A Guide to Coxing
Coxing a Race
- At all races always read the marshalling instructions
- On Cam racing - regattas, Head races and Bumps
- Off Cam - bring toolbox, coxbox and lifejacket, know the course and rules
- Race plans - steer the fastest line, get the most out of the crew, motivate!
All races will have their own different rules so it is impossible for this section to be comprehensive. The hope is to provide you with an overview of the sort of situations you will encounter. Just as in pieces, during a race you must coach the crew and make tactical decisions as well as motivating the rowers and steering. Here are some basic rules and pieces of advice for all races:
Before you arrive at the race familiarise yourself with the rules and regulations of the race including checking the position of the start and finish line.
Make sure you have your lifejacket with you (a British Rowing regulation) and that your coxbox is fully charged.
Before boating check that all nuts on the boat have been done up securely. Also check that each pair of shoes has heel-restraints and that your boat has a bow ball - also a British Rowing requirement.
Make sure you know what time you are racing and therefore what time you will need to boat. Assemble the crew substantially before this to allow you to confirm the race plan. This extra time also gives you a safety net in case people assemble late.
If the rules require you to wear race numbers then you must collect them together with safety pins. One will probably be attached to your back. The other to bow's back. Make sure that you fix your number to the top layer of clothing and that bow attaches his to his racing clothes (rather than any extra layers he may be wearing for warmth before the race).
If the rules require, make sure you weigh in well in advance. If you have to carry weights then make sure you have these with you when you boat.
Once you have boated and are paddling down to the start, try to familiarise yourself with landmarks along the course which you might want to use for specific pushes. Check that you are certain of the location of the start and finish lines.
During the race, keep the crew informed of the distance to the finish.
At the end of the race you must clear the finish line. Your crew will want to collapse but you must bully them, otherwise you risk disqualification.
A very important aspect of racing is not only steering and co-ordinating the crew but is also getting the most of your rowers on race day. In order to do so you should have a race plan ready and it is the cox's role to ensure it gets implemented. If our coach does not give you a race plan ask for it. Make sure you talk the crew over it before the race. Of course, you should be able to improvise if a change of the plan has to happen but at all times communicate this to the rowers. They are focusing maximally on their technique and should not have to be distracted by the fact that you are suddenly steering a different course or are calling something else than previously discussed. Visualisation of the course and different race situations is a useful way of learning to act promptly and for the rowers to know how to react to your calls. For example if you planned to overtake a crew on a head race in the first 500m but on race day you are not gaining on them it is important not to lie to the crew and be constructive in fixing it. Call for changes in technique, power, rhythm etc. The fact that the race plan has to be changed does not mean you cannot do well in the race. So for example in the aforementioned case you would say something like "Crew X are a length ahead of us. I want to get to overlap by the end of First Post reach. Give me 20 strokes with stronger finish - ready - now!... yeah we are moving on them, let's overtake them on the inside of the next corner in 30strokes". However if the goal set is unachievable do not be negative. Instead say something like "they are holding us at half a length after that push. We know we are faster than them. Let's get into a strong rhythm and wear them down in the next 700m". Finally, your primary goal any time is to finish the course in the shortest possible time.
On the Cam there are three types of races - side-by-side races, head races and Bumps. Almost all off-Cam events will be side-by-side races or head races.
In side-by-side races, two (or more) crews will start level. While the cox manoeuvres the boat he should keep his hand in the air signalling to the race umpire that he is not ready. He should be aware that the race may start at any time if his hand is down and the crew should be prepared for this. When all hands are down, the umpire will call "attention" to warn the crews that the race is about to start and then "go" signifying the start. Each crew must stay in the lane or portion of the river (known as "station") to which they have been assigned. Failure to do so may result in disqualification. If you stray off your station you will be warned. If you are warned, you must act straight away but do not panic. Violent use of the rudder will slow you down considerably. During the race make sure you keep the crew informed of how they are doing in relation to other boats. You will expect them to be focused in the boat so you must "be their eyes". Do not wind down until you are absolutely certain you have crossed the line (i.e. you have heard a claxon, been told by an umpire to wind down or you are clearly 2 lengths over the line!) The first crew to cross the line wins. In Cambridge these races occur on the Long Reach as this is the widest, straightest part of the river. The course will be from 500m or 800m which will mean you have to go past the railway bridge. Know you start and finish and your station - towpath or meadow as steering varies on both stations.
