What is a coxswain?

What is a coxswain?

By Kassandra Nevarez, Marketing and Communications Intern

So, if coxswains don’t row, then what do they do? Everything else! 

Coxswains are the brains of the boat. They steer, they motivate, they execute strategy during races, and they coach during practices.

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Most of the time, when a coxswain does a good job, practices and races are seamless and a coxswain’s work goes unnoticed. This Coxswain Appreciation Week (and the rest of the year!) we should acknowledge everything a coxswain does to make us go fast.


The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Nobody knows this better than coxswains. They have to steer as straight as they can during races. This is most definitely not as easy as it sounds. If the ports and starboards are pulling unevenly, the cox has to compensate for it.

They have to compensate for the current and the wind too! Currents and winds can move in different directions (who knew?) and wind gusts can come from anywhere, at any time. Currents change depending on the time of day, the part of the body of water you are on and how far you are from shore. Good steering will make you faster, shaving off seconds or even minutes off of your time.


During some races, coxswains have to stay within boundaries or risk getting time added to the boat’s official time. During other races, coxswains have to avoid crews who might get in their way. During practices, they have to avoid all other shells and coaching launches, as well as sailboats, cruise ships, floating logs, you name it! If anything goes wrong, you can lose a race, the boat can crash, or someone could even get hurt.


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As if that wasn’t enough to focus on, coxswains also motivate us. They are like the voice in your head, but better. They know what makes you tick. They know what makes you give more of yourself than you ever imagined. They think for you when you can’t think, and they keep you moving fast when you desperately want to stop.

Executing Strategy

A power ten can make or break a race. A coxswain has to know their crew well enough to know when to push them harder, and when to make a move on competitors. Not only does a coxswain help control power, but they also help control rhythm. A good rhythm (stroke rate) will allow rowers to cross the finish line. Well-timed power can push a boat ahead and either it helps them win, or at the least, it raises morale.

A good coxswain knows a crew’s strengths and weaknesses. He/she knows how to multiply these strengths and correct those weaknesses. Coxswains do all this while steering and motivating!



One more thing, during practices, coxswains run drills and correct technique. This is also harder than it sounds, given that some drills are harder to remember than they are to perform. This is especially true while your coxswain has so many other things to think about. On top of that, correcting technique takes an eye for detail. Remember, coxswains have to be attentive to all their surroundings so that the shell doesn’t crash!

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Photos by Claudia Loeber, staff photographer

Let’s show coxswains our love and appreciation every day! After all, who else can make you smile right after a 2k?