A Guide to Coxing
Contents | Novicing | Basics | River Navigation | The Sport | Equipment | Job of a Cox | Outings | Races | Advice | Appendix I | Appendix II | Appendix III | Appendix IV | Appendix V
Coxing an Outing
- Before boating - warm up, core, get your equipment
- Taking the boat out - always be careful not to damage any equipment
- During an outing - warm-up, pieces, technical work
- Spinning - look around, adjust to conditions (space, wind, stream)
- Parking - difficult manoeuvre, approach bank slowly and do not hit it!
This section aims to familiarise you with some of the situations you will meet in the course of coxing. Most useful parts are getting the boat out, spinning and parking/landing.
Once the crew have met up and are at the boathouse they should do a brief warm up, stretch and do core. Urge the crew to be more efficient if they are taking too much time doing this.
- Getting the boat out
Before the boat is removed from the boathouse, each member of the crew (or some take all) should remove their blade from wherever it is stored and place it near the river but out of the way.
Then, on your command "Hands on", each crew member should stand by their seat. (These instructions assume that the boat is stored on a rack which will almost always be the case). You should position yourself by the stern to make sure no damage is done to the fin or rudder. Holding the stern of the boat with one hand is helpful because you can physically resist the crew if they are about to crash the stern into a wall. It is not necessary to pay such close attention to the bows because the oarsmen can see it themselves. On your call "racks out", the racks will be pulled away from the support giving you more room around the boat. You then call "Lifting on 3: 1, 2, 3" or "Ready - Up". On "3/Up" the whole crew should lift the boat slightly. The boat should not be lifted more than a few centimetres otherwise it will hit the rack above. The boat should be carefully moved away from the racking. While this is taking place, half of the rowers should duck under the boat and hold it on the other side so that they are all opposite their rigger by the time the boat has been removed from the rack. Some of our boats are stored on the floor of the boathouse. The sequence will remain very similar - you call "roll out" to get the boat in the middle of the bay. Call either side to "go around" - each rower standing opposite their rigger (they should never walk over the boat but always around it). Then you go again for "hands on - lifting to waists - ready - up". There are three heights at which a boat can be held - Waists - the crew stands with arms straight down and their hands under the saxboard. Shoulders - the crew put whichever hand is nearest the boat at shoulder-height underneath the saxboard. Heads - the crew stands with arms fully extended above their head with the boat above them.
As the crew walks out of the boathouse you should tell them whether to turn left or right. When the stern is clear of the boathouse you should say "stern clear" to indicate that the stern can be swung round so that the boat is parallel to the river. At this point you can let go of the stern and stand back so you can see the whole boat.
Once the boat is parallel to the river, you need to turn the boat the correct way up. To do this, the boat must be held as waists. If necessary, call "Waists on 3: 1, 2, 3". Then call "Turn the boat, keel towards the river". Your crew will then turn the boat over so that the boat is the right way up, and hold it, still at waists, by reaching one hand across and holding the saxboard on the other side. Next (assuming you are going downstream) bowside need to be brought round to strokeside to allow the boat to be placed in the water. The call is "bowside under from bow", and one at a time, each member of bowside crawls under the boat, and holds the boat from strokeside. Once everyone is on strokeside, call "walk it down" and the crew will walk the boat down to the water's edge.
They should reach right out, with their toes over the edge. On the command "lower it in" they should place the boat gently in the water. You must check that the fin and rudder do not get damaged.
With a more experienced crew there is a more efficient way of putting the boat into the water. Once you are parallel to the water's edge, call "Heads on 3: 1, 2, 3". On "3" the crew lifts the boat to heads. You then call "roll it down to waists" and the whole crew should end up on the landward side of the boat holding both sides of the boat. The boat is then put in the water in the same way as above. This method is preferable but can only be used if the crew can easily lift the boat to head height.
