Steering and coxing
As a new initiative for 2017, the club is offering support for rowers who wish to get the British Rowing basic steering and coxing certificate. The idea is to equip people to navigate safely on the Tideway, rather than to create specialist, racing coxes. Because coxes are in short supply, we're hoping that this will give novice squads, in particular, more flexibility and self-reliance. As it stands, many experienced rowers in the club cox and steer occasionally (particularly for the learn to row course) but remain primarily rowers.
We are taking the British Rowing structure as our guide. If you are already familiar with rowing terminology, and the river, you could complete the online module as a first step. You'd then move on to the next phase which involves practical experience on the water, and the involvement of a coxing mentor from the club. British Rowing produce a work book, which gives useful structure and you'd end up with the certificate when judged competent. The content of this page overlaps with that of two others. The focus of each is this:
If you haven't steered before, there's a useful article on the Ready All Row site which deals with the practicalities of pulling the steering toggles and dealing with different weather and water conditions. Need-less-to-say, you should also know (not just skim read) the PLA's Tideway Code, and our Safety page.
This steering and coxing page offers information on terminology, manoeuvring, launching, landing and commands with a glossary at the end. It borrows from part of the Oxford University Coxing Handbook, and British Rowing's glossary of terms. We're grateful to both organisations for placing this information in the public domain.
Getting the boat out
The cox or steerer usually takes responsibility for directions. To get the boat out of the boathouse, spread the crew along it so that they are standing by their seats. When people are correctly positioned, say “hands on” at which they will grip the boat, then “lift”. (And it is lift, not slide.) Everyone will now be on the same side of the boat, so half need to be moved to the other side. There are two ways to do this:
1) For an easily lifted boat. Call "above heads". When everyone is in a line, holding the boat above them, call "split", followed by "bowside"/ "strokeside" or, if it's a quad, name the individuals or seat numbers that will move, and the direction they will move in.
2) For a difficult to lift boat. One by one, move half the crew to the other side. Eg “Bow side holding, stroke side going under from stroke”. Only when the first to move has a hold of the boat, on the other side, should the second person move, and so on.
Watch the rudder and fin to make sure they aren’t damaged by bumps and knocks. Remind the crew to “watch the riggers” as you “walk it out” of the boathouse at “shoulders” or “waists” height. You may need to call "half turn" (specifying which side goes up or down) to clear narrow places in the boat's path. Try to position yourself so that you can see both ends of the boat. When there is enough space to swing the boat, give a call such as “Clear, bows to the right” or “Stern left” etc. Watch out for lamp posts, walls and tree trunks on the way to the pontoon.
From shingle, put the boat well out into the water and be ready to keep it off – particularly if there is wash.
Beware of rocks on the shingle at low tide – especially on the upriver side of the pontoon.
Watch out for broken glass on the foreshore, especially if people have unprotected feet.
From the pontoon, do not let the hull contact the edge as you put it in the water, and keep it clear.
With boat in the water, half the crew holds the boat, the other half gets the oars.
If leaning on the boat to fasten oar in gate, rowers should put weight on a load-supporting area. The rectangular patch of anti-slip is a good choice.
Place the trestles so that the boat does not obstruct any other boat handling activity or block the exit from the Fours Bay
Support the hull at evenly to spread the load
Don't rest boat on its riggers or any part not designed to take the weight
On busy days make sure there's enough room for passers-by between Linden House and the river wall.
If it's windy and boat is unattended, strap it to the trestles and weigh their bases down.
Putting the boat in the water
If your crew is carrying an eight, it's helpful to think of it as a long, bus-like vehicle. Go wide on corners such as the river wall by the pontoon or the base of the ramp. Know which way the tide is going and orientate so that the bow faces into the tidal stream. Once you are positioned at the edge of the pontoon, or on the shingle, turn the boat right way up using the same procedure described above in "getting the Boat out". Everyone will now be on the pontoon side. Say "Feel for the edge with the foot” (unless on the shingle) and then “Down, strike out” to prevent any part of the boat fouling the pontoon.
