Following the wonderful live video coverage of the Henley Royal Regatta this year, it was clear from the overhead “drone” camera shots how atrocious the coxing steering was. 

Can nobody steer in a straight line?

Former coxswain Rachel Quarrell of Oxford University was asked by Adrian Ellison whether a buoyed course would improve matters.

What are your thoughts about the standards of steering (both coxed and coxless) throughout HRR?

I'm afraid that the drone mercilessly exposed every tiniest mistake (or deliberate change in course) and certain steersmen and coxes should be rather red-faced.

I have suggested to the HRR management that they might consider installing a central buoy-line, suitably fixed (perhaps to the existing pilings) and enforce a "Two strikes & you're out" ruling to stop persistent encroaching into one's opponents' water.

Am I just turning into an Old Fogey?

This stimulated a torrent of views exchanged on Facebook.

Here’s a summary of the arguments

In Favour of buoys at Henley

  • It would be easier to steer
  • History has never stopped other changes at Henley (women, carbon oars, new events)

Against buoys at Henley

  • No need because there are rules of racing which deal with encroachment into the other “imaginary lane”.
  • It would be harder to overtake slow crews during the pre-regatta practice days because now you can get 3 crews abreast in the racing course which would be obstructed by buoys and risk clipping them with your oars.
  • It was always like this – the video makes it more visible – don’t change.
  • Where would the umpires launch steer?  Would they catch a buoy on the propeller? (Albano buoyed courses have submerged longitudinal and lateral wires to keep the buoys in place).
  • There’s only one Henley and this is part of the challenge and the history of the event.
  • Steering and wash and wake is all part of why it’s so hard to win at Henley.
  • Whenever people watch the Formula 1 they wait for a crash… it’s the fun bit.


A humorous suggestion of “GPS remote-controlled steering” was made…. But the Coxmate GPS will overcome that  as there is a Plot your course option which you can upload into the unit and it will tell you if you’re off line.

What do you think? Yes or No to buoys to aide steering at Henley Royal Regatta.

Can't get to Henley this year?  Or maybe you're following your club crew who are racing there?

For the first time the Stewards have arranged a TV channel so that live race coverage can be followed across the rowing world.

Get your daily fix from Wednesday through to Sunday on the HRR website.

Coxswain tool bag regatta

One sign that you are getting serious about rowing is when you acquire tools.

I gave my sister a screwdriver, tape measure and spanner for Christmas one year and she was NOT grateful.  Misjudgement!

But you are different.


Coxes have a special position of responsibility as the coach-subsitute for their crew.  When the coach isn’t there you need to have all the answers – you are the person the athletes turn to for help in everything.  It behoves you to be prepared.

A tool bag will elevate you to ‘god’ status in their eyes when you always have the tool they need, when they need it.

The tool bag in the boat is not what we’re discussing here (the link is to an earlier blog post).

This is your tool bag on the land and especially for race day.

Why you need a tool bag for regattas

The club may have a gorgeously gigantic tool box which travels to regattas on the trailer full of everything you could possibly need.  But you can be sure that the urgent moment when you need a particular tool, someone else’s got it out… and has stored it somewhere ‘safe’ in their pocket. 

So be self-sufficient and have your own tool bag for regattas.

I’ve grabbed this suggested list from Yaz Farooq’s Coxswain Nation website – it’s full of helpful advice.  Bearing in mind she’s an Olympic cox and now a coach, she’s probably got everything you could need.

  • Short adjustable wrench/spanner that can open to ¾-inch (1.9 cm) 
  • Foot stretcher tool
  • 7/16-inch wrench/spanner½-inch wrench/spanner (doubles as a 13mm)
  • 10mm wrench/spanner (when coxing a European boat)
  • Roll of athletic tape
  • Roll of electrical tape
  • Phillips (cross) head screwdriver
  • Flat head screwdriver
  • Leatherman (has some good “tiny” tools for small parts)
  • A couple of Band-aids
  • A few extra rigger nuts and bolts
  • Extra oarlock/height spacers 
  • Digital audio recorder

I would add in a couple of extras - metal washers (they always get lost in the grass), clip on oarlock height spacer washers and a 5 meter tape measure for checking oar lengths and inboards.

If you want to bulk buy spanners in the 10mm/13mm configuration – commonly called ‘rigger jiggers’ check out the 10x13 Guy site.

Ask us if you don't know what any of the above are used for or which tools suit which boat part!




Parking an eight is a challenge - it's long and not very manoeuvrable.  

Helpfully the RowIntel crew have a great explainer video How to Dock a Rowing Shell.

What we really like about this is that he sets the wind and tide/current direction and shows clearly how you can use them to help you dock the boat exactly where you want!

Getting crew members to help with the docking by holding water moves the pivot point of the whole crew and can enable tighter steering.  Adding an oarsman on the opposite side rowing while the other side holds water to check the boat speeds up the pivoting.  What is key is that you use athletes at opposite ends of the boat - so if 7 holds water then it should be 2 rowing on (not stroke or 6).  And if stroke is holding water, use bow and 3 to row on.


You need to learn what the effect on the boat is of having athletes in the stern hold water versus those in the bow.  It affects the pivot point of the boat and the rotation of the shell away from the pivot.  More leverage can be had if the checking motion is sternwards of the pivot point, in general.  But you should try out using different ways of moving your boat so you know how the boat moves and how skilled and strong your crew is (different crews are different).

In Summary

  • Plan your course a long way out so you don't have to make abrupt changes
  • Use tape to mark the centre position of your rudder (when it's straight)
  • When using the rudder the stern is what moves left or right which makes the bows appear to turn left / right
  • Use different seats to hold water or row to change your pivot point and make your boat easier to turn.


When you first start coxing you’ll be told that all changes are called at the finish so the crew adjusts at the catch of the following stroke. 

So the very simple commands like

  • Next Stoke
  • Easy


  • Going up two points in rate
  • On the Next Stroke
  • Go

Are made when you call GO at the finish of the previous stroke.  The logic is because it takes the crew half a stroke cycle to latch onto what you want them to do and then you call Go to effect the change.

Note that the most important part of the instruction is said FIRST with the go last in the sequence.  That allows the rowers to think about what you will call and to remember how to do it before you actually call it.  They aren't stupid (mostly) but they do need advance warning of what's coming up!

When to call a change at the catch

BUT there are some changes which you may call that require a change to be made at the finish of the stroke.  In these instances you need the crew to make the change at the finish and so you call "Go" at the catch i.e. half a stroke cycle ahead of the time you need the change to happen. 

The principal ones I know are:

Any change to the ratio that requires the crew to slow the slide – make the change at the finish so they hold down their knees.

  • Next Stoke
  • Holding the knees
  • Go

If you do the Reverse Pick Drill (or short slide work from the catch) where the crew starts with one quarter slide., half slide, three quarters, full slide etc.  You should ensure there's enough time in the very short slides for the crew to hear the command so I usually advocate calling it one whole stroke in advance (rather than half a stroke cycle in advance).

Taking the rate down is usually done by retarding the slide and so that also needs to be called to change at the finish.  This may be when you are in a race and come off your start sequence onto your race rate and the rating goes down a point or two.  Sometimes this is called calling "Stride" or "Ratio".