How to sit in the boat

Previously: Steer an eight/four || Call a pick drill and reverse pick drill ||  Avoid getting sick || Make improvement as a novice || Protect your voice || Pass crews during a head race || Be useful during winter training || Train when you’re sick (as a rower) || Train when you’re sick (as a coxswain)

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions about how to sit in the boat. Seems obvious at first – you just … sit in it – but if you’re working on establishing boat feel or trying to figure out how to not slide into the black hole that is the bow of a four, there are some tricks to it. I’ve talked about these in various posts before but I’ve tried to combine them all here so they’re in one place for easy access.

Related: Is there a ‘right way’ to sit in the coxswain seat? My left foot always gets super numb during practice!

Bowloaded fours

When it comes to how to properly situate yourself in a four, I see way more coxswains doing it wrong than doing it right. The purpose of these boats (compared to ones where you’re sitting in the stern) is to distribute the weight more evenly throughout the bow and eliminate the wind resistance that comes from having another body sitting straight up. In order to be effective in those two areas you have to actually be lying down. If someone is looking at your boat, they should see you like this, not like this. You being flat in the boat also helps keep it on keel. If you’re sitting straight up like the coxswain in the second picture and the boat is falling from side to side, you are most likely the main contributing factor.

If you’re having difficulty lying completely flat or are avoiding it because there’s no way to prevent yourself from sliding into the bow when the boat surges then you need to adjust the back (or neck) rest to accommodate your height. This is the equivalent of the rowers foot stretchers … they wouldn’t not change their foot stretchers just because the lineups aren’t set and they didn’t row in that seat yesterday or might not row in it tomorrow so in a similar vein, there’s no excuse for you to not adjust the back rest.

If you’re short, move it forward towards the bow to decrease the amount of extra space between your feet and the end of the boat. If you’re around my height (4’11”) then you still might not be able to reach the very tip of the boat with your feet but you’ll be far enough forward that your feet will be closer to the narrow end of the hull which will make it easier to brace them against the sides of the boat.

If you’re tall, you’ll need to move the back rest back towards the stern. For those of you who are more vertically blessed than the rest of us then that might mean moving it back so you’re right against your bow seat’s backstops, which also means that you must lie down as far as you can because their upper bodies/elbows will probably travel in the plane directly over your head. There’s pretty much no way to be a tall coxswain and comfortably cox in a bow loaded four though (at least that’s what I’ve heard from friends) so sacrifices will have to be made.

If the back rests in your shell aren’t the solid planks (which are amazing) and instead are those mesh nets (second in awfulness only to those stupid neck bars that some Resolutes have), make sure that you tighten them enough so that there’s no tension in your upper body when you’re lying down. The first time I coxed a four with one of those I didn’t think to tighten it and came off with the worst headache and a really sore ribcage because I was tensing my body so much to keep myself in a good position to see and not slide around. The next time I was in that boat I pulled the straps about 75% and that ended up being perfect (and not entirely uncomfortable…). If you don’t have one of those mesh nets I’m almost positive you can buy them online from the boat manufacturer but I’ve also seen crews DIY their own from old t-shirts (it involved grommets, carabiners, and thin rope or bungees), which is easier to do that it sounds.

Going back to the “sliding into the bow” problem, it took me forever to figure out how to deal with this. I can lay completely flat in every four I’ve ever been in but if I move the back rest up to the point when I can actually brace my feet against the boat then I end up with my chest right against the steering lever (the one that moves left and right), which as you can imagine makes it really difficult to steer. The solution was to throw an old soccer ball (the smaller ones that are 18-24″ in circumference work great) or a small beach ball into the bow of the boat to put my feet against. This lets you keep the back rest closer to the stern while giving you better control over your body and not compromising your ability to steer. Please don’t listen to your coaches when they tell you to just throw a life jacket in the bow because that’s stupid and not a legitimate solution. One, they’re split down the middle and have a giant hole in them and two, it is incredibly easy to get your feet tangled in them. Worst case scenario, if you flipped and your feet are caught up in a life jacket, how easy do you think it’s gonna be for you to get out of the boat? Not very. Don’t use life jackets.