Once the boat is in the water, you should take hold of the 4 rigger, while the crew get their blades. Strokeside blades will have red markings. Bowside blades will have green ones. Each blade is also marked with the number of the corresponding rower. Strokeside (assuming they are the landward side) should put their blades into the gates straight away. All the gates should be pointing towards the stern of the boat. The button should be on the boat-side of the gate and the gate should be done up tightly. Bowside should place their blades across the boat by their seat, with the spoon resting next to the gate. Once strokeside blades are in, you should call "strokeside holding, bowside in". Strokeside then need to hold the boat steady by gripping their blades, while bowside step in. It is important that the crew do not become complacent about holding the boat steady - if it is not done properly there is a serious risk that the boat will capsize. Bowside should place their right feet between the sliders of their seats and sit down as they swing their left feet into their shoes. Before doing anything else, bowside must put their blades into their gates, tighten them, and push the blades as far out as they will go so that the buttons are pressing against the gates. Once all bowside blades are out, call "strokeside in". When all of the crew are in the boat you should get in yourself. You should try to avoid putting undue pressure on the bottom of the boat so it is better to get in by standing on the seat. If it is unavoidable then be gentle.
You should then plug in your coxbox and adjust the volume appropriately.
Call "number off from bow when ready" to make sure your whole crew are properly prepared. When bow is ready he will shout "bow" and each successive rower will shout their number when they have heard the number behind them and are ready. When you hear "stroke", you know you can push off.
Once your crew are ready you need to push away from the bank. Check that you will not impede any other crews and then call "pushing off - Go" They will then bring their blades in until their spoons are against the bank and push against the bank to move the boat out into the stream.
As soon as you are pushed out, move onto the right-hand side of the river and begin your warm up. This is to warm the muscles before any strenuous exercise and to get the crew moving together. It is also a good opportunity to correct basic errors because in most warm-ups some of the crew will not be rowing but will be stabilising the boat, making rowing easier.
Warm-ups take many forms. You should discuss an appropriate warm up with your coach before the start of the outing. However most coaches will use the following warm-up for novice crews.
You should instruct stern four to sit the boat (rest their blades on the water and keep the boat level) while you start bow four rowing at arms only with square blades. ("Bow four, arms only, square blades, are you ready? Go"). You then progressively increase the stroke allowing 10 or 15 strokes at each stage. Thus after arms only, you call bodyswing, then quarter slide, half-slide and full-slide (you tend to omit three-quarters slide).
When stern four have completed this, you should tell them to easy ("easy there") and take the run off. They should then sit the boat while stern four warm up in the same way.
While warming up make sure you pay attention to other crews. If you are moving faster than the crews in front of you tailor your warm-up to make you move more slowly since overtaking is rarely possible above Chesterton Bridge. If you are holding up crews behind you, you should speed up your warm-up.
As has been discussed, steering is extremely difficult during warm ups since the boat speed will be very low. You should make use of your crew to steer the boat.
Once your warm-up is completed, you will either do a piece (a protracted period of hard work), or focus on technical aspects of the stroke. Both are discussed briefly so that you have some familiarity with them.
A piece is usually over a set distance or time and it is your responsibility to start and stop the piece to conform to the instructions from the coach. The coach might also have specified a particular rating for the piece in which case you should monitor the rating and call "up 3", "down 1" etc. as necessary during the piece.
The crew should find pieces very tiring (if they don't then they are not trying hard enough). It is your responsibility to motivate and encourage the crew. You are responsible for "tactics" as you would be in a race so you must call pushes (periods of extra effort) in appropriate places. A piece will seem shorter for the crew if it is broken down into shorter periods. You must not forget that you are also expected to coach the crew. Pushes or technical focuses should not last any longer than 15 strokes or concentration will wander. Sometimes it is useful to count the strokes in the push. Often, however, this is merely irritating so you should make sparing use of it.
It is important that you tell the crew how far they have gone or how far they have to go. If they have gone less than halfway, tell them how far they have gone. If they are more than halfway there, tell them how long they have remaining. If you are practising over a particular course in preparation for a race it is a good idea to associate pushes and particular focuses with landmarks along the course. As you approach the finish you can tell the crew how many strokes they have left to take. However, you must make sure that you do not underestimate this distance or it will lead to demoralisation.
Bear in mind that doing a piece does not give you the right to ignore other crews and behave in an unsafe or reckless manner. You must be aware of crews around you, and, if necessary, wind down or stop.
- Technical exercises
The purpose of these exercises is to improve the rowers' technique. The coach will be concentrating and will not be paying attention to the other crews on the river. Coaches will not get upset with you if you interrupt their technical exercises to manoeuvre the boat for safety reasons.
Try to pay close attention to what your coach is saying, and reinforce it by rephrasing it in your own words. Remember to praise rowers when they correct their faults - often they will not know whether they have succeeded in doing what was asked for.
