Question of the Day

Hi I’m a novice coxswain (like really novice, my first day of actual coxing was today) and I have a steering question. Should I steer when the rowers are on the drive or on the recovery (blades in or out of the water)? I have looked it up a couple places and found conflicting answers. Today I just steered during both because I figured for my first time it was more important not to hit anything than to have perfect “steering technique”. And I have one more question actually – I found it practically impossible to talk or run drills while steering today. That will get easier as I master steering right? For now do you have any tips for focusing on both talking and steering especially while running drills that involve calling pauses and counting strokes? Thank you so much and I LOVE your blog!

You’re right, the first few times you go out it’s more important to figure out how the steering works and just avoid running into anything. I tend to make small steering adjustments on the recovery. Sometimes I’ll adjust on the drive when we’re doing pieces since that is when the boat is most set (when the blades are in the water) but I find that I often get a better response from the rudder if I do it on the recovery. Turning the rudder effects the set a little though so you want to avoid doing anything that’s going to throw it off even more, especially if it’s already wonky. The boats I’ve been coxing in the last few months have really good steering and the crews I’m coxing are pretty experienced so it doesn’t mess with the set too much. Coming around a corner, if you make that small adjustment right at the finish you can just coast around it. If you’re not used to steering though and/or have an inexperienced crew, just stick to steering on the drive and keep your adjustments to a minimum (both in number and duration).

One thing that you’ll learn as you get more experienced is that steering both is and isn’t something you’re doing all the time. It’s kind of like when you’re driving – sometimes you’re making tiny adjustments with the wheel and sometimes you’re good to just leave it alone. The boat is the same way. You should always be aware of where you are, what’s ahead, etc. and always be keeping your hands on the strings to keep the rudder straight but you don’t always need to be moving the rudder around. Once you get a point you want to steer as little as possible.

As you get more experienced multi-tasking will become second nature. Most coaches are OK with running practice from the launch for the first few days though to let you get the hang of steering. If you’re doing both right away and feeling overwhelmed, tell your coach. It’s more important that you pick up steering than it is for you to call drills right now. Pay attention to the drills and what’s going on so you’re ready to do them when it’s time though.

Related: The other day I was stuck in the center lane. Let’s just say it didn’t go so well. How do you concentrate on boats on either side of you/your point, your rowers, making calls and stroke rate? Ack, overwhelmed!


If counting the strokes in your head is too overwhelming right now just use the stroke counter on your cox box. In newer models (like the one in the picture) it’s in the top right corner of the screen whereas in older models it’s in the lower right corner of. As long as your stroke is rowing you’ll be able to get a count of the strokes since the sensor is under their seat. If they aren’t rowing you’ll have to count the strokes yourself since the cox box won’t pick them up.

Don’t be afraid to try counting, steering when necessary, talking, etc. at the same time (in small doses). You’re going to have to do it sooner or later. As a novice, no one expects you to be perfect right away so now is kind of your one and only chance to “test” things out. If you keep avoiding it though because you think you’re going to mess up, that’s just irresponsible coxing (in my opinion, at least). In the beginning coxing is uncomfortable but embracing the discomfort and not letting it distract you or make you scared is what makes good coxswains.


3 thoughts on “Question of the Day

  1. Clare says:

    hey I was the one who asked this original question and I just wanted to follow up! thank you so much for answering! you’re totally right, by my third day I had the steering down, only adjusting when I needed to get my point (instead of being on the rudder every second like I was the first day) and I felt totally comfortable talking during drills, calling out technique, and even coxing my first race piece. I even mentioned something later about it being my third day coxing and my rowers could not believe it, saying they never would have guessed and they loved the way I coxed the piece (so yay haha). Oh and the reason I didn’t use the stroke counter was because the coaches literally told me NOTHING and I didn’t even know how to turn the cox box on, let alone what the numbers meant. But I use it now, and that definitely helps.

    • beantownkmd says:

      Awesome! Maybe I’ll post a thing about cox boxes then…I was going to a few months ago and then assumed (stupidly) that coaches would go over that kind of stuff. Apparently not. 😛


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