Coxing Guidelines

A concise guide to coxing with particular reference to the river Cam.

The Role of the Cox

Apart from the first outings of a novice cox, the cox (and not the coach or anyone else) is in charge of the crew and ultimately responsible for what it does. This includes:
  • Keeping your crew safe at all times obeying the rules of the river.
  • Maintaining complete control in the boat.
  • Coaching the crew and improve the standard of rowing.
  • Running the race: motivating, setting tactics and getting the best out of your crew.
  • Steering a good course.
A good cox is one who discusses issues with their coach, however simple or complicated the question may be. The best way to cox is to be a coach in the boat and inspire confidence. The only way to do this is to listen, reinforce what the coaches say and question. Most coaches are oarsmen and don't think about spending time coaching coxes. If you make the effort you will learn, your coxing will improve and your crew will respect you.


Safety is unfortunately now a prominent issue, highlighted by recent inept coxing putting people's lives in danger. It is very simple to avoid accidents - keep control and don't bow to pressure from over-aggressive rowers.
  • Safety is the prime concern of the cox. This is true whatever the situation -- a race, the bumps or an outing. If a situation is dangerous, STOP. If this is in a race, it will be re-run.
  • It is your responsibility to know the rules of the river and you are legally bound if the crew is involved in an accident.


Your commands are for all the crew to hear. They must be clear, concise and useful. The aim is to tell the crew what the situation is, what they are going to do about it and when they are going to do it. Make sure you and the crew understand what your commands mean. Discuss commands on land and ensure that there is no uncertainty. This is especially important before your first outing -- you must know what to say to start rowing, stop and steer. Not only is this very important for safety, it stops you losing respect by not knowing what to say. The way in which you give commands makes a huge difference:
  • Voice Quality: This can be varied if you have a cox-box. For novices this is unlikely so you need to develop a way of shouting so you can be heard. Try to project your voice as opposed to shouting straight into your stroke's body.
  • Rhythm: Helps the crew achieve their own rhythm. It is very important to emphasise the rhythm you want the crew to achieve by the timing of your commands (e.g. command same length as stroke in water).
  • Timing: give your commands at a similar point in the stroke, and appropriate to how and when you want the crew to react. Tell them what they are going to do and ensure that they do it when you say `Go'. This is often at the finish.


Know as much about the crew as possible -- their strengths and weaknesses, where problems will arise and how to overcome them. This is crucial to your role in a race, and can make all the difference between winning and losing.
  • Encourage the crew. You are trying to get them to go through a lot of pain and it makes a big difference if you are giving them goals to achieve and telling them that they're doing well.
  • Tell your crew exactly what is happening the whole time. If you are going to hit the bank tell them. In a race, if you are two lengths up or down on the other boat tell them that -- if you lie they'll hate you afterwards.


The Cam is not a river that lends itself to convenient rowing due to its narrowness and sharp bends. Familiarise yourself with the map of the river. Especially dangerous corners are:
  • The Road Bridge (Queen Elizabeth Way)
  • Chesterton (Green Dragon)
  • Ditton
  • Grassy
You must keep close to your side of the river and be ready to easy and hold the boat up quickly.You may find it difficult to get round using the rudder alone if you are going slowly. Use `2 and 4', or `Bow and 3' to take the boat round. Do not stray to the other side of the river -- fast crews may be coming up.
  • Pushing away from you on the right string makes you go right, pulling the right makes you go left. Remember that the boat pivots about a point roughly in the middle of the boat, so the stern will swing out as you turn.
  • The rudder acts as a brake. The one sided braking turns the boat. It also makes the boat lean. This slows and unbalances the boat -- try to use it only when the blades are in the water (though this is impossible on some corners).
  • Feel for the delay between steering and it taking effect. Learn to anticipate. Anticipation is the mark of a good cox. Be aware of other crews around you, anticipating what they may do. The cox needs to observe a long distance ahead (cf. good driving).
  • Watch for the wind: clever coxing can anticipate the wind pushing the boat off course. You may often find that you have to steer a compensating course(i.e. pointing away from the bank to keep moving parallel to it).
  • Don't lean your own body weight from side to side when steering (or lean out to see where you're going). You must keep your body weight central and steady in the boat.
The most important rules relevant to coxing are:
  • Keep to the right: except in the Gut and Plough Reach where you keep to the left. Boats going downstream give way to those coming upstream, especially when crossing over.
  • Spinning: Look before you give the command, never just because the coach says so. Never spin where it is dangerous, e.g. corners, when a crew is close behind and never in The Gut
  • Overtaking: As with spinning, look and decide whether it is safe. Always ask to `come by' before overtaking.
  • Easying: Always give way to faster crews; draw into the bank if necessary. The river is very narrow and you will often need to draw your blades right in. This is possible, you won't capsize but you will need to do it very quickly. Make sure your crew is aware of this in advance.
  • Anglers: treat with courtesy -- avoid their lines and don't easy next to them.

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