When the boat is in the water, remain standing to keep the whole boat in view. Have the half of the crew whose side is next to the pontoon/shingle fix their oars in the swivels first. They can hold the boat level and steady while the other side fix their oars. Make sure no one stands on the thin skin at the bottom of the boat. With the pontoon/shingle side holding, tell the other side to get in. They must check that their gates are done up before before taking off shoes and kit, doing up feet, etc. If another crew are waiting to boat, your crew should "adjust out" if competent to do that. As the rest of the rowers climb into the boat, it will sink in the water a small way: make sure that the weight of the boat is not resting on the pontoon side riggers. With everyone in call “Number off from bow when ready”. They will shout their numbers in order. This tells you the crew is ready to row and reminds each person of their seat number. Check the river is clear and then hop in, telling the crew to “Push off” on the bank side.
Outings in eights or fours will normally start with half the boat or less rowing. This makes your boat slow, so keep well into the bank, or to the starboard side of the fairway, out of the way of faster crews behind.
Coming in off the water is essentially the reverse of launching. Plan your approach to the pontoon/shingle.
Flood tide, heading down river, you will be coming from the inshore zone on Surrey. Take a good look to make sure it's safe to cross before moving out of the zone. With the bows already facing the stream you can cross the river diagonally and land without turning.
Flood tide, heading up river, you will already be on the starboard side of the fairway with Hammersmith Bridge behind you, so will need to U turn the boat to land on the pontoon/shingle.
Ebb tide heading down river, you will be proceeding down the starboard side of the fairway with Chiswick Eyot behind you. Again, take a good look to make sure it is safe to cross, then make a U turn roughly opposite the sailors' pontoon, to bring the boat onto our pontoon. If you "overshoot" do not attempt to turn on to Middlesex (the Linden House side) because it's vital to avoid Dove Pier which is genuinely dangerous. Instead, turn on to Surrey (the far bank) row up the inshore zone, then cross over once you've passed the St Paul's School slipway. Take a good look before moving out and crossing diagonally to the club.
Ebb tide heading up river, you'll be in the inshore zone. Again, as you pass St Paul's School slipway take a good look and move out to cross over to the club.
Consider the wind direction as well as the tide. Very occasionally, the wind is so strong that it will move the boat against the tide. In these unusual situations, orientate the boat into the wind, not the tide. The wind will likely also be moving the boat into or away from the pontoon/shingle. As you approach the pontoon/shingle easy the boat about one one length's distance, aim the bows in at an angle of about 10-20 degrees) and glide in or paddle in with the stern pair or four. When close enough, warn “(Bank) side, mind your blades” and if needed, paddle on a bit more with a river side person. When overlapping sufficiently with the raft, get the stern-most on the river side to hold it up, which will swing the stern towards the raft. You get out first. Hold the rigger while the near side rowers get out. Be prompt so that the hull can be held off the shingle or pontoon and not be damaged. On shingle, it's better to get your feet wet then damage the hull.
If you get into trouble, be ready to back the boat down and try again. (Be wary of landing on the sailors' pontoon which is too high for a rowing boat's riggers.) The most common problem is coming to a stop too far away from the raft. One good way to solve this is (for a normal rig) to ask your strokeman to back down with his/her blade as close to the boat as possible, and get 3 to scratch on with 2’s blade (see Glossary). These two actions together will move the boat sideways to bow side. (use 7 and 1 to move the other way.) Don’t be embarrassed to ask people on the bank to pull you in. Landing is fairly difficult, so don’t expect to get it right straight away. When the pontoon is afloat and space limited, crews landing have priority on the pontoon, although if other crews are waiting, be as quick as safety allows.
On the water
To avoid collisions with other boats or grounding, bow-steerers should look round every five strokes
Memorise where spits and shoals appear at low tide, and the positions of buoys – both the red and green PLA ones, and the big steel mooring buoys.
Don't “flirt” with the bank. There's usually no need to be in very close.
If you get caught out and suddenly see shingle approaching in your peripheral vision, (bow steerers) hold the boat up hard (really hard) with the oar(s) away from the bank. The boat will stop quickly and you have a good chance of avoiding contact.
Practice emergency stops so you know you can do one.
If you do ground the boat, or get into very shallow water, get out straight away and push it back into deeper water.
