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.


What does a cox do?

Ollie – The Men’s Captain for 2018/19 – coxing M1 in the 2018 May Bumps

A cox (or coxswain) is crucial in navigation of the boat, along with 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, often relaying messages from a coach on the bank. 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.

If you are interested in Learning to Cox at DCBC and want to know more or already have experience as a cox and wish to continue your coxing career at DCBC please contact Nick Wan, this years Coxing Rep and Lower Boat’s Captain (

Additional information on what to expect can be found in the Coxing Handbook.


Ruth, who has now been coxing at Downing for two years, gives an account of her first year coxing at DCBC:

I started coxing in my first year having previously taken part in a learn-to-row course. When I turned up at the boat house for the Freshers’ Taster Day and found out about coxing I’m pretty sure my eyes lit up. As much as I love sport, I’ve never been particularly good at it and so I jumped at the chance to get involved in a more strategic and thinking role. Oh, and I quite like the idea of getting to act like I was in charge…

Ruth having just coxed the Novice Men’s 1st Boat (NM1) in Emma Sprints

I was absolutely terrified when I found out that as a novice cox, your first outing is with a senior crew. (Something I proceeded to tell the whole of M1 the second I sat in the boat and turned on the cox box microphone). As it turns out, everyone was really friendly and I survived the outing without breaking either a boat or a person and I cycled back to college having truly caught the coxing bug. The coaches and senior rowers who supported me in my first year were amazing and I gradually managed to get a hang of steering and build up a collection of calls designed to spur the crew on during races. It’s often said that the cox is “the coach in the boat” and as the year progressed I worked closely with my crew to improve balance, power and technique.

Ruth P&J
Pre-Race Prep

Whilst the ability to shout and motivate a crew is a key part of coxing, so is the ability to listen. As I moved through the terms I learnt the importance of reading the mood of the boat, taking the feedback of the crew and of moments of silence in an outing. As a cox you have to gauge how your crew is feeling and give calls to respond to this. Sometimes you need to build them up and get them to push when they feel like there’s nothing left and other times you need to be a calming voice that settles people down before the start of the race. When you get it right and see a change take place or when you feel a shift in power as people give it one last push, it’s the best feeling in the world.

Shouting Coxing
Ruth Coxing M2 in the 2018 May Bumps

Not only has coxing provided an excellent break from my work but it has truly changed me as a person. My family would probably tell you that I’ve always been chatty and a bit bossy but the truth is that I’m often quite shy and coxing has really brought me out of my shell. I’ve grown in confidence, become much more assertive and proved to myself that I can perform under pressure. Coxing is hard work but for every frustrating outing there are plenty more where you feel like progress is being made. Cheesy as it sounds, joining DCBC has felt like joining a new, admittedly slightly mad and rowing-obsessed, family. I’ve met some of my best friends through the boat club and connected with people from a variety of courses and years. Coxing is one of the most challenging and rewarding things I have ever done and I’ve never regretted the decision to visit the boat house as a fresher and get stuck in.”

Ruth Parker – Coxing Rep & LBC 2018/19