Turning the Buoys

Turning the boat around a buoy on the course is fairly unique in rowing races. The races in St. John’s, Placentia, and Harbour Grace have one set of buoys for the start and finish of the race and another set of buoys at the halfway point of the race. Each team is required to turn the boat around the buoy at the halfway point and return to the start/finish buoys. The exception will be the under U14 category.

The goal for a crew is to turn the boat around the buoy in as few strokes as possible while maintaining boat speed. There are many ways to accomplish this. The coxswain has a critical role and must ensure that the crew does specific things in order for the boat to turn safely and quickly. The coxswain may also have to make adjustments to their turning strategy depending on their starting buoy, crews next to them, rower strength and experience, and wind conditions.

Finding your point

Before you attempt a start, it is critical to find your point. Your point is usually a landmark you can see clearly in the distance allowing your to steer straight. You can find your point by getting behind your starting keg and/or behind your turning keg and looking for a landmark that you can steer toward. In the absence of a landmark, you may be able to estimate the distance from your turning keg.

Videos of a men’s turn and a women’s turn

Steps to turn around the buoy

Below is a set of details given to a coxswain who wants to turn the boat around the buoy:

  1. At the starting kegs, aim for a point that is between the crew’s turning buoy and the buoy to the right ( or in the case of buoy #5, a point to the right of #5 buoy). See finding your point above.
    • Half course – aim for a spot approximately half to three quarters away from the turning buoy
    • Full course – aim for a spot three quarters away from the turning buoy
  2. On the way down the course, focus on keeping the rudder straight, steering straight to your point.
    • NOTE: focus on keeping the boat straight down the course; it is easy to veer to your left putting the boat too close to the turning keg
  3. At approximately 50-60 meters from the buoys, pull on the rudder to turn the boat toward the turning buoy. It is best to pull on the rudder during the drive versus the recovery as the boat is most stable when the blades are in the water.
    • NOTE: resist the urge to start your turn too early as you will end up at a sharp angle to the keg rather than being behind the keg and parallel to turning line
  4. When the bow of the boat is close to the turning buoy, call ‘hold water,’ or some other call that the rowers are familiar with, and the rowers will do the following:
    • Stroke – ‘hold water’ by holding the oar handle close to the body and placing 1/4 – 1/2 of the blade in the water on a slight backward angle. Hold the handle firmly to ensure the blade helps the boat to turn. If the blade goes deep, it will act as an anchor.
    • Five – take full strokes, leading the way for number three and one. Don’t rush; be sure to finish each stroke strong.
    • Four – balance the boat with your body straight up and your blade flat on the water. When the boat reaches the keg, you may have to push your oar handle down gently so the shaft goes over the buoy. You may have to move ahead slightly on the seat to make room for number three.
      • NOTE: some crews choose to have number four hold water with number six.
    • Three – follow five.
    • Two – same as four; you will also be critical in balancing the boat.
    • One – follow three; hang in there, it will feel heavy.
  5. When the bow side rowers have the boat around the buoy, usually in 4-8 strokes, call “on this one,” or some other call that the rowers are familiar with, the call the stroke side rowers back in. Practice the timing so that all six rowers can get the boat speed up quickly.
    • NOTE: the timing of the call is critical here. Call “on this one” as the bow side takes the catch. This will allow the stroke side time during the drive to prepare and they will be able to join in on the recovery part of the stroke.
    • NOTE: some crews may choose to ‘pick up’ one stroke side rower at a time. The call may be something like: “Go four, go six, go two.”
  6. When the boat is somewhat straight, the coxswain may call for power strokes to get the boat back up to speed. Rowers will complete the power and the team will then transition into their race pace and rhythm.

To turn the boat around the buoy, the coxswain pulls hard on the rudder and stroke side rowers stop rowing. This will cause the boat to dip down on the bow side. Stroke side rowers and the coxswain must balance the boat to allow bow side rowers to take good, powerful strokes to turn the boat.

Tips for rudder use when turning around the buoys

  • Bring the boat speed up before you apply the rudder and the boat will respond better to the rudder.
  • Apply the rudder firmly but gently, not abruptly; don’t slam it on.
  • Bring the boat speed up coming out of the turn and gradually release the rudder to get your point to the finish.
  • Anticipate when you need to apply and release the rudder so that you don’t under or over steer.