Your boat can be moved around when stationary by using individual rowers or groups of rowers. If you want to move forward or backward slowly, then use ‘bow pair’, ‘stern pair’, ‘bow four’ or ‘stern four’. Being able to stop the boat is also of the utmost importance. “Hold her up!” is the command to use, or in emergencies, “HOLD IT HARD!” shouted at top volume. The rowers will stop rowing and square their blades in the water to slow the boat down rapidly. If you are rowing along at full speed before saying this, it will take you 1-3 lengths to come to a halt, so look ahead! When the boat has stopped, you can no longer steer with the rudder, but you may need to move the boat around. To do this, rowers can either ‘row on’ or ‘back down’.
Rowing on: This is taking a normal stroke in the water with one or more people. When you get someone to do this, the bows of their boat move away from their blade. For example, if you get bow to row on for one stroke, the bows will swing to the left. If you use the 2-man, the bows will swing to the right. It is very important to notice that the boat will also move forward a little way, so don’t row on if you are going to hit anything!
Backing down: To do this, the rower should sit with his or her blade-handle close to the chest, the blade turned around the wrong way from normal and in the water. Pushing the handle away towards the toes causes the reverse of a normal stroke. If you ‘back down’ with your stroke-man or 7-man, it has a similar effect to ‘rowing on’ with bow or 2 respectively. This will also move the boat slightly backwards. If you get tangled in a tree or another boat, back down with your stern pair or stern four (or perhaps people on just one side of the boat) to get out of trouble, rather than continuing to row on.
You must have your wits about you and be decisive. Call the name of the person you want to use, and tell them what to do: it’s simple when you have learnt the numbers. For instance, commands you might use are “Bow, take a stroke!” or “7, back it down!”. If they don’t do it straight away, say it again and be forceful - remember you are in charge. If you want the boat to turn but not move forward or backward, then get diagonally opposite rowers to move together. For example, asking bow to row on and stroke to back down will pivot the boat about its centre. You can get a bigger effect and a quicker turn by using more rowers, for example bow and 3 rowing on, stroke and 6 backing down.
Turning the boat around completely then becomes an extension of these methods. You can get the whole of bow side to row on and the whole of stroke side to back down. You can do it the other way round too, depending on which side of the river you are and therefore which way your bows need to move to turn effectively. For novice boats, you will find that each side has to take it in turns with the other side - this is because they have to wait for the other side’s rowers to move out of the way before they can take another stroke. Better crews may be able to ‘chop-spin’ or use short strokes simultaneously, but don’t try this with a novice crew. Keep an eye out while you are turning, for obstructions, other crews, and potential problems.
Examples of moving around:
“Next stroke, easy oars” The rowers stop rowing
“Stroke side, hold it up” The stroke side rowers square their blades in the water. This slows the boat down on stroke side but not bow side, and it starts to swing left and decelerate. This command isn’t essential, but it gets the boat half-way round without any extra effort.
“Bow four, come forward to row. Are you ready? Go” Bow four rowers will get ready to row, and then start rowing on your command “Go”. You may need to tell them what style or pressure to row before you say “Are you ready?”
“Spinning the boat, stroke side backing, bow side rowing on. Starting stroke side. Ready? Go” The rowers will turn the boat around (spinning) as described before, and will keep going until you stop by saying “Easy oars” again. You could start with bow side, depending on your position on the river. You could also back down on bow side and row on with stroke side, in which case you would spin in the opposite direction.
“Two, take a stroke” A slight adjustment to the angle of the boat so that you are pointing in the right direction before rowing off. Always make sure you are lined up correctly down the river before moving off.
You'll have a handle on each side of the boat, one for each hand. You steer by moving your hand forward on the side that you want to go towards. If you want to steer to the right, you move your right hand forwards, etc.
Most coxes steer too much. There are usually two reasons for this: a) they do not look far enough ahead and so have to steer suddenly b) they steer too far in one direction (because the boat turns slowly) and then have to steer back again. This often results in a snaking line down the river.
Boats appear to steer very slowly. Always remember that where your bows are pointing is where you will be in about three strokes time, even though by the time you get there your bows may be pointing in a new direction. You must steer, therefore, by thinking about two or three lengths ahead of your current positions.
