Notes for COXING in estuary waters

These COXING Notes constitute part of the Rowing Risk Assessment

SAFETY when coxing in estuary waters

Cox’s responsibilities are SAFETY-STEERING-COMMANDS-COMMUNICATION-STRATEGY and COACHING. *ref: 1

THE COX IS ULTIMATELY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE SAFETY OF THE BOAT AND ALL CREW.

DON’T DO ANYTHING THAT WILL PUT EITHER AT RISK OR ANYTHING YOU FEEL UNHAPPY ABOUT.

REMEMBER, the cox is the ultimate control of the boat and his/her commands should be obeyed without question.

Pre launch: – Fill out the Risk Assessment form. Don’t just tick the boxes, give serious assessment of water conditions i.e. State of tide whether it is a spring or neap tide, is it coming in or going out. Has it been raining in the last 24 hours and how much water is flowing through the harbour from the Glaslyn and also river water washing in at Borth-y-Gest from the Dwryd. How strong the wind is and from which direction is it coming, (remember it may seem quite calm in the harbour but it can be blowing a hoolie out in the estuary). What waves do you expect to encounter? If the wind has been blowing from the south west for a few days, there might be some quite significant waves coming in. Make sure you have grab bag, life jackets, throwline, bucket and drinking water (especially in hot weather and long rows) Handheld VHFand/or your mobile phone. Both should be firmly attached to the cox’s life jacket.

REMEMBER to put the bung in.

Check that the trailer ratchet on the winch is locked. When letting the boat down the slip, make sure everyone is up hill of the wheels and that you have sufficient people to control the speed of the descent safely. Be vigilant of other people using the slip especially children. Take care when running the boat off the trailer, this is when the majority of damage is inflicted on the hull.

LAUNCHING:

Once on the water, don’t move away until everyone is ready. Foot straps secure and gates on rowlocks tight. Ensure everyone can hear you and that they all know which colour they are rowing. Take care when rounding the end of the pontoon as it is a blind corner, also if there is a lot of water coming down from the bridge, give the pontoon a wide berth as you can get swept down onto it very quickly which could result in damage to oars, hull, crew and moored vessels. It might be a safer practice to row up to the bridge and then back down the mooring trots.

BUOYAGE

When navigating out to sea, follow the channel buoys. More experienced coxes could consider cutting corners at high water.

RULES of THE ROAD (at sea, make like the continentals and drive on the RIGHT).

Going out from the harbour, keep all GREEN buoys on your LEFT (PORT), keep RED buoys on your RIGHT (STARBOARD).

When coming back into port you reverse the rule: Pass RED buoys on your LEFT (PORT) and keep GREEN buoys on your RIGHT (STARBOARD). This rule applies to all harbours with buoyed channels.

Remember the phrase referring to the matching of oar colours to buoy colours “OPPOSITE GOING OUT, SAME COMING BACK”.

PASSING oncoming vessels. Keep them on your LEFT (PORT), they will do the same to you, hence the nautical expression PORT to PORT. If you need to overtake another boat, pass it on your RIGHT (STARBORD) side.

ALWAYS BE AWARE OF NOT ONLY WHAT’S INFRONT OF YOU, BUT ALSO WHAT MAY BE COMING UP BEHIND YOU. ALWAYS CHECK BEHIND YOU BEFORE ALTERING COURSE. In the case of confusion involving another craft coming straight at you,. indicate your intentions with clear arm signals.

The cox should remain still as possible and balanced., maintaining a direct and constant course. Rudder movements should be small and subtle making adjustments when the blades are in the water. *ref 1.

Forces other than rowers that act against a straight course: Wind, Tide/Current, and Rudder

INTENDED DESTINATION

WIND: When heading for a specific point in a cross wind you have to remember to allow for the “Sail” effect on the side of your craft and steer up wind of your intended destination This also is the case when a strong cross current is running, steer upstream and allow the current to carry you down to your intended destination. This is sometimes referred to as “Ferry Gliding”. A useful way of calculating this side drift is to line up a buoy with a fixed point on the land or if that’s not practical, line up 2 buoys and take note of their changing positions in relation to each other. Having established how much drift, you can steer to compensate.

TIDE and CURRENT: The wind is tangible as you can feel it on your face but the forces of tide and current aren’t always so apparent. You should check in advance what the tide is doing and also by observing moored buoys to see which side the wash is on and how strong. Wind over Tide can be quite deceptive. The tide will be working on the boat below water and the wind pushing the top part of the boat in the opposite direction. The stronger of the two wins!

Neap tides- occur mid lunar cycle and are very mild with tides coming in ¾ and going out ¾, so not a lot of water moving, unless the rivers are swollen due to heavy rain.

Spring tides occur around full and new moon . They are powerful tides with extremes of high and low water meaning a lot of water moving in and out twice a day.

When Spring tides are ebbing (going out) combined with possibly a lot of river water coming down both estuaries, currents can be ferocious with channel buoys leaning right over with the force of water. So be prepared to apply the same “Ferry Gliding” technique as mentioned above as with cross winds. In these conditions be prepared for extreme underwater turbulence at headlands when it can feel like something has suddenly grabbed your rudder; in these conditions give headlands, buoys and rocks a wide berth.

When turning on a buoy in a strong head current make sure you go a full boats length past it before turning, otherwise you stand the risk of being driven down onto the buoy and possibly snagging oars. In the worst case scenario you could even be driven hard onto the buoy and capsized.

