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Guide to Coxing

Congratulations on deciding to learn to cox. Here is a (hopefully) comprehensive guide to coxing on the Cam. If you have any questions feel free to get in touch with our Cox Captain Katie at


Getting ready

The first thing to do when coxing an outing is to first put on your lifejacket. This is very important as not wearing a lifejacket while coxing can lead to fines or disqualification from races.

The lifejackets at MBC are located on hooks at the back of the boathouse At this point also get out the cox box or cox orb, a compatible microphone, and a speedcoach from the charging points at the back of the boathouse.

Anchor 1

Getting the boat in the water

When getting the boat into the water you will want to start by standing at the back of the boathouse so you can see the entire length of the boat you're taking out.

1. Tell your rowers to get ready by saying "hands on" (so they have their hands on the boat ready to get it out).

2. Tell them to "roll it out" so that they roll the racks holding the boat out.


3a. If the boat is on a floor rack: 

1. Tell your rowers to roll the boat all the way into the middle of the boathouse and then get either strokesiders or bowsiders to walk around so that there are 2 or 4 rowers (depending if you're taking a IV+ or VIII+ out) on each side.

2. Once they are ready, tell them "lifting to waists ... ready ... go" and once they have the boat held at waist height, tell them "to shoulders ... ready ... go".

3b. If the boat is on a middle rack: 

1. Tell your rowers to move under the boat one at a time so that their are 2 or 4 rowers (depending if you're taking a IV+ or VIII+ out) on either side of the boat.  Once ready tell the rowers to "shuffle it out" to the middle of the boathouse. This may be done at waist height or on shoulders depending on the height of the racks.

2. If the boat is held at waist height, once the boat is clear and in the middle of the boathouse say "to shoulders ... ready ... go".

3c. If the boat is on a high rack: 

1. Tell your rowers to use the steps to move under the boat so that their are 2 or 4 rowers (depending if you're taking a IV+ or VIII+ out) on each step placed near the bow and stern of the boat. 

2. When the rowers have hands on the boat "at heads" they can go "down the steps ... ready ... go" by alternating which end takes a step.

3. Once the boat is down the steps and in the middle of the boathouse tell the rowers to "split to shoulders ... ready ... go".


4. Once the boat is in the middle and the rowers have the boat on shoulders, say "walk it out" keeping an eye on the riggers as they walk the boat out of the boat bay. Walk behind the boat, paying attention to make sure it doesn't hit anything. If it looks like they will hit anything (e.g. a rigger on the doors if they haven't been opened fully) then shout for the rowers to "HOLD IT".

5. When the boat is clear of the boat bay doors then you can call "clear to spin" so that the rowers know they can spin the boat to line up with the bank. Be mindful of the direction you want to go and which way the boat is facing - some boats go into the boathouse stern first, and some bow first.

6. When the rowers are at the bank, call out "to heads ... ready ... go" so the rowers lift the boat from shoulders to above their heads. At this point remind the rowers to carefully step all the way "to the edge" where you can then call "rolling it in ... ready ... go". Depending on the crew, you may need to call the boat down to "waists ... ready ... go" and then "pushing it out ... ready ... go". Keep an eye on the rudder so that it doesn't hit the side of the bank when the crew swing the boat down to the water.


7. The rowers will now need to go and get their blades - hold the boat so it doesn't float away! Get either strokeside or bowside (whichever side is furthest away from the bank) to put their oars in first, while the other side holds the boat for them. Then get that side to also put their oars in. Rowers can now get in the boat in the same order.


  • All calls need to be made loud enough that all rowers can hear you and know exactly when to fulfil your command.

  • The "ready ... go" is necessary so that all of the rowers act together. The boats are heavy and require everyone lifting or lowering at the same time.

Setting up the cox box

It is best to start setting this up while the rowers are putting in their oars and getting into the boat. Both cox boxes and cox orbs will fit into a circular slot by your feet (for stern loaded boats).

