The City of Bristol Rowing Club



The Responsibilities of the Steersman or woman and the Coxswain

All persons steering a boat are responsible for the crew in their charge. Coxswains should comply with the following:

·         Every coxswain shall be able to swim and to demonstrate that ability when called upon by the Safety Officer

·         All coxswains shall be able to satisfy their Safety Adviser that they are in good health with adequate vision and sound hearing. No-one who is subject to epileptic fits or blackouts shall steer a boat. In cases of doubt, medical advice should be obtained.

·         Dress suitable for the prevailing conditions must be worn. Particular care should be taken to ensure warmth around the head, neck and lower back, wrists and ankles and the clothing should be water and windproof. Water resistant outer gloves are recommended but bulky and heavy clothing and "Wellington" type boots are to be avoided.

·         Be aware of the dangers and symptoms of hypothermia. (See advisory notes on Hypothermia on the Safety Notice Board).

·         Voice projection and radio communication equipment, when carried in the boat must be securely fixed to the boat, not the coxswain. Similarly, in competition, deadweights when required must not be attached to the coxswain.

·         Steering a boat, in training or in a race is a highly responsible role. very often entrusted to young and inexperienced coxswains or rowers with little or no experience of steering. The steersman is responsible for the actions of the boat being steered. Commands have to be given and discipline exerted. The following represents the knowledge that the steersman/woman must develop.

Steers People must:

·         Learn and use simple commands for boat control both on and off the water. Use them correctly, clearly and instinctively. Understand the basic commands and signals of other river users.

·         Understand and carry out all safety procedures and regulations applicable to the water they use, especially those relating to right of way. power boats, sailing craft, etc.

What you should know before going on the water

·         The cox's highest priority is the safety of the crew (including themselves) and other river users and the safety of the equipment. The stroke is responsible for the use of the boat but the cox has control of the boat both on and off the water. What you say, goes, so if you are not happy about any aspect of safety then tell the crew. On the water you are the eyes of the boat and must be aware of what's happening around you.

Safety precautions :

·         Study the City of Bristol Safety Rules and the Map of the Docks.  There are numerous hazards such as jetties and inlets which you must be careful of.

·         Always wear a lifejacket. It is virtually impossible to capsize an eight or a four but you must wear a lifejacket just in case and also because you are uninsured if you don't.

·         Until you feel confident (i.e. after a number of outings) only go out on the water with a coach or an experienced Stroke

·         Make sure that you could get out of the boat in a hurry if you needed to - e.g. don't tie yourself up in knots with a coxbox. (Ideally you should not wear wellington boots in the boat as these can make swimming difficult - if available wear something warm but buoyant like windsurfing slippers.)

·         During winter wear lots of layers - you can get very cold.

·         Don't go out after dark unless you are experienced and have the correct lights

·         Never go out if the river has been closed by the National Rivers Authority or in thick fog, in a very fast stream or with a high wind. As far as the latter is concerned, the river can be very deceptive - apparently calm in one part and treacherous around the next bend.

·         Don't go out if the equipment is badly damaged

·         When the boat is being carried or lifted in or out of the water, watch both ends of the boat and, in particular the fin, to ensure the crew don't hit anything and don't damage the boat.

·         However remember that many other users are not qualified and as such do not know the rules.  Many of these will not be able to stop in time.  Thus always take availing action.

THE BASICS - the first few outings

The job of the cox can be split into three parts:

·         Steering

·         Giving commands

·         Coaching (Covered later in this guide)

However it is not necessary to be familiar with all rowing terminology and commands before going out on the river as long as there is a coach going out with the crew or Stroke is relatively experienced. Neither is it necessary for a cox to be familiar with all the nuances of advanced steering or navigation, and effective coaching is only something a cox can do after years of experience.

·         The most important part of the cox's job after ensuring the safety of the crew. This can only be learnt through experience and familiarity with the river. When you feel happy with the steering you can start to give commands. If in doubt, ask Stroke what to say or say nothing.