Before embarking on an exercise you should make sure that the whole crew is familiar with what it entails. If you yourself are unsure ask the coach to explain it again.
Spinning (the process by which the boat is turned around) is probably the most hazardous part of an outing.
You should check that you are not impeding any other crews by spinning. Assuming it is clear, you should easy on the right-hand side of the river. You should use the rudder to steer you left and have only strokeside take the run off. This will turn you substantially to the left reducing the length of time it will take to spin.
Sometimes you will need to spin using less than the full crew. This will be the case if the river is particularly narrow and you need extra control in spinning. Mostly, however, you will want the whole of strokeside to back it down and the whole of bowside to row on. You should give the command, "Bowside rowing on then strokeside backing it down, alternate strokes, go". As bowside take a stroke, strokeside return to backstops to back it down again. As strokeside back it down, bowside come forwards up the slide to take another stroke. Spinning in this way results in the whole crew moving up and down the slide simultaneously. This avoids anybody being hit in the back by the oar of the person behind. You should be aware that bowside are moving the boat forwards and strokeside are moving the boat backwards. If necessary ask strokeside to stop before bowside so that you end up on the correct side of the river once you have finished turning.
When spinning, the cox should watch the stern of the boat and the clearance it has from the bank. With experience you will learn the length of the boat and be able to judge your clearance at the bows even though you can't see. In tight spaces it is often prudent to ask your coach to keep an eye on the bows and warn you if you are about to hit the bank.
In cases of strong winds or a fast stream, turning becomes harder. When you are pointing across the river you will move very quickly downstream. It is important that you warn the crew of this so they are ready to take powerful strokes to help you finish spinning.
When you have finished your outing, you need to park the boat. There are two ways to do this though the second method should only be attempted once you have reached a reasonable level of competence as a cox.
Easy the crew a couple of lengths before the boathouse. Tell bow pair to paddle on gently. Steer towards the bank so that your bowside blades are only about a foot away from the bank. If necessary get 2 to take a stroke on his own so that you are pointing towards the bank. Warn bowside that you are about to park. They will lower their hands so that their blades rise up onto the bank. Finally you need to straighten the boat up. Assuming you are travelling slowly this is normally best achieved by telling stroke to hold it up. You should then jump out of the boat and pull 5's rigger into the bank so that the rest of the crew can get out. Remember that your coxbox needs to be detached from the boat.
A much harder (but much more elegant) way of parking is to glide to the right spot without needing to use bow four to manoeuvre. You should make sure the crew are rowing at light pressure and easy well before the boathouse. Do not tell your crew to "drop". Point your bows towards the bank. Before your bows hit the bank steer leftwards and tell the crew to lean away from the bank. This will bring you parallel to the bank as your boat comes to a halt. You can then get out at your leisure.
Once you have parked, take hold of 5's rigger and call "bowside out". They should leave their blades in the gates and stand by their riggers. You should then call, "bowside holding, strokeside out." Once bowside are holding their blades, strokeside should remove their blades from their gates, place them across the boat as they did when first getting in and do the gates up again. They should then get out of the boat allowing bowside to remove their blades. You should hold the boat while the rowers put their blades away.
To get the boat out of the water, each crew member stands by their seat. On your command "hands on" they should hold the nearside of the boat with one hand and reach across the boat to holds the strokeside saxboard with the other. You should call "lift to waists on 3: 1, 2, 3" and the boat will be lifted to waists. You should make sure that neither the fin nor the rudder gets damaged. After "bowside under from bow" and "turn the boat, keel towards the river," walk it into the boathouse. You should position yourself by the bows.
Alternatively, after the boat has been brought to waists, you can call "swing to heads on 3: 1, 2, 3" followed by "split to shoulders on 3: 1, 2, 3" so that each rower is opposite his rigger. The shorter "split to shoulders; go" is just as acceptable
Before you put the boat away you must wipe it or wash it on trestles. While the crew hold it you should use a cloth to wipe the whole of the keel particularly the water-line. Finally you should pull the racks out, put the boat on (making sure to avoid the boat resting on any riggers) and push the racks in. Try to avoid pushing the boat around when it is on the rack because it weakens the shell. If you need to make adjustments, lift the boat and put it down again.