Cox Box


Cox Orb

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1. Place the cox box or orb into the hole, and plug in the wire from the boat. Look for the pins and line them up with the pinholes on the cox box - this can be a little tricky, so give it a wiggle and make sure it is fully connected.

2. Plug the microphone into the smaller connection hole and make sure that the pins are also oriented correctly. Turn on the cox box by turning the volume knob, or the orb by holding down the start/stop button.

3. Test the connections by saying something into the microphone or blowing it gently. Adjust the volume if needed. Now you will be connected to a small speaker at each rower's seat so they will be able to hear all of your calls.

Basic commands

Before setting off make sure you are familiar and comfortable with basic commands which will allow you to control your boat safely. All commands should be clear and concise.

Most commands from a stationary position can be made with the formula:

1. Who do you want rowing?

2. Where do you want them to start from?

3. What do you want them to do?

4. Ready ... go

For example: "bow four, at backstops, rowing on ... ready ... go" or "stern pair, at frontstops, rowing legs only ... ready ... go".

If the boat is already moving then you can make calls which incorporate when you want the rowers to carry out your command. For example: "bow pair, dropping out ... on the next stroke ... go" or "all eight, pausing at backstops every stroke ... on the next stroke ... go". It is important to time when you say "go" so that it isn't ambiguous and the rowers know when to incorporate the call. For example, calling for a change during the drive phase of a stroke is a bad call as the rowers have already commited to the stroke. Depending on the nature of the command, try to make it either as rowers are about to take a catch or just as they finish the stroke.

When you want to tell yours rowers to stop rowing you should tell them to "easy there". This call will get the rowers to finish at the arms away position and let the boat run. You can then tell them to "drop" where the crew will drop their blades onto the water which will start to slow the boat. To slow the boat faster, you can call "take the run" where rowers will twist their spoons in the water to ~ 45° acting as a break. If you need to stop the boat faster say "hold it up" and they will twist the spoons to ~ 90° in the water, stopping the boat quickly.

If you need to stop quickly in an emergency situation or you think you will hit anything, shout "HOLD IT HARD". Say this loudly and clearly, and repeat if needed.

Getting away from the bank

Before moving away from the hard at the start of an outing, as the cox is it your responsibility to make sure that your crew is ready to row. You can do this by asking rowers to "number off from bow". The crew will then call their number (the bowseat first) all the way down the boat to the strokeman. When they say "ready" you know that the whole crew is ready to row and that it is safe to push off.


1. Tell the rowers to "push off" and the side closest to the bank will push off from the side until their blades are fully extended. You will now be in the middle of the river so it's important to move to the correct size as soon as possible. All water craft pass port-to-port or strokeside-to-strokeside in this context. This means that to follow the navigation rules we must stay on the right hand side of the river (except the cross-over zones which will be explained further down). 

2. If you're heading downstream from the boathouse you will need 2 seat to take a few taps (small strokes) "two take a tap". You can also get 4 seat to join in "two and four take a tap together ... go".

3. Once you're diagonal across the river, get your bow pair to take you closer to the far side of the river "bow pair tap together ... go". You can then straighten up by getting bow seat to take a few taps until you're pointing where you want to go, now on the right side. You're now ready to set off and start the outing, which usually begins with warm up exercises.

The warm up

Your coach may want to do this a specific way, but a basic way to do it is separate the boat in two (either fours or pairs) and take each group through the different parts of the stroke. Here is an example of a 'backstops' warm up in an VIII+:

1. Start with bow four rowing with arms only (square blades) - "bow four, at backstops, rowing arms only, ready ... go"

2. After ~ 15 strokes, add in the body swing - "bodies in, ready ... go"

3. After another ~ 15 strokes bring in the first bit of the leg drive - "bringing in quarter slide .. ready ... go"

4. Next start to lengthen out the drive phase - "up to full slide, ready ... go"

5. Bring in the feather shortly after - "adding in the feather, next stroke, ready ... go"

6. Keep on further ~ 10 strokes then stop the boat by saying " eeeeeeasy there ... drop ... take the run"

7. When the boat has come to a stop, switch over to the stern four rowers and repeat the warm up sequence.

8. After stern four have brought in the feather, you can bring in bow four to continue off all eight - "bow four in, ready ... go"


The most important part of steering is to be alert and ready! Have your eyes on the horizon and prepare to turn around bends early - it's quite easy to focus too much on what you're saying and what's going on in the boat instead of where you're going and end up not pointing where you need to!