·         Using the rudder

·         Avoiding the use of the rudder

Giving commands

o        Occasionally stroke and bow are on not on their usual sides - this is extremely confusing and you are well within your rights to be confused! In this case ignore where stroke and bow are sitting. Strokeside is still cox's left and Bowside cox's right.

Preparing for an outing

o         If you are using a coxbox check to see if it works while the boat is still on the rack.

o         It is useful to ask before the outing what work it is intended to be done. If there is a coach with you then you don't need to worry too much as they will tell you as you are going along. If there is no coach you need to discuss the work first and ask questions about anything you don't understand. You may need a ratemeter or a stopwatch.

o         Carrying the boat out of the boathouse

o         You should stand at the end of the boat closest to the boat house doors so that you can direct and help with the carrying of the boat out of the boat house.

o         To get the crew to stand by the boat give the command : "Hands on".

o         To lift it, give the command : "Are you ready? Lift".

o         There now follows a series of commands which become quite complicated depending which rack the boat is on. An experienced crew can take the boat out without too much guidance from the cox. See the next section for these commands when you are feeling more confident.


o         Boats should always be put into the water with the bows pointing away from the Boathouse. Check the boat as it comes out of the boathouse to see if it needs to be turned round.

o         To put the boat in the water an experienced crew can "throw" the boat : " Throwing the boat above heads. Bowside moving. Are you ready? Go." Then : "And in".

o         Other crews may wish to do it in four stages : "Half turn. Riverside riggers up. Go." Then : "Strokeside under. Go." Then : "As she floats." Then : "And in".

o         If the boat is to be put onto trestles so that the crew can do some faffing around (traditional for a large proportion of outings!) then the boat needs to be rolled over : "As she floats. Bowside (or strokeside) riggers coming up. Are you ready? Go."

·         Getting into the boat

o         Bowside (usually) have to hold their riggers while strokeside get in : "Bowside holding. Strokeside in. Go."

o         When all of strokeside's blades are in the gates and pushed out on the water ask bowside to get in : "Bowside in. Go" while you hold a rigger half way down the boat.

o         You get in when all the crew appear to be ready. Before doing anything else ask the crew to: "Number off when ready." They will shout "Bow, 2, 3" etc. up the boat to stroke.

o         Check for traffic before moving off then say "Push off on bowside" to get the crew to push away from the bank.

o         As you enter the Docks check for traffic.

Navigation :

·         All use of the word ‘right’ below refers to right from the coxes seat, i.e. facing the direction of travel.

Commands during the outing

·         Warming up

o         Ask the stroke how s/he wants to warm up. Often it involves half the crew sitting the boat and the other half moving up the slide, possibly with square blades. e.g.: "Bow pair, backstops, square blades, hands only. Are you ready? Go." Then "next stroke, body swing. Go" then " next stroke, quarter slide. Go" etc. moving through half slide, three quarter slide to full slide.

o         After bow pair/four have got to full slide taking five to ten strokes at each slide position ask them to "easy oar. Drop" and repeat with stern pair/four.

o         To get the whole crew rowing together you can either ask stern pair/four to stop rowing and get the whole crew to row together : "Backstops. Paddling light. Are you ready? Go" or you can ask stern pair to feather their blades : "Next stroke, feather. Go" and then get bow pair/four to join in by saying : "Bow pair, get ready to join in. Join in now."

o         Increase the pressure by saying : "Next stroke, half pressure. Go"

o         Give the crew one or more bursts of work by saying : "Get ready for ten firm. Next stroke, firm. Go"

o         Some crews like to do five, ten, then fifteen firm with light or half pressure in between.

o         On the penultimate stroke of each set say: "Next stroke, light. Go."

·         General commands and counting strokes

o         Whatever the pressure or work always set off by saying : "Backstops. Paddling light. Are you ready? Go." i.e. even if the crew wants to go firm start off light.

o         After a few strokes call for half pressure then go into any stronger pressure rather than going straight from light to firm, say.

o         Use your fingers to count strokes. If you have to call a change in stroke at the end of ten strokes which is not easily anticipated by the crew give them lots of warning. e.g. count six then say : " Get ready. Rating up two. Next stroke. Go" or some crews prefer (after five strokes): "Rating up two. In three. In two. In one. Go." Check with stroke which s/he prefers if possible.

o         When you wish to stop, check behind for approaching boats, move towards the bank and say : "Next stroke, easy oar". Then say : "Drop". Reprimand crew for dropping the blades on the water before you wish them to as it can be useful to allow the boat to run on until it is in the position you want.