Sometimes you will be in a position where the boat cannot turn quickly enough. In this case you can get the rowers on the outside of the corner to pull harder by saying “Stroke side, harden up, GO!” (or “Bow Side, harden up, GO!” or similar. This makes the boat turn quicker. Remember to go back to normal when the boat is straight again by saying “Even pressure, next stroke, GO!”. When it is very windy, you should steer to angle the boat into the wind slightly, so that you don’t get blown out of control across the river. When approaching a slower moving crew, make sure that you steer in plenty of time to be able to get round them without panic. You should try to overtake on the outside if possible, but get back close to the bank as soon as possible. It is more important for you to learn how to steer properly than it is for you to try and coach or encourage the crew, until you are confident.
Always give a “Go!” so that the rowers are certain when you want them to obey you. Try always to give about half a stroke between the “Go!” and the time you want the change. You can always add “Ready” or “Next Stroke” before the “Go”
COMMAND FINISH CATCH
Light pressure GO
Quarter pressure GO
Half pressure GO
Three quarter pressure GO
Full pressure GO
Ten firm (ten hard strokes) GO
Wind down (after a burst) GO
Push for ten GO
Outside hands on/off GO
Inside hands down loom GO
Square blades GO
Feathered blades GO
Normal squaring GO
Delayed feathering GO
Next stroke Hands only GO
Next stroke Body rock GO
Quarter slide GO
Half slide GO
Three quarter slide GO
Full Slide Next stroke GO
Half pressure Half slide GO
Full pressure Feathered blades GO
Eeeaaasy there! Drop
- When going into single strokes etc., give an “Easy there” command, then “Single strokes to hands away”, or “Double stroke to quarter slide” etc, followed by “Go!”
- When stopping a piece of quarter or half pressure, you can go straight into light pressure.
- When stopping a piece of fast, hard firm or three quarter pressure, wind down first, then call for light pressure.
- Commands and instructions to the crew are all about tone of voice: sound confident and clear, but don’t be afraid to ask for help or to experiment.
Putting the boat back
This is largely a reverse of getting the boat out. When resting the boat on a rack, make sure it is properly supported on at least two, evenly-spaced bars and rests on a part strong enough to support its weight such as the saxboard or the centre section of a wing rigger, not any other kind of rigger. If resting on a canvas there should be a shallow V support on the rack to direct load to the sides of the hull. The ridge of the canvas is not strong enough.
Bow 1. End of the boat that travels through the water first.
Stern. The end of the boat that travels through the water last.
Bow 2. Athlete that sits in the seat position nearest this end of the boat.
Bow Ball. Ball shaped safety cap that sits over the bow end of the boat. Compulsory on all rowing boats for safety of other water users.
Bow Side. The right hand (starboard) side of the boat. Often marked by a green stripe on the oar.
Stroke Side. The left hand (port) side. Often marked with a red stripe on the oar.
Bow number. A card attached near the bow that identifies the crew.
Bow pair. The pair in bow of the boat - seats 1 and 2 . They have the most effect on the set of the boat
Bowloader. A type of boat (usually a four) where the coxswain rides lying down beneath the bow decking.
Cox. Person who steers the boat by means of strings or wires attached to the rudder from either the stern or bow.
Coxbox. A coxswain's portable voice amplifier. Also has timing and stroke rating measurement capabilities.
Speed Coach. A keel mounted impeller that transmits speed to the coxswain or coach.
Coxless. Boat without a cox.
Pair. For two sweep rowers.
Four. Boat for four sweep rowers. Can be coxed or coxless.
Eight. For eight sweep rowers. Always coxed.
Single. Boat for one sculler.
Double. For two scullers.
Quad. For four scullers.
Octuple. For eight scullers. Always coxed.
Blade Another name for an oar.
Spoon Part of the blade which goes in the water.
Cleaver. Spoon in the shape of a meat cleaver.
Macon. Spoon in the traditional shape.
Loom or Shaft. Long stem of the blade.
Handle Bit of the oar you hold on to.
Squared Blade perpendicular to the water.
Feathered Blade parallel to the water.
Squaring. Act of rotating a feathered blade into the squared position.
Pin Vertical metal bit onto which the swivel is mounted.
Swivel Plastic bit of rigger which holds the blade and swivels to let the blade pivot.
Gate Metal bit at the top of the swivel which holds the blade in place.
Rigger Metal stays fixed to the side of the boat that carry the blade, or "aero" section wing rigger mounted above the shell
Back stay The part of the rigger that attaches from the top of the swivel towards the bow
Front stay The part of the rigger that attaches from the bottom of the swivel to the stern.