A coxed rowing boat is steered by a wire system which twists a rod connected to the rudder. The rod is central and so the rudder itself can swing out to either side, creating drag through the water on that side casuing the boat to head towards that direction. Stern loaded boats have wires (as shown) with handles attached. When these are the same position both sides of you, the rudder will not have an effect and you will head straight. Pushing with your right hand will make the bar twist so that the rudder creates drag on the right side, and the boat will veer to starboard (right). Pushing your left hand will have the opposite effect and the boat will veer to port (left). Remember to push not pull - pulling the wires can cause them to loosen.

A bowloader boat works under the same principle, but the wires cross over by the bar before they go down the boat to the position of the cox at the front. A bowloader has a bar which can be moved to the right to go right (starboard) or left to go left (port).


  • It normally takes around 3 stokes (20-30m) for the rudder to have an effect so start to steer around bends early with small movements of the rudder. Don't worry if you don't get the knack of steering straight away - it comes with practice! Try to adjust with small movements early, judge the effect it had, then add on more or less wire as needed. Novice coxes often use too much rudder each way and have to keep correcting ending in a zig-zag across the river!

  • You must always stay on the RIGHT hand side of the river (apart from the cross-over zones)

  • The Cam can get very narrow at points so try to stay close to the bank or the moored houseboats.

  • Rowing boats steer from the back. This means that when the boat turns left it is because the stern swings out to the right, and vice versa. The bow doesn't really move due to the rudder. Keep this in mind when turning corners 

While the boat is moving slowly, with only a few rowers rowing, you will need to make bigger rudder adjustments to have an effect. At this point you should use your rowers to add pressure to the direction you want to go:

  • Asking strokeside to add more pressure will help you move right

  • Asking bowside to add more pressure will help you move left.

  • On tight corners you can ask one of the stern pair rowers on the side that is on the inside of the corner to "take the run" to provide additional drag on that side to help pivot through the corner

If you think you're going to crash:

  • If your boat is going to collide with another another oncoming crew or a houseboat on the bank you MUST ACT QUICKLY AND CLEARLYIf you need to stop immediately “HOLD IT UP” and tell which side is about to crash “BOW SIDE/STROKE SIDE WATCH OUT” for the bank or the other crew.

  • Since your crew can not see anything, you MUST tell them whenever their blade is about to hit a tree, the bank, a houseboat or another crew etc. Even if you might not hit an obstacle, if their blade is close, you can simply tell those rowers “bow side/ stroke side WATCH YOUR BLADES” so they know to be careful around an obstacle. If you do not warn them, you can seriously injure them.

It can be scary when a collision is about to happen, but your crew are here to help you too. Your first reaction should always be to ALERT your crew and avoid the collision by STOPPING them from rowing into danger. The Cam is a busy and narrow river so (multiple) collisions are bound to happen, so don’t worry when they do, just keep calm and prepare your reaction as early as you can. Always make sure you are staying alert to what is happening in the river.

The River Cam

Our boathouse is located at point 2 on the map below: 

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The first real corner going downstream is the just under the Elizabeth Way bridge. This corner has a wide apex and while requires quite a bit of rudder, shouldn't be too difficult to steer with most crews.

The sharpest corner on this stretch of the cam is the inside line under the Green Dragon bridge. This corner will need maximum rudder (remember to start adding rudder early) and pressure from strokeside. Prepare early and call pressure when you need it.