Navigation - anticipating other craft

·         Sailing craft - What speed? Are they tacking ? Is it a regatta?

·         Day hire craft - They probably do not know the rules and may not be alert.

·         Youngsters - They may not be experienced

·         Uncoxed scullers - They are fast but not always vigilant

·         Large pleasure boats and steamers who travel up and down the middle of the river.

·         Canoes often stick very close to the bank going upstream and paddle in a row going downstream

·         Craft moving out, crossing or turning including the ferry

Returning to the Club House

o         Go in very slowly - you need time to make the turn and to check that no other boats are coming out

o         For the last few strokes, ask Stroke to hold the boat us and get bowside to push their hands down to avoid them catching their blades under the edge of the hard.

·         Getting out of the boat

o         Ask strokeside to lean towards the bank and hold on to allow you to get out

o         Hold a rigger in the middle of the boat and say : " Strokeside out".

o         Get strokeside to hold their riggers : " Strokeside holding the boat, bowside out".

·         Putting the boat away

o         Usually the crew will put their blades away while you hold the boat.

o         When the crew is ready, ask for : " Hands on. Lifting the boat above hands, on three. Bowside moving. 1,2,3".

o         Or if the crew don't wish to throw the boat, say : " Hands on. Lifting to waists. Are you ready? Go." Then " Half turn. Riverside riggers up." Then "Bowside under. Go."

o         The boat should be carried to just outside the boathouse, put on trestles, then washed.

o         Then ask for : "Hands on. Are you ready? Lift. Half turn on bowside shoulders. Go." (This works for racks that are to the left of the rowers as they carry the boat in, otherwise strokeside shoulders.) Carry into the boathouse slowly keeping an eye on gates which might get caught on the ceiling and other boats as it is put back on its rack.

 BECOMING MORE AWARE - commands for the first season of outings

·         Taking the boat out of the boathouse

o         Boats sitting on trolleys can be pulled out and crews can step over them to position themselves opposite their riggers before lifting.

o         Boats being lifted off the top racks involve half of the crew moving underneath to get on the other side of the boat as it is lifted off. Experienced crews will automatically work out who needs to move - if not you will need to tell them what to do: look at the rigger closest to you which is sticking out into the boathouse. If it is bow's rigger then bowside need to move under so that they end up opposite their riggers. Otherwise strokeside move. Say "Bowside moving. Are you ready? Lift."

o         With racks that are at waist height all the crew will need to stay on the same side until there is room to ask bowside or strokeside to move under.

o         Boats will need to be carried out of the boathouse on the "half turn", i.e. with the riggers vertical. Again many crews will do this automatically. If not, say : " Half turn. Bowside (or strokeside) shoulders. Go."

o         As soon as possible, give the command : "Level" to allow the crew to carry the boat at a more comfortable position. If needs be, the boat can be carried at different heights to avoid obstacles. To achieve this say : "Shoulders", ".Above heads. Go.", "Waists", "Up in the bows".

·         Spinning

o         In a tight place you might need to ask just one side to paddle on then to get the other side to join in e.g. "Bowside only, paddle on. Go" then "Easy there" then " Strokeside hold it" then Strokeside paddle on" then "Bowside back it down, spinning alternately. Go."

o         A completely different technique involves both sides "chopping" the water together with bowside paddling on and strokeside backing down just using hands only.

o         If there is a strong stream, then you will only need one side to paddle on while the other side holds the boat.

