The Role of a Cox in Boat Racing – Part 1

The Cox is another name for coxswain, who is basically the person who steers the boat, in other words a helmsman. Obviously in boat racing the cox does a great deal more than just point the boat in the right direction.

The cox has three basic duties:

  • Safety
  • Steering
  • Speech

In this blog we break down the duties of the cox and see how important the coxswain actually is.



During the heat of a race, it is common to see a cox encouraging the rowers to put in more effort, and to call out the stoke beat. But the number one priority for a cox is safety, and that is his ultimate concern. How many times have you seen a top boating event such as the Boat Race where the two boats are almost sharing the same water. The skill of the cox to keep the boats from colliding is immense, but he knows that to win the race, that line of attack may be the best way forward. It can be a dilemma, to win the race or look after the crew? But no cox should ever risk the safety of the crew.

Does Every Racing Boat Have a Cox?

While the two boats in the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race will have a cox, not every racing boat in the Olympics will have one. The pairs and fours normally take place without a cox, and in Olympic events only the eights are competed using a cox.

What Qualities are Needed to be a Cox?

A good cox will possess confidence, a positive attitude, intelligence, and be able to issue instructions in a clear and concise manner. It is also important that a cox is open to improve through criticism and advice, to seek out more senior rowers and coxswains and ask their advice. The ability to adapt to the different personalities on a boat is also crucial, as the cox’s main role is to interact with the rowers.

How to Improve as a Cox

To be a good cox you also really need to know how to row, and this means getting your feet wet and jumping into a boat. If a cox can’t row his abilities will be limited as there will be no empathy or understanding what the crew can or cannot do. If a cox is familiar what it takes to take strokes out on the water then the understanding of the movements required is there, and it will help to correct the rowers in how they are rowing. An extra way to improve as a cox is to seek out advice from other coxes, tap into their knowledge and experience and develop your skills.

Learn How to Motivate

Another key part of a cox’s role is to motivate the crew, you have to be able to inspire the rowers to pull harder and faster on the oars to get over the finish line ahead of the other boats. This motivation should be part of the overall race strategy, and not something done in the last fifty yards. A good cox will be issuing instructions to the crew throughout the whole race, informing rowers how far to go and how much they should pick the rate up. In part two of this blog we look at other aspects of being a good cox.