Question of the Day

Hi Kayleigh! So a few days ago, we took some fours out on the water to get a good cool down after summer season, but also to get in a good warm-up for the upcoming fall season. I’ve always been used to fours with the handle on the right side, pointing the handle forward to go to starboard, and pointing the handle backward to go to port. That day, I was put into a four with a completely different steering system that I was not used to at all. There was a handle directly in front of me that jutted out from the top, and I would have to move the handle to port or starboard. I was guessing that you would point the handle in the direction that we wanted to go but we did a lot of straight-course rowing so I didn’t get to experiment as often as I would’ve liked to. My question is, what are the different types of steering in fours? And do the same principles apply (small adjustments, not going too hard on the rudder) to all types of steering? Thanks!

For the most part, yes, the same principles apply to all them. Small adjustments are key except in cases where you’re going around a big turn and need that extra “oomph” to get you around. The only real difference between steering a four vs. an eight is that the four is going to respond faster than the eight will since it’s smaller.

Basically there are three types of steering for the fours, all of which we’ve mentioned.

The strings, which work the same way they do in the eights

The lever that is directly in front of you

The handle (or “steering palm control unit”, as Vespoli calls it) that is beside you

The handle steering isn’t one I’ve used but I think it’s fairly straightforward – to steer to starboard you push it forward and to steer to port you pull it back towards you.

Something I learned after coxing a couple of bow loaders with the lever steering is that occasionally they are set up where the cables are crossed, which is frustrating if you aren’t used to it or, in my case, didn’t know that was even a thing. I coxed a Filippi when I was in Philadelphia and could not figure out why the boat kept going to port when I was clearly steering to starboard. Eventually the coach realized that I had no idea what was going on and he told me that yea, the cables in Filippis are crossed which means the steering is backwards to what I’m used to. I don’t know why some boats are like this but the best way to determine how the steering in your shell works is to play with the rudder a bit before you go out so you can see which direction it moves when you move the lever one way or the other, as well as how big your adjustments need to be.

If the steering cables are too loose you’ll find that when you’re on the water and move the rudder an inch or so you might not actually be doing anything to the rudder even though you think you’re making an adjustment. If you find that the rudder isn’t responding much to you moving the lever, let your coach know so they can tighten the cables.


3 thoughts on “Question of the Day

  1. Peter R says:

    Interesting too see the different mechanisms. My club’s 4+s all use levers, but move the opposite way to your diagram, so the boat moves to the side your hand’s on. At a small regatta last year we couldn’t load our usual 4+ for some reason, so had to use a boat that was usually a 4X+ that we’d never been in before. It was only after launching I realised the steering in that boat was the other way round, and we very nearly ended up crossing into the regatta course infront of a race… Lesson learnt!

    Also I don’t know if it’s psychological, but our Filippi 4+ seems to turn tighter if some downward pressure is applied to the lever as I move it.

    • beantownkmd says:

      Yea, I don’t know what it is about some steering things being opposite of others but it’s really confusing and VERY irritating. In certain situations, like yours or in other high traffic areas on the water, it can be really dangerous too. I don’t know why it’s not uniform across all boats.

      I actually heard that about Filippis when I was in Philadelphia. Must be a thing!

  2. lornajanescott says:

    My high school had bowloaded 4s with the lever system and they were occasionally wired so that they were crossed at the stern of the boat. Made life a bit more complex but means I now like to check the steering when a boat is on the land before a session. Its a good habit to get into as well if you travel with the boats and there is a chance they have been nudged or the wiring loosened.


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