·         Exercises

o         What follows are just a few of the most common exercises. Every new coach or stroke is likely to have a repertoire of exercises that they particularly favour. Listen carefully to what they say and use these commands at a later stage. If you don't understand why a crew is being asked to do something then ask after the outing.

o         If the command is quite complicated then explain what's going to happen first, then say " Get ready. Next stroke. Go" or "Get ready. Change. Go." Remember always to give the "Go" on the finish.

o         Slide work: see Warming Up section but with whole crew. e.g. : "Whole crew. Backstops. Hands only. Paddling light. Are you ready? Go." This helps to get the crew swinging together, swinging before sliding and sliding together.

o         Strong point rowing: "Three - quarter slide, three - quarter pressure. Are you ready? Go." This works on getting the catches together.

o         Acceleration paddling: " Half pressure catch, three-quarter pressure finish. Next stroke. Change .Go." This is good for the finish and co-ordination.

o         Square-blade paddling: " Get ready for square-blade paddling. Next stroke. Go." This is to get everyone working the finish together, drawing up, thinking about consistent hand heights and making sure the finish is coming out square.

o         Alternate square-blade and feathering: (You need to really concentrate on the timing of the commands for this one!) "Get ready for alternate square blade and feathering. Next stroke, square blade. Go. Change. Go." etc.

o         Single strokes: "Single strokes to hands away, bodies over. Are you ready? Go." This concentrates the minds on moving together and letting the boat run. It can be done to a variety of positions. You need to shout "Go" after a brief pause then after a while increase to two strokes etc. by saying : " Two strokes. Go."

o         Changing hand positions: "Inside hand down the loom. Change. Go." "Hands together. Go." "Outside hand off. Go." "Normal paddling. Go." These get the crew to think about what each of their hands are doing and to draw the stroke through to the chest.

o         Feet out paddling: stop the boat and ask the crew to take their feet out. This gets the weight onto the feet and gets them drawing through the finish together.


Listen very carefully to what the coach or stroke want you to say and ask again if you're not sure what is wanted. There is nothing worse for both you and the crew than to get half way through a piece and not be sure what to do next.

Again what follows just covers the most common forms of work - the variation is endless.

ADVANCED TECHNIQUES - how to contribute more to outings

·         Coaching points

o         If in doubt, don't try to coach. There's nothing more infuriating for a crew than to be told to do something that doesn't make sense or makes the situation worse. If you are unsure then before the outing ask stroke to let you know if there's anything s/he wants you to say.

·         How to make comments

o         Any comments you make should be phrased as positively as possible. It is much easier for a crew to think about doing something than not doing something.

o         If one person has a particular fault, direct a comment at that person then let them know if it has improved. However once they know about it, don't keep on at them. They are probably trying as hard as possible to correct it. Every now and then remind them gently in an encouraging way : " Two, square earlier" then " Two, that's much better " "Well done, two. Keep thinking about your squaring."

o         To let a crew know that they are improving slowly say :"Well done. That's starting to come. Keep thinking. It's getting better. That's better. That's much better. That's really good. Well done."

·         Correcting faults

o         The easiest fault that you can see is poor timing. To improve it say : "Timing. There, there. Catch and finish. Lift and send. Think about the ratio. Time on the slide."

o         If the balance isn't good: "Weight onto the toes", "Push on your toes", "Think about your hand heights"

o         If you can feel someone rushing : " Swing over", "Hold the knees down", "Control the last few inches of the slide", "Relax", "Breath on the recovery", "Let it run".

o         If the boat is down on one side ask that side to draw up and the other to push down : "Draw up on strokeside, hands down and away on bowside".

o         When you are feeling really confident you can start to make suggestions to the crew as to the exercises they might do to correct a particular fault.

·         General comments

o         In the middle of long pieces you might feel you need to say something but don't know what. If in doubt, say nothing!

o         What's most likely to happen is that the concentration will go or the pressure will drop.

o         To improve concentration : " Keep thinking. Keep concentrating. Rhythm. Timing. Eyes in the boat. Heads up. Sit tall. Let it run."

o         To improve the pressure : " Work in the water.. Positive catch. Strong finish. Send off the finish. Accelerate to the finish. Push off the finish. Power in the water. Long and hard. Increase the cover. Another few inches. Use the legs."

