A Simple Guide to Coxing



1. Safety First

2. Navigation

3. Steering

4. Basic Coxing Commands

5. Rowing Dictionary

6. Boat Basics


1. Safety First


Safety always comes first!

As a cox you are responsible for keeping the rowers, the equipment and yourself safe from harm.



In Winter it gets very cold and as you are not moving about you need to take extra care to stay warm. Lots of thin layers will keep you warmer than just one thick jumper. Gloves and a hat will also help. Wear water proofs- even if it doesn’t rain chances are you will end up getting splashed some how.

In Summer it is always a few degrees colder on the river than on the bank so bring a jumper or splash top with you. The sun reflects off the water and means you are more likely to get sunburn so either cover up or wear sun cream, preferably both.

In General a decent pair of sunglasses come in handy as the glare from the water can be quite strong, they can also look very cool! Get into the habit of bringing along a change of clothes so you always have something dry to change into in case of emergencies or sudden rain etc.

You must wear a lifejacket at all times on the water! No lifejacket- No coxing


Water Safety

  • Capsize

Capsizes are rare but not unheard of, it is very unlikely that you will capsize but you should know what to do, just in case.

If you capsize make sure you, and your crew, stay with the boat. Rowing boats are designed to float, even if full of water. Staying together is also the best way to make sure everyone is accounted for and ok.

  • Steering

Make sure that you are always in a safe place on the river. For example, don’t stop the boat on a corner- if something is coming round it won’t see you until it is too late.

Always stay on the right hand side of the river (but check local rules), if you need to overtake you can go into the right hand side of the middle. If you are on the wrong side and you have a crash then the accident is your fault!

If you are ever unsure if a situation is safe or not you need to stop! It is better to stop the boat than to risk damaging it or the people in it.

  • Responsibilities

You should be in control of your boat and aware of what it is doing. You must pay attention to the river at all times, even if the rowers and coach are having a bit of fun it is up to you to keep a look out for other boats, floating logs etc.

You should learn to use simple and concise rowing commands as quickly as possible.


2. Navigation


You should treat the river with as much care and attention as you would a road. The river its own version of the highway code which you should obey.


Brief outline of navigation rules for our River

  • You should always stay on your (coxes) right hand side (starboard)
  • If you need to overtake another boat you should overtake in the middle
  • If you are being overtaken you should try to move your boat into the bank to give the passing crew room to come by safely.
  • Sailing boats without a motor should be given navigational priority, they can be difficult to steer in a hurry. Try to steer past them as best you can, this may involve lots of stopping and starting.
  • You should warn boats that get in your path or look like they might pass you very closely by shouting loudly and clearly “Ahead Sculler (Pair/ Four etc)”
  • Do not stop for any length of time in a place that will be dangerous or inconvenient for others. If you stop on the cut make sure you are into the bank so crews can pass.


3. Steering


A few basic facts

  • The slower the boat is travelling the slower it will respond to the rudder.
  • Using the rudder slows the boat and makes it harder to balance
  • Bad steering can add minutes onto your race
  • Many races are lost because of a cox’s poor steering
  • There are other ways to steer apart from the rudder
  • The rudder will not work if the boat is not moving
  • Not all boats steer in the same way
  • If you put the rudder on as far as it will go it becomes useless.


How to steer when the boat isn’t moving

This way is how you will need to steer to get straight at the start of a race, or to get the boat onto the bank or landing stages.

The movement of the blades turns the boat. You can get the boat to go forwards or backwards or sideways using the rowers.

To get a rower to take a stroke with just arms and bodies tell them to “Take a Tap” this will turn the boat slightly towards the other side.

For a full stroke tell them to “Take a stroke”, this will push the boat around a bit further to the opposite side.

To get them to backdown “Back it down”- they should then turn the spoon around and push the blade away from the body, pulling the boat back onto their side.

You can get the boat to move sideways by ‘scratching on’ to do this get a rower on the opposite side of the boat to the way you want to move to pass his/her blade to the rower in front, who will then ‘scratch it on’ by taking a few small strokes. The angle of the blade will push the boat over to the other side.


The Rudder - a few rules


  • You should try to steer using the rudder in a series of small squeezes applied at the front end of the stroke, this means you must steer well in advance and anticipate any changes the stream or unequal pressure or timing of the blades may have on your boat.
  • You should only move the rudder when the blades are in the water- preferably on the first part of the drive stage, to minimise disruption, never tough the rudder on the recovery.
  • Having the rudder on hard makes it difficult to row, it also makes the boat unbalanced. This should be avoided wherever possible.
  • You should warn the crew if you need to put the rudder on very hard e.g. for a corner or to move around something.
  • Remember that there will be a delay when you steer so you won’t see the boat change direction for a few strokes after the rudder is applied. Avoid the temptation to leave the rudder on for a few strokes until you see the turn. The boat will also continue to turn for a few strokes after the rudder is put straight


