The cox, or coxswain, is the person (usually a lot smaller than your average rower) who is known for sitting at the back of the boat and shouting a lot. But ask any rower who has gotten too big for their wellies and given it a go- there is so much more to it than that. The cox is the tactical mind of the boat, making those tough calls on race day. They are also central to keeping up morale to inspire determination and grit in the boat when the rowers need it most. Coxing is about learning that fine touch and how to teach rowers how to get the best out of themselves. It requires a mental toughness as big as the thighs of your average blue boat rower. The ability of a cox to work through any mental fatigue to keep a crew fighting shows why such a tiny person can command so much respect from a crew.

coxing banner

What does a cox actually do?

  • The first skill that you learn as a cox is how to control and steer a boat. This is achieved through the calls you make to the rowers over the cox box (a nice little piece of kit that amplifies your voice so that you don’t need to yell to be heard) and through the fine control of the rudder through the strings either side of the coxing seat.
  • The cox also acts as the ‘coach in the boat’. You will learn to spot subtle clues that the cox is in a unique position to see and feel in order to improve the effectiveness of the physical work the rowers but in. Through watching the height of blades and getting used to feeling the balance of the boat intuitively, you are in a great position to get the best out of the other members of your boat.
  • As you learn the capabilities of your crew, you also learn how to moderate your tone to motivate your crew and keep the boat under fine control. Learning when to keep your crew calm on race day is as important as learning when to give those power calls; both are needed to win races.
  • All of these skills are needed to fulfil the primary role of the cox; keeping your crew as safe as possible at all times. It as a well-known fact that rowers are easily disorientated without a knowing voice to guide them from launch to landing, from novice to senior rowers. The cox must have awareness of not only the conditions of the river in terms of the wind and the stream, but also the all-too-unpredictable movements of traffic on the river.
  • As the ‘brains of the boat’, you are also responsible for the wonderful race day admin. This includes making sure all of your rowers actually make it into the boat with everything they need and inspecting all of the equipment before launch. Things falling off boats at race-pace has been known to interfere with efficient rowing


Never coxed before?

  • Don’t be put off! Most of the lovely men and women who have coxed for Catz, some of whom have gone on to cox at university level, had never coxed before uni. Coxes are a prized commodity in Oxford; no matter what level you enter at, you will find that your skills will soon be in demand come racing.
  • You don’t need to be small! People of all shapes and sizes have raced in Catz colours, from the sub-five-foot clan to those who tower over the six foot mark. Ability in the boat and with the crew will always be the primary assessment for the best person to cox a boat, so don’t let a little thing like height put you off!
  • Unlike rowers, who can just hop into a boat and give it a go without fear of a major disaster, coxes are asked to learn some of the basics before we put them in charge of a boat powered by eight sets of legs. You will also be required to attend a coxing registration meeting, where you will learn all the necessary safety information, and complete an OURCs swm test, usually held around the start of each term.


We are always on the lookout for fresh coxing talent and there are plenty of ways to get involved. Email the Captain of Coxes for more information, or attend one of the presentations at the start of Michaelmas and Trinity terms.