The Five Mandates of Coxing

There’s a lot of things about coxing that are steeped in logic and common sense – the five things below are a few of them. They fall under the umbrella of “the bare minimum you should be doing every single day”. Doing them doesn’t make you a good coxswain either, a good coxswain simply does them because a) bare. freaking. minimum., b) common sense, c) logic.

If you’ve been to Sparks you’ll probably recognize a couple of these. If you haven’t yet, you’re welcome for the heads up.

Wear sunglasses and a hat

The elements are a huge distraction for coxswains and one of the easiest ways to minimize that is to wear a hat and sunglasses. I resisted wearing a hat for a really long time but the first time I got sunburned and had to walk around school with that dumb ass white stripe across my forehead from the mic strap, you bet that changed my mind. Wearing a hat also keeps the sun, rain, snow, etc. out of your eyes, which gives you a clearer view of everything in front of your face, which I think we can all agree is an important thing for coxswains.

Related: What to wear: Sunglasses

Same goes for sunglasses. I wear regular glasses and paying a few hundred bucks for a pair of prescription sunglasses seemed foolish considering how frugal I needed to be with my money but I finally got a pair this year and they are so worth it. I’m not a huge fan of sunny days because I tend to get really bad migraines from the glare off the water or just the bright light in general but I’ve actually noticed over the last few months that I’ve had fewer headaches coming off the water than I have in the past because I wear my sunglasses every day instead of just relying on my hat to keep the sun out of my eyes.

Walk behind the boat

You will never be able to make a successful argument to me as to why walking in front of the boat is safer and more effective than walking behind the boat. Many have tried, all have failed.

When you’re in front of the boat you have no idea what’s happening behind you, which means you can’t see if a rigger or the end of the boat is going to hit something (or someone). Some coxswains will also say “but I need to tell people to get out of the way” … OK so, project your voice and yell “heads up!”. Protecting the equipment is more important than protecting people who are too dense to get out of your way despite your repeated attempts to get them to move.

“Behind” is not open to interpretation either. It literally means behind, not up by your bow or 2-seat because then you can’t see the rigger on the other side and that’s gonna be the one that gets slammed into the bay door when you swing out of the boathouse to go down to the dock. Whenever I’m walking a boat anywhere, I’ve got one hand either physically on the bow ball (usually as we’re walking through traffic at a race or out into the street to load the trailers) or up and ready to grab it if I need to prevent us from hitting something (usually as we’re walking in/out of the boathouse).

“Behind” also doesn’t mean being at the bow of the boat. Depending on where you’re walking (i.e. going out bow first), you might be standing behind the stern. This tends to be a point of confusion for coxswains but as long as you’re standing at the end that gives you a clear and full view of the entire shell and the rowers, bow and stern are irrelevant.

Be hands free

“But who’s gonna carry the rowers water bottles?”

Oh, I donno, maybe the rowers??? I don’t know where this idea that coxswains = pack mules got started but it’s bullshit and you all honestly need to start telling the rowers they can carry their own shit into the boat with them. They’ve got one extra hand they can carry their water with or they can do what everyone else does and stick it in the waistband of their spandex.

“I don’t mind doing it, it’s not a big deal, they asked me to, all the coxswains before me did it, etc.”

Don’t care. Your hands need to be free because if you’ve gotta suddenly grab the boat to keep from knocking a rigger on a light pole, it’s gonna be pretty tough to do that if you’ve got eight water bottles, two splash jackets, your cox box, and a partridge in a pear tree in your hands.

And yea, your cox box? That shouldn’t be in your hands either. Throw a carabiner on it (I use these s-biner ones) and attach it to your belt look, fanny back, backpack, or whatever you carry your tools and stuff in when you go out. Hands free means HANDS FREE.

Speak loudly, slowly, and clearly

This is first and foremost a safety thing. People (not just the rowers in your boat) need to be able to hear and understand what you’re saying, which means you’ve gotta project your voice, annunciate your words, and speak at a normal pace (i.e. not frantically rushing the words out of your mouth but also not taking a full sixty seconds to say five words). If you’re not a naturally loud person or you’re kinda shy and not super comfortable being that loud … suck it up, man. That’s the only pertinent advice I have for you.

Be beside the skeg on the dock

Fourteen years and counting as a coxswain and I’ve never lost a skeg, largely in part because my hand is on the boat guiding it away from the dock anytime we’re putting the boat in or taking it out of the water. It’s your job to protect the equipment and even though you’re loudly, slowly, and clearly instructing the crew to “put it out and in”, there’s no guarantees that the boat is always going to go out far enough before it goes in (especially if you’re coxing novices), which is why you’ve gotta have your hands free and be ready to guide it out further to ensure the skeg doesn’t get knocked off.

When you’re taking the boat out at the end of practice, standing there and watching the coxswain seat get closer to your face as the rowers lift it out of the water is not the same as putting your hand on the side of the boat and guiding it up out of the water.

This is another argument that coxswains have tried to have and lost. Those of you that have lost skegs on the dock, if you were standing there doing each of the things mentioned above, how many hours of repair work do you think you could have saved your coaches or boatmen?

We’re still pretty early in the season which means there’s plenty of time for you to start implementing these things and ingraining good habits in the coxswains on your team. The group that will benefit from this the most are the novice coxswains so varsity coxswains, it’s on you to set the example.

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