General advice

  • If a rower is out of time it will change the direction of the boat. If the boat seems to be drifting over to one side it maybe poor timing at the catch or the finish. Rowers at stroke and bow effect the direction of the boat the most.
  • Sometimes a rower will be pulling harder than the rest, this will also cause the boat to drift to one side.
  • The strength and direction of the stream will also effect the steering. If you are rowing against the stream don’t put your boat in the middle of it.
  • The stream is fastest where the river is deepest, usually in the middle- but not always.
  • Boats such as cruisers and safety launches create ‘wash’ (small waves or wakes) from behind them. This makes the boat wobbly and hard to control.  You should avoid rowing behind these boats and warn the crew if you are about to hit large amounts of wash.
  • You should aim to take the fastest course for your crew, whilst still keeping safe. On most rivers this will be the shortest line, steering from the water not the bank. On some rivers this will be dependant on the strength and direction of the stream.



  • You should always be on the right, or right side of the middle when going round a bend.
  • It is okay to cut the corner as long as you don’t go past the middle. Always consider the possibility that something may be coming around it on the other side!
  • If the corner is tight you can get one side to lighten off and the other side to rower harder or sharpen on to help you around. If the corner is very tight you can get rowers on one side to stop rowing completely, or take them down to half slide.
  • Just because you know never to stop on a corner don’t assume nobody else will.
  • You need to plan corners in advance, remember there is a delay on the rudder.


4. Basic Coxing Commands


Calls should be clear and concise- speak clearly and authoritivly. 




Who is rowing           

Whole crew (bow four/pair/, stern four/pair etc),


How are they rowing

Fullslide/halfslide etc, square/feathered blades. light pressure etc


            When are they rowing

from backstops, ready, go




Next      stroke  

(said at catch and finish)

Easy    there  

(‘there’ said at the finish. crew should stop rowing at ‘arms away’ and boat should be balanced, if not crew should try to adjust so it is)


(rowers can drop blades onto the water)

 Take off the run

(rowers square blades in the water stopping any momentum still carrying the boat forward)


Stopping quickly (emergency brake)


Hold it up

(Crew stop rowing and square blades in the water stopping boat quickly though not instantly)



General Points


Although it is important that the crew know exactly what they have to do, this doesn't mean that you need to give a lengthy explanation before every take off. If it is obvious- you don't need to say it.


eg half way through an outing in which the crew have been rowing together for a while at feathered blades, half pressure. 

"Whole crew, from back stops, full slide, feathered blades, half pressure, are you ready? Go"


would be better as;

"Backstops, half pressure, ready - go"



Every call you make should have a purpose, don't say  " Quick hands around the turn" if the speed of the hands is not a problem, just so you have something to say.


Similarly lengthy counting in a push, focus or general rowing is pointless, and stupid. If you say a number, it should serve a purpose.

Acceptable counting

The last few strokes of a piece/race to encourage the crew to push themselves for those last few seconds. Eg "last three strokes, give it all, ready now, 3,2,1, wind down." (count down)

Counting into a push or focus, to emphasis a change. EG  "ten firm finishes, puddles past the stern, ready, go- one- there" to let the crew know the focus has started. (count up)


Calling timing at the catch/finish. Works if done properly and sporadically. Don't go for 500ms saying "there (to) there", it is incredibly annoying, especially when you are not saying it in time anyway. You can say it for a few strokes, or say "Catch, together, Finish, together" etc, but it must be said on the catch and on the finish- and for no more than 5 strokes at a time, unless you are coxing complete beginners.

It is far more effective, if you have a crew with a timing problem, to start giving your calls in the rhythm of the boat- this means everything you say should fit into the timing of the catch and finish and length of the recovery. Your voice becomes like a metronome but you are still able to give other information.


Warm Up

(up the slide)


From stationary (stop the boat and take off the run before starting)


(C) said as the blades go in at the catch

(f) said as the blades come out at the finish


Bow four from backstops, arms only, square blades, ready... Go

(about 10 strokes on each)

They should be sitting 10 degrees back just drawing up with the hands and tapping down with the hand on the outside of the blade. Watch out for timing, and make sure they draw up together.

(c) Next (f) Stroke.

 Arms and Bodies     

(f) Go

Rowers arms go away then they swing bodies over from the hips (not the shoulders) and lift hands into the catch. Make sure they are swinging back and then over together.

(c) Next (f) Stroke.

 1/4 slide  

 (f) Go

After bodies are over rowers should just break the knees bring them 1/4 of the way forwards up the slide. Make sure they get the hands over the knees before they bend them. Then press with the legs before opening the bodies.

(c) Next (f) Stroke.

1/2 slide     

(f) Go

They move 1/2 the length of the slide. Make sure they are not rushing forwards and the blades are coming out together at the finish. Remind them to draw up and to tap down with the outside hand.

(c) Next (f) Stroke.