The coach may ask you to stop at the P&E (large wide section) to give you instructions and the crew feedback, so tell your crew to “eeeeeasy there … drop” and then “take the run ... hold it up” when you reach the point where the river widens opposite where the footpath appears on the bank. Your coach will be on the other side of the river to you, so ask them to speak up if you can’t hear them!

Note that there is a spinning zone at the P&E so exercise caution when rowing through in case boats ahead decide to stop in order to spin, or crews the coming the other way decide to spin ahead of you. If you intend to spin while going downstream - boats coming upstream have right of way, so don't spin until there are no oncoming boats.

W1 going upstream under Green Dragon

After the P&E you will row on with a few small bends to navigate until you reach the Railway Bridge and the Reach. The reach is exciting because it is the straightest and widest part of the river which means that boats like to practise drills and fast ‘race pieces’ here. Because this is a short piece of river, it is important to be efficient when calling your race pieces and fast drills (but you probably won’t need to worry about this for your first outings as a novice). At the end of the reach is another spinning zone (between the two coloured posts by the towpath). At this point you can either spin and turn back to go home, or continute further down towards Baits Bite lock.

If you continue past the Reach spinning zone, you will go through Ditton Corner which is a nice wide bend. You may need to call pressure from bowside if you are not making the apex. Keep your attention through this corner and assess if there are any boats coming upstream as you come around the corner. This is because the first crossing point is immediately after the corner exit.

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The crossing point is marked by the white sign (shown above) just before the Plough pub on the Plough Reach. If there are any boats coming upstream towards you, then you MUST stop before this sign and let them row past you (unless they are far in the distance and you have time to crossover safely). The sign means that this is the point where you must switch sides and move over to the left hand side of the river. Only do so when the river is clear the other way. Remember boats going UPSTREAM (back towards Cambridge) have the right of way.

Once you have crossed over safely to the left, the Plough Reach is a nice straight section before you reach Grassy Corner. This is where most collisions happen, so remember to prepare early with small rudder adjustments, and communicate what you need from your crew. This is a difficult corner which can sometimes throw senior coxes also, so don't panic if you don't think you will make it round. Just be decisive and safe. You will need to use the maximum rudder for this corner, and call pressure from strokeside. If there is another boat coming towards you on the other side, it is likely you will clash blades with them (since the river is not wide enough for two boats at this point). If in doubt, "easy there" or "hold it up" as needed, and make sure rowers watch their blades to avoid any collision. You may need bowside to bring their blades in, to not hinder oncoming boats who have the right of way.

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Once you're through the corner, you will go down the Gut which is a narrow straight before the second crossover point (above). Keep an eye ahead as crews can come around First Post Corner (above where the river bends to the left) quickly and start to crossover. Stop if needed (and bring bowside blades in) to let uncoming crews through, and when safe to do so cross over back to the right hand side of the river. The cross over points seem complicated, but they are designed to help us out! They allow coxes to follow the best course along the river in between two tight corners. Head around First Post Corner and along First Post Reach straight all the way through past the Motorway Bridge (even though the A14 isn't a Motorway!) to Baits Bite Lock where you spin and head back upstream.

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The upstream journey is made easier by being the boat with priority this time! At the crossing points and spinning zones you will have right of way but be prepared to slow/stop/avoid at all times as other coxes don't always stop or give you enough space. The main priority is safety even if you have to stop during a race piece or when you have right of way.


To spin you need to make sure that you are first in a spinning zone and the river is clear from oncoming vessels. As you will be on the right hand side of the river - you can spin your crew by having stroke side backing it down, and bowside taking normal strokes. The best way to do this is have bowside only take strokes to first get you further into the middle of the river, and then alternate strokeside backing and bowside taking strokes.

If you are in an VIII+ make sure you watch both ends of the boat so that you don't collide with the bank. If in doubt get one side to do a second back or stroke in a row before alternating again. When you are straight, tell your crew to row on for a few strokes (often just the bow half of the boat) and leave the spinning zone as soon as you can so others can spin.

Race coxing - coming soon

Anchor 2
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