Coxswain Commands

Coxswains Commands

In order for the crew to work a team or unit, the cox’n will give specific commands. Most of the commands will be based off of a three part sequence, starting with the description, then the questions “Ready?”, and finally the command to move. These commands should come in an even cadence, so that the crew will act in unison.

The sequence, more specifically, is:

  1. Description
  2. Command of Preparation
  3. Command of Execution

To move a boat stored on a rack:

  • Hands on the name of the boat
  • Up and off the rack, READY? (pause) Up
  • To the shoulders, READY? (pause) Up (pause) Walk it out, watching the riggers (meaning to make sure the boat riggers being carried out, do not hit the riggers on the stored boats)

To move a boat that is right side up, from the water to slings:

  • One hand center, decide who is going to split.
  • Over heads, READY? (pause) Up
  • Split to sides, READY ? (pause) Down – boat goes to the oars persons shoulders
  • Walk it up (the beach)
  • once on the wash off pad, Weigh-enough
  • To the waist, READY? (pause) down
  • To the stretchers, READY? (pause) down

Stopping a boat

There are a few different command sequences for stopping a boat depending on the situation at hand. The primary command understood by rowers to stop rowing is “Weight Enough,” however, this command may result in an abrupt stoppage of rowing that you may not want.

In an emergency where stopping as fast as possible is imperative, one may use the command sequence:

  • Weigh enough,¬†Hold Water
  • Whens stopped: sit easy

At the end of a piece where stopping is not urgent, one may use the command sequence:

  • Last two strokes (or simply “Last Two”)¬† optionally include “and fly it out”
  • Count One, Two at the catch
  • Say Weigh Enough (You may add “fly it out” to have the oars persons set their oars at hands away and let the boat fly as level as possible)
  • If flying the oars, “let it fall” or “blades down”
  • Sit easy

Communicating changes during a row

When rowing the cox’n may want to have only have some of the crew rowing, if they want to change something they could do something like the following:

  • In TWO, 3 and 4 to drop out, 5 and 6 to add in,
  • ONE, at the catch of 8 seat
  • TWO, at the second catch of 8 seat
  • On this one, said immediately after TWO
    The rowers 3 and 4 should continue to row until the RELEASE of stroke TWO, at that time they will begin to balance the boat with their oars. The 5 and 6 rowers will continue to balance the boat, until the RELEASE of stroke TWO, at which time they will begin to row following the Stern pair of rowers.

To increase the stroke length or pressure,.

  • In TWO, full slide or 1/2 pressure
  • ONE, at the catch of 8 seat
  • TWO, at the second catch of 8 seat
    On this one, said immediately after TWO

Turning a Boat

Boats are normally turned by having the port and starboard rowers alternate to create what is called a River Turn. If you want to turn the boat in a port circle, you would have the ports back the blades and the starboards row. Alternatively, turning to starboard would be the opposite, starboards back, ports row. Here is a sample command sequence:

  • Weigh enough and hold water (if the boat is in motion)
  • Ports to back, starboards to row
  • Ready? (pause) and Back, wait for the ports to back, and say Row
  • When done, say Weigh enough

Coxing tips from Mary Whipple

Mary Whipple is an American coxswain. She competed at the 2012 Summer Olympics and at the 2008 Summer Olympics. She won a gold medal in women’s eight at both competitions. She also competed at the 2004 Summer Olympics where she won a silver medal. As a coxswain, Whipple stands 5 ft 3 in (1.60 m) and weighs in at 108 lb (49 kg)..

As a freshman at the University of Washington, Mary coxed the women’s varsity four to a national title in 1999. She coxed the varsity eight to victory at the Henley Royal Regatta in 2000, taking home the first-ever Henley Prize, while also coxing them to a silver medal in the NCAA championships as part of a second-place finish in the team standings that year. In 2001 and 2002, Mary coxed the varsity eight to back-to-back NCAA championships, and the Huskies also took home the team title in 2001.

Back in the mid 2010’s Mary would give coxswain training courses. These are notes posted on the Internet from one such session.

