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 the finish of the race. Another set of buoys is positioned at the halfway point of the race. Each team is required to turn the boat around this buoy and return to the start/finish buoys. The exception will be the Squirts 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 and/or the keg to your right.

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 line, 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.
    • Women’s course – aim for a spot approximately half to three quarters away from the turning buoy
    • Men’s 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. See finding your point above.
    • 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 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. You may have to gently tap your oar handle down so the shaft clears the top of 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; two will also be critical in balancing the boat.
    • One – follow three.
  5. When the bow side rowers have the boat around the buoy, usually in 5-8 strokes, call “on this one,” or some other call that the rowers are familiar with. Stroke side rowers start rowing in time with the bow side with all six rowers rowing together.
    • 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 to prepare and they will be able to join in in 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 strokes to get the boat speed up and the team will then transition into their race pace and rhythm.

When the coxswain is pulling on the rudder and stroke side rowers are not rowing, the boat may dip down on the bow side. It is critical that stroke side rowers, and the coxswain work together to balance the boat to ensure that the bow side rowers get maximum power on the drive and can turn the boat around the buoy.

Tips for rudder use when turning around the buoys

  • Accelerating the boat increases the rudder’s effectiveness; 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.
Remember that it takes a couple of strokes to get the boat turning and a couple of strokes to stop it from turning. Anticipate when you need to apply and release the rudder so that you don’t over or under steer.