In head races, crews are set off at set time intervals (e.g. 30 seconds). You start rowing significantly before the start line. The time you cross the start line is recorded as is the time you cross the finish line. Crews are ranked simply in order of their total time. You can steer whatever line you choose so you must make careful use of the stream and cut corners (unless that takes you completely out of the stream). If you are going with the stream (or with the tide) you should aim to be in the middle of the river. If you are travelling against the stream (or the tide) you should be close to the bank and on the inside of the corners. Unless you are very familiar with the river you should watch a video of the course if one is available. It is also helpful to look on the internet for guidance and to discuss the best line with other coxes. It is very important that you have clearly defined race plan because you will not have a crew next to you to work off. However, if a crew closes on you try to push off them. If you move towards the crew in front try to overtake them quickly. This will demoralise them and give your crew a boost. It is important that you check the rules on overtaking and being overtaken because in each event the rules will be different. Usually the crew being overtaken must surrender the racing line, but this is not always the case. Start your cox box timer as you cross the start line. Your timer will probably not agree with the official time but it should be close and will give you a rough idea of your progress along the course which you can compare to times in training.
In processional time trials (some Cam races such as University IVs or Small Boats Regatta) two crews are set off simultaneously from start lines spaced a set distance apart. They then race to two separate finishes which are the same distance apart. Your approach should be the same as in a head race, however, because you have only one opponent, it is important to give the crew an idea of how you are performing relative to your opposition. The usual course on the Cam for a head race is around 2k to 2.4k from the Motorway bridge to the Railway bridge or further to the P&E (going upstream). The ideal course to steer on the Cam is reasonably similar to what one does in an outing which makes it far easier than Fairbarns which is a race downstream from Jesus Boathouse to the Motorway bridge thus to an extent on a part of the river where you are not even allowed race pressure.
Bumping races are the highlight of the Cambridge rowing calendar. They are also the most complicated form of racing. Crews line up with one and a half boat lengths between them. When the gun goes, crews race and try to hit the crew in front. If you succeed then both you and the crew you have "bumped" are out of the race. You swap places in the start order the following day. One year's finish order is the next year's start order. If a College is consistently strong, year on year, then they might be able to bump all the way up to end up "Head of the River". This is the ultimate aim. It is worth bearing in mind that a "bump" is defined as any part of the boat (including people and oars) making contact with any part of the boat ahead. You can also bump by overtaking the crew in front or by rowing past their starting station if for some reason they do not start. For a much more detailed guide to bumping races, go to our bumps introduction.
Off Cam Racing
Apart from racing on the Cam, you may go to off Cam races. These are in winter head races and in the summer regattas. The most famous Head races are on the Tideway on the Boat Race course from Barnes to Putney. The Head of the River Fours is usually in November and the Head of the River Race is the highlight of the winter season in March. There are many regattas in the summer season among which are BUCS (British Universities and College Sports) and Henley Women's Regatta and Henley Royal Regatta in the first week of July. Racing off-Cam is a great experience but is particularly stressful for coxes as they have to adapt to a new environment very quickly to perform best in a race. As the few general pieces of advice at the start of this section suggest make sure you know and have read the marshalling and circulation instructions ie know where you are boating from, what time, what race number you have, what time you are racing, where to go after you finish racing - this will be quite easy for you on the Cam after a few races but should not be taken for granted off-Cam. Also find out the weather forecast and prepare for it - rain, wind, sun, cold, too hot - all are conditions you can anticipate. Apart from knowing what to do on race day make sure you take with you a lifejacket and a working coxbox. If you are going to race more races during the day get a charger for your coxbox and find where you can plug it in between races. Also have a toolbox for re-rigging and de-rigging the boat to put it on a trailer. Make sure you get instructed by the boatman on how to rig a boat. After you have rigged the boat check once again that everything is tight, seats sliding, rudder is not bent or broken and coxbox and ratemeter working. You are in charge of your crew and they will be even more clueless than you - remind them to take kit, water, British Rowing Cards, wellies, tell them what time you are meeting to rig, warm up, boat, what time you have to put the boat back on the trailer and to leave.