Span. The distance between the centres of the bow and stroke side swivel on a sculling boat.
Gearing. The ratio of inboard to outboard on the blade, determining how much power the athlete can apply through the water.
Outboard. The length of the oar from the tip of the spoon to the outside button. (Or, the engine on the coaching launch.)
Inboard. The length of the oar from the outside of the button to the end of the handle.
Overlap. The amount by which the scull handles overlap when an athlete holds them horizontally at right angles to the boat.
Head Race. Race in which crews are timed over a set distance. Usually run as a processional race rather than side by side.
Heel Restraints. Attached to the heels of the shoes and to the foot plate. Compulsory safety feature that helps the athlete to release their feet from the shoe in the event of a capsize.
Height. Measurement of distance from seat to point of work at the centre of the bottom edge of the swivel.
Stern pitch. Sternwards angle of inclination of the pin to the vertical.
Lateral pitch. The outward angle of inclination of the pin to the vertical.
Length of stroke the arc through which the blade turns when it is in the water from catch to finish
Fin or Skeg. A piece of metal or plastic attached to the underside of the boat towards the stern. Provides directional stability by preventing sideways slippage.
Rudder. The device under the boat which when moved causes change of direction. Linked to the cox or a crew member by wires.
Button The plastic ring on the blade which pushes on the inside of the swivel. It can be moved along the collar to adjust blade gearing.
CLAM. Clip-on Load Adjusting Mechanism - a device that snaps on and off the sleeve to quickly adjust the gearing, typically by 1 cm per CLAM.
Collar. Plastic sleeve fixed to the oar that the button circles.
Catch The part of the stroke where the blade is put into the water.
Finish or Release.The last part of the stroke where the blade handle is drawn in to the body. Following this (assuming clean extraction) the boat will be at its maximum speed. Force must be applied to the spoon right to the finish so that water does not catch up with the spoon.
Draw The part of the stroke where the spoon is pulled through the water. Sometimes called the Power phase.
Drive The phase of the stroke during the draw when the legs are driving downward.
Tap down or strike down When the rower pushes the handle down to lever the blade out of the water.
Recovery The part of the stroke where the rower moves up the slide for the next catch.
Connection. How an athlete's legs applies force to the spoon. Should be made as soon as the catch is taken.
Fixed Seat. Either a boat without a sliding seat or arms and body only rowing with no seat movement.
Frontstops Where you take the catch on a full slide stroke.
Backstops Where you take the finish, legs flat, sitting back.
Slide Metal rails on which the rower’s seat runs.
Stretcher. A metallic or carbon plate inside the boat to which the shoes are attached. Secured with adjustable screws.
Canvas. The covered section of the boat that is from the bow to the open area (where the athlete sits) and from the open area to the stern.
Spinning Turning the boat around.
Backing Doing a reverse stroke to go backwards
Burst. A small number of strokes (usually less than a minute) taken at full pressure in training.
Power 10. A call by the coxswain for the crew to row the next 10 strokes at maximal effort in an attempt to increase boat speed and take water on the opponent.
Piece. A specific interval during a workout. For example, "The third piece of the 5 by 5 minutes was our best."
Scratch on This is when 3 rows with 2’s blade or 2 with bow’s blade. Paddling with another rower’s blade very close to the boat: it moves the boat sideways very quickly.
Inside hand The one nearest the gate (it does the squaring and feathering).
Outside hand The one away from the gate, which does the pulling and striking down.
Half slide Taking the catch halfway to frontstops instead of at full slide.
Body rock What you do with legs flat before you go up the slide during the recovery.
Body angle. The amount of forward pivot of a rower's torso stemming from the hips during the recovery for a proper catch position.
Layback. The amount of reverse pivot of a rower's torso stemming from the hips during the second half of the drive for a proper finish position.
Light pressure Rowers not pulling very hard.
Full pressure Rowers pulling as hard as possible. Also ‘Firm pressure’.
Half pressure In between (theoretically). Also quarterpressure or three-quarter.
Rating The number of strokes taken in a minute. Measured by a ‘rate meter’.
Ratio The ratio of time pulling the stroke against time sliding on the recovery.
Rhythm. Optimum ratio.
