I just started coaching, and am worried that I might be a little overwhelmed by dividing my attention between driving the launch and watching the rowers. Any advice on watching what’s happening in the boat while multitasking?
It’s not as overwhelming as you think it will be, I promise. The more time you spend on the water the more of a second nature it’ll become. Similarly to what I tell the coxswains, just make sure you look up and scan the river every 10-15 strokes to make sure there aren’t any crews in front of you or miscellaneous tree limbs, junk, etc. floating around. I would recommend taking the launch out for 10-20 minutes before practice one day and practice steering it while pretending to watch a crew beside you. That’ll get you used to steering straight while your attention is focused elsewhere while also giving you a chance to practice scanning the river every 20-30 seconds. If you can, get another coach to come out with you so you have someone to talk to, similarly to how you’ll be talking to the boat. Somebody recommended doing all of that to me when I was first learning how to use the launches at CRI and it was really helpful. If you were previously a coxswain, the transition won’t be that tough. The only difference is that the boat your steering now is about 50ft shorter. Think of learning to drive a launch like learning to drive a car all over again, except with a boat.
This goes along with what I said at the beginning about scanning the river for other crews – make sure when you go by them you slow down so that you don’t wake them out. There’s nothing worse than a coach that blows by and completely wakes out another crew that’s trying to do stationary drills or have a conversation with their coach. Always throw up a hand wave to the other coach(es) too. It’s just the friendly, polite thing to do. (Harry Parker waved to me once on the Charles and it was literally one of the greatest things ever.)
Also, slightly unrelated, when you go out make sure you have life jackets and a paddle in the launch with you. The life jackets are (obviously) for situations where someone or multiple someones end up in the water and the paddle is if your engine dies and you need to get to shore or back to the dock. (For more info on why coaches are required to carry those items, check out this post and scroll down to the sixth paragraph where it talks about the Level 1 certification thing I went to.)