Coxing Anacostia

Merriam-Webster Definition: a steersman of a racing shell who usually directs the rowers. 

In my opinion, this definition is correct, but far too simple. A coxswain is a mini coach who is in charge of every rower in the boat, running the practice effectively, and has the sole responsibility of following and ensuring all rowers follow a race plan. Without a coxswain, a practice can’t happen. 

Below is important information for rowers and coxswains, new and experienced, about coxing on the Anacostia River. 

Rules for Rowers:

  • Don’t back talk to coxswains.

Rules for Coxing:

  • Your safety and the safety of your rowers is critical. Always follow the rules of the river (see below).
  • Always launch with bow facing downstream (towards Pennsylvania Bridge). 
  • Be mindful of other crews, boats and coaches on the water. 
  • Ensure you bring a working cox box and mic.
  • Ensure you bring a coxswain kit, which includes a coxswain key (wrench), spare parts, a whistle, and a glow stick.
  • If needed, bring a life jacket or other padding to sit against in the cox seat – do not sit on the stern deck. 
  • At night, be sure to have the stern light and bow lights on. 
  • If you hit a submerged log, way enough immediately to prevent potential/ additional damage to the hull of the boat. 
  • Docking crews have the right of way over launching crews. 

Rules for Steering:

  • Treat the river like a road, and stay to the right (except when passing the Barry going upstream (returning to the dock), and coming through the 11th st. bridge going upstream. There are sandbars that boats need to stay way from. More info on the sandbars and buoys are in the map below). 
  • To help stay on course, take a point in the horizon that the bow of the boat can be steered towards. Once the point in reached or no longer usable, take a new point. Points can help keep the boat straight. 
  • Push the steering cord in the direction you want to go. Right = Starboard. Left = Port. The boat will not respond with immediate precision, so try to anticipate the change without over-steering and losing a point.
  • To note, steering with the rudder (steering cord) can slow and unbalance the boat. With this is mind, try to steer only when blades are in the water to maintain set.
  • Steering can also be accomplished by asking a side for pressure. Port pressure turns you right (starboard). Starboard pressure turns you left (port).
  • Do not lean or swivel in the cox seat. A coxswain’s weight can impact the balance of a boat. 
  • Before a coxswain shoves off the dock, ways enough, or spins, look first to determine no boats are coming. Do not spin in front of or just passing through a bridge, as it may cutoff other boats.
  • When launching, only shove off far enough to get clear of the dock. Point the bow towards the second water arch of the Pennsylvania bridge. 
  • Wind is a coxswain’s worst enemy. Anticipate how wind may push a boat around. It may require a coxswain to steer into the wind in order to stay on the right side of the river. 



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