A lot is said about rowers, but it’s important not to forget about the ninth person in the boat. A coxswain has a key role to play, and a good cox will make all the difference in a boat, helping a crew reach its full potential.

Firstly, exactly what does a cox do?

A cox (or coxswain) has four main roles: safety, navigation, coaching and motivating the crew. Since the rowers face backwards in the boat, they cannot see what is in front of them and therefore most boats rely on a cox to look ahead and to ensure that the water is clear. This enables the rowers to focus on their technique and to move in time with the other members of the crew. Coxes also have a steering mechanism called the rudder, with which they are able to navigate the boat. This is fairly simple to use, but again allows the rowers to maintain their focus without worrying about turning corners and staying in a straight line. From a coaching perspective, the cox is often in the best place to view the rowers’ techniques. Using their microphone, which is connected to speakers inside the boat, they are able to communicate with the rowers and explain how they can improve. Coxes can even help to relay messages from a coach on the bank as they are able to convert their messages into succinct statements that the crew will understand without having to overthink it. Finally – but most importantly – the cox’s role is to motivate the crew. Obviously this is particularly important during a race, when the rowers will be giving their utmost to move the boat as quickly as possible. But even during training sessions, it is important to keep the rowers motivated, so they stay focused and you ensure they are trying their hardest, getting the most out of the boat, every single session.

This is what Jess, one of last year’s top coxes, has to say:

Jess coxing M1 in May Bumps 2015. With kind thanks to David Ponting for the photo.

“I started coxing in my first year, with absolutely no experience of rowing whatsoever! At the Freshers’ Fair, I was persuaded to give it a go and after my first experience of coxing at the DCBC Freshers’ Squash, I knew it was something that I wanted to pursue further. The Seniors who coached me were incredibly supportive (even when it was clear that I had no idea what I was doing!) and I soon got to grips with the basics. Due to a shortage of senior coxes, I was given the opportunity to cox some of the more senior boats and very quickly got thrown into the deep end. Although this was pretty nerve wracking at the time, it allowed me to learn from the rowers who were eager to share with me their knowledge of the sport and how I, as the cox, could make the boat go faster. I continue to be amazed by how much of a role I could play and how essential the crew regarded me. The cox really is the 9th member of the crew and you are always treated as such (even if it means joining in with 2k erg testing!). As I became more experienced, I was able to anticipate what calls the rowers wanted me to make, rather than relying on them to tell me. My confidence improved and with it, my ability to ensure the crew’s safety and to navigate the often busy waters of the Cam. This enabled me to fulfil my role as the leader inside the boat and just proves how coxing can go a long way to giving you the essential life skills employers now look for in recent graduates. I had a truly fantastic time coxing for DCBC: it was a much needed break from the rigours of my law degree and I met a wonderful group of people. Although the early mornings may seem undesirable, training and socialising with your friends, seeing and helping them progress and ultimately achieving the very highest rewards with them, is an experience that I think you would struggle to find anywhere else at Cambridge.”

Jess, DCBC 2012-15, M1 cox 2013-15, Captain of Boats 2014-5