o         When the crew are doing a fairly long piece of work, take the time to look at each member of the crew individually and give them something to think about : "Bow, use the outside arm, I can see your blade coming away from the gate." "2, sit tall, keep your head up." "3, hold onto your finishes - keep drawing up." " 4, you're skying at the catch. Lift your hands" "5, control the slide. " " 6, you're missing part of the stroke. Quicker hands at the catch." "7, watch the timing, you're a fraction late." "Stroke, keep swinging, hold your legs down."

o         Also in a long piece you can concentrate on particular parts of the stroke in turn e.g. "Think about the finishes. Draw it up. Squeeze the finish. Send off the finish. Finishes there." Etc.

o         For the catch : "Fast hands at the catch. Sit tall. Lock on. Use the legs."

o         For the length : "Lengthen out. Sit back. Take your time at the finish. Swing over from backstops. Get the length from backstops. And stretch."

o         Every now and then look at the puddles that the crew are making and the distance from the end of one set to the beginning of the next set. In an eight, "chaining" is where you can't see where one set ends and the next starts. If the distance drops, ask for "let's squeeze up the cover."

o         You can also now and then concentrate on how comfortable you feel. If you are being jerked in the back every stroke then the boat is stopping at the catch which means people are rushing the last few inches of the slide or are jamming the blade into the water. Ask them to: "Let it run at the catch. Push on your toes coming into frontstops. Keep it smooth at the catch. Take the catch with your toes/legs."

o         Use landmarks and other boats to increase the work and concentration e.g. going under a bridge "Heads up. Push away from the bridge" or alongside another crew : " Work off them. Squeeze past. Every stroke. Push away".

·         At the end of a piece or the end of an outing

o         Ask crew to take their outside hand off to give them a chance to catch their breath and go much lighter while also thinking about their feathering.

o         Ask them to close their eyes. This forces them to concentrate on how it feels and also helps them to relax and wind down.

o         To improve the ratio and as a final piece of relaxed but controlled rowing at the end of an outing, ask for : "Up one in the water, down one on the slide. Go."

Effects of stream.

Getting into the bank in difficult circumstances


The cox needs to be calm and in control throughout and can make the difference between victory and defeat.

During the race, the first priority is still to steer effectively but the cox can also contribute hugely in managing and motivating the crew. Give encouragement and make comments in the same way that you do during outings and discuss with the crew beforehand any special pushes or tactics you plan to use.


·         Before boating

·         Going up to the start

·         The race

·         The Umpire

Head races

·         Before boating

o         Collect numbers and find out as much as possible about the course before you boat. Head races are long distance so it is unlikely you can see both the start and the finish. If possible have a look at the finish to be absolutely clear where it is.

o         In particular check which side of islands and which arches of bridges must be used. And read any marshalling instructions that have been sent.

·         Going to the start

o         Many of the same considerations as for regattas apply especially with regard to crew preparation and warming up) but there will not normally be such direct marshalling of boating and it will be up to the crew (controlled by the cox) to be at the start early enough.

o         On the way to the start point out any landmarks along the course which you are going to use for pushes. In particular, if you row past the start, make sure the crew have seen it.

o         The start will normally be under the control of shore marshals who will direct boats to their holding positions and instruct their movement to the start (which may involve a turn).

o         If the race is downstream don't turn until you are told. You have much more control of the boat while it is pointing upstream.

o         It is essential that the cox remains calm at all times. You are likely to be shouted at by a number of different people. Don't let them get to you.

o         You must understand exactly where the start is so the crew can be commanded to go from light to half pressure then told to build appropriately.

o         At the start line the judge will normally call the crew number and a command "go". The cox should then say "Firm. Go." Usually the timing doesn't actually start for another few strokes.

·         The race

o         Remember that normal navigation rules and race rules apply.

o         You should avoid following in the turbulent water created by another crew however if it is possible for you to move over and wash down the other crew without being disqualified then this is to be desired.

o         Use the current to the maximum (refer to section 4 above).

o         You can watch crews ahead to see where the fastest water is and also the best water conditions.

o         Tell the crew about other boats in the distance that you're gaining on and give them a regular update on the distance between you and them (as long as you are actually gaining on them!)

o         After the race insist that your crew has a proper "wind down" to minimise stiffness.