“Guide everyone to believe the same thing at the same time”
“Consider when and why you are saying the things you are saying. Always keep searching for a better way to communicate”


  • the faster the boat is moving the quicker the rudder response.
  • Be savy–look ahead and be smooth–steer as smoothly as possible, so smoothly that no one can even tell (she used the word “blend” a lot when talking about moving the rudder)
  • Sit so that you can feel the boat.
  • Earn credibility by feeling the boat, asking for changes based on what you feel, and giving feedback on the change. If it was good, say so.
  • Don’t worry so much about steering straight, rather use the information around you to get from point A to point B as efficiently as possible. Have a point, but also other reference points around you specifically in the water (for example, your point might be a tree or something on the horizon, but that point references a specific place in your body of water. Know where that is as well as the point above it.).
  • If you need to, talk less and worry about steering straight.
  • It is OK to steer whenever you want (NOT just on the drive), as long as you are smooth and savvy.
  • If you need to steer very hard, there is nothing wrong with communicating that. Information is power for your rowers.
  • For race steering: use the buoys as a fuzzy reference in your peripheral vision. Your steering is based on the end of the buoys, where they converge on the horizon, not necessarily on the buoys right by you, although you may want to simply keep yourself an equal distance from the buoys at all times. Everyone has their own method, but in the perfect world, if you are thinking about steering in a race, something has already gone wrong.

Stake Boats

  • let it run into your late, pivot so you are straight, then back it in. Make sure you look at the stake boat.
  • For sculling, rehearse ahead with your team who is going to need to scull when you are locked in. Who will pass to whom, etc. Or if you have nervous rowers who don’t want to worry about passing back and forth, you can have bow pair sit at the catch and bump and back at the same time with varying pressure to set your point. A good approach to this is to start sculling to your original point, then have the
  • bow pair maintain the point with bumps.
  • Remember to keep your steering calm off the start.
  • When going to stake boats in a bow loader, it is okay to let your stern pair take control. Set them up so they can succeed and then monitor if they are getting to close–let them do it, but supervise.

Executing the race plan

  • starts: Keep adjusting your point if you need to up until about lane 2 in the polling (depending how many lanes and on conditions, of course. Use common sense.) Steer as calmly and as straight as you can off the start. Often it is best for the start to be about patience and trust. Most rowers do not need intensity to come from you off the start.
  • the lengthen: this is a chance for you, the coxswain, to shine! You can set the tone of the middle 1000 with your delivery. DO NOT SETTLE! You want to relax without backing off the pressure. Convince your crew to feel the rhythm of their race cadence.
  • the base (middle 1000): Do not let your crew slow down. Convince them to trust that their rhythm is the right one, ideally convince them to forget the 3rd 500.
  • moves: these are always individualized, but the point is that everyone in the boat must know what the moves are and have a connection to them. Key words that trigger a reaction from everyone, as a group, because they all know how to react and that everyone else will react the same way at the same time.
  • the sprint: the entire race should be an acceleration towards the sprint, constantly accelerating to the finish line. It is a constant build.

Some general stuff I jotted down

  • Give the information and if what you are saying is good, give that positive reinforcement as well (i.e. Don’t just say the stroke rate is 32 if you want the stroke rate to be 32 and it is now 32. Say “Stroke rate is 32, that’s exactly what we want. yes.” etc)
  • Often, you may need to wait to feel what is happening in the boat before you can make a call. Be calm and confident. If the stroke rate is high for a one struck, don’t say so necessarily right away. It might be right back on in the next stroke.
  • Try to always have a reason for what you are saying. Don’t waste any words and build credibility by feeling what is happening in the boat, making a call about it, suggesting a way to fix it, then giving feedback on what the result of that call was.
  • It is okay to be quiet for a few strokes, even in a race. The next thing you say will need to be extra engaging/significant, though.
  • At high rates, double check that you are giving time for the rowers to digest what you are saying.
  • This is a personal choice, and it probably doesn’t matter to your rowers, but Mary suggested always referring to yourself and the crew as a group, rather than talking about yourself (“I”, “Me”) and them (“you”). Rather, it’s always “we”, “us”. So– “Let’s get even” rather than “Get me even”.
  • Demand the next step of plan, positively. Be confident.
  • Moves help everyone stay committed to their goal at vulnerable places in the race.
  • Set is a timing issue!! If the boat is not set, make sure each side is supporting their side and that everyone is coming out of the bow together on the recovering.
  • Be a leader, but also be a teammate .