Coxswain skills: Steering a buoyed course

Previously: Steering, pt. 1 || Steering, pt. 2  || Boat feel || How to handle a negative coxswain eval || How to cox steady state workouts || How to cox short, high intensity workouts || Race steering

Today’s post is going to be a super quick recap-ish post on strategies for steering a buoyed course. I’ve gotten several emails about this lately and with IRAs this weekend and Youth Nationals coming up soon, this will hopefully be a good last-minute refresher for anyone that hasn’t had much experience with buoyed courses (which apparently is more common than I thought it was).

I talked a lot about race steering in the last post (linked below) so I won’t regurgitate what I said there but a point that does bear repeating is that if you’re thinking about steering during your race, something has already gone wrong.

Related: Coxswain skills: Race steering

There are four things you can loosely focus on when you’re on a buoyed course to help you maintain a straight course. They include:

A point far off in the distance (like a building or tower on the skyline)

The center line where the buoys meet

The distance that one side’s blades are off the buoy line

The buoy line that’s just ahead of you

When looking at the buoys just up ahead, it’s similar to standing on the street and looking one block up, then you walk a block and look up at the next block. You’re taking it one chunk at a time as opposed to looking down the whole street, or course in this case. I’m personally not a huge fan of this approach because I think it pulls your attention back to your steering more than it should but if the idea of looking straight down the whole course at once is a little daunting, this could be an approach worth trying.

The center-line approach is a commonly used one but coxswains tend to overthink it and freak out because they can’t actually see where the buoys meet because the rowers are in their way. This is where good coxswains separate themselves from the rest because a good coxswain would be able to use their critical thinking skills and common sense (more so the latter than the former, to be honest) to realize that obviously the point where the buoys meet won’t be visible when you’re actually following a straight course. The goal here is to point yourself at the start so that the center line is “hidden” behind the rowers and then to use whatever’s on either side of that point to maintain a course straight down the middle between them.

The last approach is to use your peripheral vision to maintain an equal distance between the blades and the buoy line. This is best used in tandem with focusing on the center-line or a point off in the distance. It’s also easy to practice too when you’re rowing side-by-side with another crew at home (sans buoys) since keeping the crews close without clashing blades is an important part of practice management. The one downside to it is that if you focus too hard on one buoy line it can tend to pull you over to that side. I have a tendency to do this so my go-to is to always look straight ahead and focus on the center-line.

Buoy lines ultimately are not a hard thing to handle, even if you don’t have a ton of experience with them. The last two years at Sprints I’ve seen a lot of coxswains, mostly freshman/walk-ons I assume, nervously asking their coaches what to point at, how to hold a point between the buoys, etc. and it’s very obvious that they’re thinking way too hard about it. Buoys are your friend so don’t think about them more than you need to – they’re there to make your life easier, not harder.

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