A coxswain is coach, motivator, and driver, all in one. ‘The fifth oar’ — a good coxswain is an extreme asset in a race, and can be the difference maker.


A coxswain sits at the stern (back) of the boat facing the rowers, and steers by moving a rudder. The number one responsibility of the coxswain is the safety of the crew and other crews nearby. Secondly, a coxswain steers responsibly to protect the rowing boat and equipment. A coastal coxswain has additional challenges to contend with, including wind and tide conditions that affect the boat.


A good coxswain communicates clearly and consistently so that rowers understand quickly the action to be taken. This process starts before rowers even hit the water; a cox directs the launch and sets the tone for readying the boat. During practice, a coxswain implements the warm-up which generally starts rowing at arms only, arms and body, progressing to full slide. Often coxswains warm-up the boat by pairs.


During the session, coxswains critique rowing technique to help rowers improve. It is the rowers’ responsibility to take these comments and make positive changes that boost efficiency. Sometimes a call will be aimed at one person, whilst other times it may be for the whole crew. A coxswain also implements drills and technical exercises to work on a specific part of the stroke. It’s essential the coxswain critique in a manner that’s positive and conducive to better rowing.


There’s nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of coxing your crew head to head in a race. A coxswain maps out the strategy, deciding when to push extra hard, and makes calls to keep the crew focussed. Alongside another boat, it’s the coxswain who encourages the crew to ‘take 10 and walk through ‘em.’ A coxswain works off of other boats, tells the crew where they are in the race, and makes technical and motivational calls.

It’s essential to steer and keep a good line when racing. In regattas, a coxswain steers the boat around a buoy at the halfway point. A tight turn saves valuable seconds to your crew’s time, and may put you ahead for the second half of the race. If you do win, be warned it’s tradition to throw the cox in the water!

Who can cox?

Anyone can cox – we encourage those interested to give it a try. Of course, we first brief new coxswains with safety rules. Even if you’ve coxed before, we’ll get you out as a rower first to familiarise you with the coast. Coxswains will start in boats with experienced rowers on flat water, and after gaining more experience may take out crews in varying conditions. Learning to cox is a valuable way to help the club, as a crew can’t practice without a cox. For more details about coxing at Southsea please see our Safety page.