Swing. The feeling in the boat when all rowers are driving and finishing their strokes together.
Cover or spacing. The distance between the 2-seat's puddle on one stroke and the stroke seat's puddle on the following stroke.
Stroke side The left hand side of the boat when sitting in the cox’s seat.
Bow side The right hand side of the boat from the cox’s seat.
Stroke (1) The person sitting nearest the cox, who sets the rhythm and rate.
Stroke (2) The repeating cycle of movements made by the rower and blade.
Come forward. Come to frontstops position ready to row
Take a catch Do a light part-stroke to straighten the boat out.
Sit the boat Blade feathered/flat on the water, holding the boat steady.
Row on Start paddling until told to stop.
Easy Stop rowing, as in ‘Easy all’ or ‘Easy oars’, ‘Easy there’, blade off water.
Drop Drop the blade back onto the water after easying.
Hold it Blades squared in the water to slow or brake the boat.
Hold it hard! Shouted at top volume to avoid a crash: emergency stop.
Check feather. Feathering the blade under water to provide drag. It may be used to slow the boat, when used on both sides, or change its direction if used by one or more rowers on just one side.
Bow rigged A boat with the stroke person on bow side.
Tandem A line-up where two consecutive rowers are on the same side.
Engine room. The rowers in the middle of a boat. For an eight, these would be seats 6, 5, 4, and 3. Generally the largest and most powerful athletes.
Lightweight. A rower whose weight allows them to compete in lightweight events. For men, this is usually 155 lbs. Women, 130 lbs.
Novice. Someone with little rowing experience, or who hasn't won a race for novices.
Crab When the oar becomes caught in the water at extraction and thehandle strikes the athlete. Often causes unintentional release of the blade and significant slowing of boat speed.
Digging. Rower error when the blade of the oar goes deeper in the water than it should, slowing the boat down.
Air stroke. An error where the spoon is not completely in the water resulting in a lack of power and lots of splashing.
Rushing. Where the rower moves toward the stern during the recovery before the rest of the crew. This increases the amount of check during each stroke.
Missing water. An error where the rower begins the leg drive before the catch has completed.
Shooting the slide. A technique error where the rower's legs drive the seat toward bow without bringing the load of the water with them through the torso and shoulders.
Skying. An error where the rower drops the hands just prior to the catch. This causes the blade to move higher off the water and will disrupt the set of the shell.
Washing out. An error when an oar comes out of the water during the drive and creates surface wash. This results in a reduction in speed and can disrupt the set of the boat.
Puddles. The disturbances in the water made by the blade during each stroke.
Points. Awarded to athletes for winning races. Number of points determines the status of the athlete.
Posture. Position of back and shoulder muscles during the stroke cycle. See section on flexibility and posture.
Regatta. A competition with events for different boat types and status athletes usually involving heats, semi finals and finals for each event. Boats compete side by side from a standing start.
Rigger jigger. A small spanner with 10 mm and 13 mm rings, invented at Sons, and widely used for attaching and adjusting riggers.
Running start. A racing start undertaken with the boat already moving.
Saxboard. The sides of the boat above the water line made to strengthen the boat where the riggers attach.
Scull. Smaller version of the oar used for sculling.
Sculling. Rowing with two oars.
Shell. The smooth hull of the boat.
Standing start. A racing start done from stationary.
Stakeboat. An anchored boat or pontoon from which rowing boats are held prior to a race starting.
Status. Levels of racing determined by the number of times an athlete has won a race.
Sweep. Rowing with one oar on one side of the boat.
Swivel or Oarlock. The U shaped plastic rotating piece mounted on the pin in which the oar sits whilst rowing.
Trestles. Portable stands used to support a boat for rigging, washing etc.
Ergometer. Also called an 'erg'. The indoor rowing machine used for land based fitness training.
Seat race. A way to test rowers. Two boats race, one rower from each boat switches positions and the two boats race again. Relative performance in the two races is used to compare the abilities of the two rowers.
Stake boat. The small anchored boat that is used to hold the shells in place at the starting line.
Swamped. When a shell takes on too much water from rough conditions.
Tank. An indoor training facility that consists of two rows of rowing seats between two tanks of water. Allows rowers to feel their strokes in the water in a stable and controlled environment. Used heavily when teaching novice rowers.