and give pointers to each crew member so each team member has an area to work on .


It is good practice to ask your crew to feed back on your progress too!!!


When you get more experienced, think about the outing plan that the crew needs for their  forthcoming races. What are their targets, wht technical drills does the coach want you to do with them. Work with the coach but remember you make the calls as you can often see more than the coach can.








(Perhaps print these out and stick on your wall somewhere!)

















Getting more technical


It’s difficult to give good calls and help out the coach if you don’t know much about technique. So, here’s a quick guide (just the basics), to get you started. Please follow up on the further reading to learn some more.


The stroke cycle: The Finish


Body position:          Legs are flat.

Back is about 5 degrees past the vertical, in a position which the rower could comfortably hold for 3 minutes or more.

Shoulders are low and relaxed.

Head faces forwards and does not move.

Elbows are past the body but do not stick out.

Hands are relaxed.


Body weight:           On the seat, evenly on each buttock. Central. No weight on the handle! Other stuff: This is the backstops position. Make sure that on every finish the crew returns to this position.



The stroke cycle: The Recovery


Body position:     a) hands away. The back and legs remain in the backstops position, but the hands move away. The wrists are flat. The hands are relaxed. Make sure the backs remain still as the hands go away!

b)     Bodies over/ The Rock Over The arms are fully extended. The backs rock over to their full leaning position. Make sure the crew take all their body lean at this point!

c)     slide. The knees come up and body moves forwards. Feel the pressure building on the footplate as a crew. Both feet!

Body weight:           The weight shifts onto the front of the seat (as opposed to the back) during bodies over, and then onto the footplate as the knees come up.Keep the weight central and head position up.



The stroke cycle: The Catch


Body position:           Shins are vertical.

Arms are fully extended.

Shoulders are rotated with the angle of the blade (outside shoulder slightly higher than inside shoulder).
Back is rocked over.

Eyes and head up.


Body weight:           On the footplate, evenly on each foot. Not quite central due to the rotation of the shoulders. This is the frontstops position.