Steering, although it may look easy, can be the hardest part of course-layoutcoxing. First and foremost, steering is a safety issue on the pond and cannot be taken lightly. Before you make steering changes, you must be aware of the boats around you, any obstacles that are on the pond, and pond/wind conditions.

Steering can also affect boat balance, timing, and speed. It is important that you practice steering a straight course, turning the boat, and docking the boat.

NOTE: take extra caution in windy and foggy conditions. New coxswains should seek advice from the boathouse staff.

The basics

  • Always keep your hands on the ropes when the rowers are rowing.
  • Keep the rudder straight by keeping tension on the ropes as the boat moves. If there is no tension on the ropes the water will move the rudder around which will cause the boat to move sporadically.
  • If you want to move to your left, pull on the rope that is in your left hand. If you want to move to your right, pull on the rope in your right hand.
  • The best way to steer is to pick a point in the distance and steer towards it. Use SMALL adjustments by pulling gently to the left or to the right to keep on the path.
  • If you have to change the path, pick another point and steer toward it. When you have made your adjustments, move your hands back and ensure that the rudder is straight.
  • On the starts, ensure that the rudder is straight before you call rowers to row.

NOTE: It may be beneficial to stand up in the boat to get a better view of all rowers and when docking. But be aware that standing takes practice and affects boat balance. Coxswains should never stand during a practice start or during a race.

Flow pattern

Following the course layout, all coxswains (and coxless, sliding seat boats) will steer in a counter clockwise direction around the pond – down the pond on the south side and up the pond toward the finish on the north side.

CAUTION! Coxswains should be aware of the sliding seat docking area and of boats that may be pushing off.

Steering at the start

Lining the boat up at the starting kegs and grabbing the toggle can be tricky.

Key points:

  • Take caution at the top of the pond as there it can be several boats in a small area
  • Take your time when trying to line up the boat – rowers 1 and 2 can take easy strokes or half strokes to get the boat in place and to keep it straight
  • You can line up on either side of the keg but be sure that the toggle rope is clear of the rudder before the rowers start to row
  • Be sure to hold the ropes tight so that the rudder does not move during the initial stroke. You may want to hold them around your hips with one hand
  • See also, the start

Steering around the turn

Steering, timing, and making the proper calls during the turn takes practice. Practice often but take caution. It can be hazardous to practice turns as there are many boats on the pond during practice sessions. Key points:

  • If possible, make others aware of your attention to practice a turn
  • Proceed with caution
  • For safety purposes, turn on buoys three, four, or five only
  • Have rower #6 hold water to shorten the turning arc
  • After the turn, steer the boat toward the north side of the pond and continue in the flow pattern
  • If you need to stop the boat, pull close to shore, and parallel to the shore, leaving room for others to pass
  • Abort the turn if there is any sign of a safety issue
  • See also, turning the buoys 

See for safety issues regarding the turn.

CAUTION: Coxswains should never stop the boat in the middle of the kegs or close to the kegs as this will obstruct other crews that are practicing their turns. Never stop the boat parallel to the kegs, i.e. straight across the pond.


Rowers turning the boat

Rowers can help to turn the boat by applying more pressure on one side, by holding water, or by back watering.

Turning the boat around

  • With only bow side rowing, the bow of the boat will turn to the coxswain’s left. Due to the flow pattern, this is common.
  • With only the stroke side rowing, the bow of the boat will move to the coxswain’s right. Due to the flow pattern, this is rarely needed.

Holding water

You can use the rudder to make a gradual 180 degree turn. If you need to turn around quickly or have limited space, have one or more rowers on one side bury half of their squared blade in the water while rowers on the opposite side row. The most common example is to have #6 hold water while the bow side rowers row the boat around the buoy.

Back watering

Back watering means that the rowers are moving the boat in a backward direction. Back watering is is often needed at the start in order to line up properly and grab the toggle. Rowers backwater by placing squared blades in the water in the finish position and pushing the oar handle forward.

TIP: Having #1 row while #6 back waters will essentially spin the boat without advancing vertically. This can be useful in some situations.