Related: Coxswain Skills: Boat feel

Eights

It’s pretty easy to brace yourself in an eight but you’ve gotta know how to sit in the seat for this to actually work. You can casually sit in the boat during less intense stuff but when you’re doing pieces, drills, etc. you should make your body is “one with the boat” so you can feel what’s happening and so you’re not getting jerked around. The way to do this is to press your feet into the footboards on either side of your cox box (like you’re trying to push something away from you) while pressing the small of your back (that inward curve right above your butt) into the back of the seat. Doing these two things allows your body to move with the boat rather than in response to it.

Side note, I had a rude awakening when I was coxing in Florida over winter break when I got in the boat and realized our Resolutes don’t have these footboards. I’ve never been less in tune with a boat than I was that week, which was really frustrating for me because I felt like I was missing out on a lot of things the boat was doing. Having your feet flat on the bottom of the hull just doesn’t provide the same … feeling … resistance … I’m not sure what word to use … so it was tough to establish any kind of boat feel when I was in there. Similarly, when we were doing high rate stuff, like starts at 38-42spm, I felt like a rag doll. It took a lot more effort than I’m used to to keep my body stable, despite having what I consider to be pretty solid core strength. So Resolute coxswains … how do you combat this?

When it comes to your upper body, similar to the rowers you want to keep everything loose. Rather than tensing your shoulders to prevent your upper body from moving around you should instead use your core to keep everything stable. (More motivation to do core workouts.) I’ve heard of pressing your elbows into or around the gunnels to keep you from moving but I tried that in Florida and it just hurt so I can’t vouch for that method personally.

The positioning of your fingers/hands is the final component to how you sit in the boat. I know I’ve been talking about this a lot recently but you shouldn’t be gripping the steering cables with a full fist (this creates unnecessary tension in your shoulders and causes you to oversteer).

Related: Coxswain skills: Steering, pt. 1 (Oversteering)

Instead you should hook your thumb, index, and middle fingers around them (see the picture illustrating how I do it in the post linked below) and then finish by hooking your pinkies over the gunnels. This helps you maintain full contact with the boat while preventing you from oversteering due to the limited range of motion you now have thanks to how you’ve weaved the cables between your fingers.

Related: Coxswain skills: Race steering

What advice do you guys have for sitting in the boat? If you’re a tall/short coxswain in a four, what’s your method for positioning yourself?

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2 thoughts on “How to sit in the boat

  1. Eileen says:

    I cox for a team that exclusively uses Resolutes as well. I’m 5’0″ and my boat currently uses a fairly new shell, though still lacking in coxswain foot rests. This is going to sound really strange, but I actually *prefer* a Resolute’s coxswain seat to that of the 2009 Vespoli 8+ that my old high school club had – probably because I can actually feel my legs at the end of practice and I just have more room to stretch out – but anyway, I digress. For me, I’ve learned to notice boat feel less from my feet (since I can’t ground my feet on anything and I could never feel my legs in my old team’s Vespoli) and more from my lower back and my butt since those are the points that are the most consistently in contact with the shell. The only reason I keep my feet braced and leg muscles super engaged now is to make sure I’m not the one offsetting the boat.

  2. Skye says:

    My crew uses almost exclusively Resolutes–I’m 5’3″ and my leg are just barely long enough to reach the deck where my stroke’s foot stretchers attach…so I just kind of brace the arches of my feet on those. In thin soled/flexible shoes it can kind of hurt, but it works. I also sit with my tool bag behind me so I’m able to have a solid hold with my feet instead of feeling like I’m reaching…because you’re totally right, it’s impossible to hold my core firmly without something to brace my feet against, especially during pieces.

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