 3/4 slide    

 (f) Go

3/4 of the way forwards. Remind them to rock the body weight onto the feet and spring off the toes. This will give the boat a bit of lift and make it easier to balance. If it is wobbly remind them to get the hands making a big C shape round the turn.

(c) Next (f) Stroke.

Full Slide    

(f) Go

This should be a proper stroke. Make sure they are not rushing forwards should be at least twice the time spent on the slide as in the water. Get them to hold the knees down to stop rushing. Make sure catches are in together and finishes are released together.

(c) Next (f) Stroke.

Feathered Blades    

(c) Go

Make sure they square up when the hands have reached the shins so the blade is ready to be put into the water just before the catch. If it goes in not properly square they may 'catch a crab'  and get the blade stuck under the water.

(c) Next (f) Stroke

(C) Easy (f) There.


Make sure they balance the boat before you tell the to drop, They should easy at the same position and balance. Then repeat exercise with stern four.




Changing the pressure (example)


(c) half (f) pressure (c) next (f) stroke (c) Go


If you want to give them more time before they change- eg if you are going from light to firm and you want to make sure they are ready when you say go.


(c) half (f) pressure (c) in (f) three (c) in (f) two (c) next (f) stroke (c)


Changing the slide


 (c) next (f) stroke (-) half slide (f) go (so they change from the finish not the catch)


Changing the rate (strokes per min)


Ready to take it up 2 round the turn (c) next (f) stroke (c) up 2 (f) go


Up 2 through the water (c) next (f) stroke (c) Go





How to spot it

What to say

Rushing the slide

People moving too quickly forwards, feels rushed and manic, no rhythm, or individuals reaching the catch before everyone else.

(say when they are on the way forwards- say slowly)


Hold the knees down


Sloooooowly forwards


Gliiiiiide forwards together


Quick hands, slooooow legs


Getting people to put the blades in/take it out together. One/many blades out of sync with rest. Caused by a number of things.

Said at the catch and finish in time with stroke so they can get in time with your voice.

(c) Catch   (f) Together

(c) Timing  (f) there

(c) in         (f)together

(c) out       (f) together


boat wobbly, or dropping down to one side. Feels unstable, people knocking blades on the water on the way forwards.

You want them to set the balance up by putting a bit of pressure through the stroke then drawing up together, moving round the turn together and keeping the hands steady on the slide.

If they are out of time this will also make it unbalanced.

Pressing off the toes

hands round and down

Big C shapes with the hands

Draw up together

Tap down in time

keeping the hands low on the legs




During bursts of pressure and pieces when you want them to row hard. Never shout and scream, just make your voice sound authoritative you are encouraging them to be aggressive rather than having a go at them. If you are too aggressive they will often tense up and row badly. Say stuff below aggressively but also talk calmly and smoothly about keeping the slide long and not rushing (as above) to keep them focused.


through the water

Squeeeeze through the water

Suspending the bodies

Strong strokes, building the pressure


at the finish

Big puddles, getting them past the stern of the boat

Sending the finishes

(c) Squeeze  (f) back


at the catch

(c) Sharp (f) catches

drop and lock

stamp down on the footplate



5. Rowing Dictionary



ARA Armature Rowing Association

Blades Correct term for racing oars

Bowloader Boat where the cox is lying in the bows facing away from the rowers

Catch Moment when the blade enters the water

Check Undesirable moment at the catch or finish when the boats momentum is disturbed

Cleaver Newer type of spoon, shaped like a butchers cleaver.

Crab When a rower’s blade gets stuck under the water, normally because they have put it in under squared

Ergo Rowing machine

Feathering Turning the blade so the spoon is parallel to the water

Fin Piece of metal or plastic attached to the hull. Keeps the boat balanced and straight

Finish The point when the rower pulls the oar to the body with the arms and then extracts the blade from the water.water.

Footplate Attaches shoes to the boat

Gate Locks the blade into the swivel

Macons Traditional type of blade, used by novices.

Puddle Little whirlpools left in the water by the blade when it has been extracted. Generally the bigger the puddle the more work the rower is putting in.

Rate Stroke rate per minute

Recovery Part of the stroke from the finish to the catch when the blades are out of the water.

Rigger Metal piece attached to the side of the boat to give leverage for the blades.

Spoon Coloured part of the blade that goes in the water.

Swivel Plastic part on top of the rigger that the blade rests in.

Tideway Stretch of the Thames from Putney to Mortlake that the Head of the River and Boat Race are rowed on.

Tub Wooden training boat, is very hard to capsize.

6. Boat Basics

Rowers with blades on the coxes left are Strokeside (Portside)

Rowers with blades on the coxes right are Bowside (Starboard)


Boats can be ‘bow rigged’ so that stroke will be even numbers (normally strokeside) change to have their oars on the right and are rowed by bowside rowers. Ask your crew if you are unsure.