In strong tides remember that what might be easy going one way is going to be hard work the other way. So make allowance for a situation where an exhausted crew have to row back for a long time against a strong current.

IMPORTANT SAFETY WARNING
When bringing the boat back to the slip, it is good practice for the bow rower to drop over the side onto the slip and prevent the boat from grinding onto the concrete. However, when the tide is out this will result in the same person dropping into very soft mud which can have a severe suction effect on feet and result in immobilisation!

So it is imperative that this operation is carried out with the person getting out on the UPSTREAM side of the boat, especially relevant when there is a strong river current pushing the boat sideways and potentially over the person with their feet stuck in the mud. THIS HAS BEEN A VERY REAL THREAT at the end of a hard row and should not be under estimated!
RUDDER: Simple rule of thumb when steering – the boat will go in the direction that you pull the rudder lanyard. i.e. if you pull the lanyard forwards with your left hand then the boat will go to the left whether you are going forwards or backwards.

In general, unless you are negotiating a buoy or obstacle, you should try a keep the rudder amidships, as excessive rudder slows the boat and makes rowing very heavy. If through misjudgement you have a mismatched crew then if necessary ask the stronger side to ease off a bit, or the weaker side to pull harder!.

If you have got a heavy swell and choppy waves, sometimes it is a good tactic to steer head into the waves as this makes for easier steering and rowing. Also if you have the opportunity and space, steer into the wind. This will eliminate the need to keep the tiller over to compensate for the pressure of the wind on one side of the boat. Sometimes you don’t have the option and you just have to put up with the boat corkscrewing.

COX

You might even be in a situation where the wind is so strong on one side of the boat that you can’t get the boat on the heading that you want. In which case simply tell the windward rowers to ease off or even stop rowing whilst you get back on course. Remember, unless water is moving past your rudder you won’t have any steerage. In a crisis rowers have been known to actually stop rowing! This is the very last thing you want as the boat is in effect out of control. Keep control of your rowers, shout if necessary to maintain discipline but don’t panic.

SURFING
Short breaking following seas are much more difficult to deal with. As the Longboat starts to accelerate down the face of the wave, the rudder becomes progressively less effective. The boat may YAW to one side and broach*(see appendix) into the trough, tipping the rowers and cox into the surf.. Only ride a following wave if you have the experience and be aware that some rowers don’t feel comfortable doing this. NEVER angle the boat down the surface of the wave.*ref 1.

CREW CARE Make sure that you are aware of any medical conditions that might affect your crews ability. Always be aware of the physical and mental state of your crew. Keep checking that everyone is OK by asking each by name and MONITOR HIS OR HER RESPONSE.

In hot weather make sure that you give everyone the opportunity to have a drink every 20 minutes. This can be done individually whilst everyone else continue to row or call a stop to rowing whilst everyone relaxes for a couple of minutes.

Some rowers are not happy going out into breaking waves, so make sure that if they make their discomfort known to you that you turn back, do not ridicule them and do not stand for other rowers ridiculing them either.

When starting off a training session, if you haven’t done a warm up before launching then you should make sure that the crew has a steady warm-up before any hard exertion. Tell the stroke to take it easy with a relatively slow rate of around 20, strokes per minute. After 4 minutes they should have warmed up sufficiently to start hard work. At a convenient place and out of the way of other traffic, stop them rowing so they can strip off outer layers and do any adjusting to their blocks and a quick sip of water. CAUTION: When in this state of no-one rowing you must be very vigilant and watch that you don’t drift into danger, such as other boats, buoys and rocks.

EMERGENCY STOPS
Sometimes you might find you are in a situation that requires immediate and urgent action apart from steering. In the summer season there are a lot of other boat users on the water. In the confined space of the crowded moorings, a small dingy can appear out of nowhere from the blind spot of a yacht; and a longboat going at full speed could inflict a lot of damage.

The command for an emergency stop is HOLD IT UP! Make sure that all your crew know this command and know what to do quickly without hesitation. Do practice emergency stops as part of your training session.

The action of the crew on the command is to immediately dig their oars into the water and push hard on the handle to effect a breaking action.

CAPSIZE
In the unlikely event of a capsize, it is imperative that you the cox ensure that everyone is safe and accounted for. There will inevitably be a certain amount of disorientation and possibly panic. You must keep your head and reassure everyone. Make sure everyone has their life jackets inflated. Locate and deploy the emergency lifeline (throw bag) near the rudder for crew to hang onto. If you are too far from the shore or shallow water to swim (KEEP TOGETHER), then you should stay with the boat if it is safe to do so as this helps Search & Rescue to locate you. Keep everyone together on the lee side of the boat (the side out of the wind and breaking sea). If there is no-one in your vicinity that might be aware of your predicament, then you should fire off the parachute emergency rocket attached to your life jacket, this is easy enough to do by unscrewing the white plastic cap on the end and pulling the cord (It is a rocket not a gun so there will just be a whoosh as it goes off!). Then contact the emergency services on your VHF hand held radio channel 16.

Keep your head, be clear and precise.

Example-

“MAYDAY-MAYDAY-MAYDAY-

(The name of your BOAT repeated three times)

CAPSIZED—PORTHMADOG ESTUARY –

FIVE PEOPLE IN WATER

LISTENING—OVER”

FINAL WORD – Always have the greatest respect for the sea and rivers, they are very powerful forces and not always easily predicted.

Remember! Unless you have water moving past your rudder, you do not have any steerage, this is particularly relevant when rowing against a very strong wind or being carried along by a fast current. In an emergency use “Hold Up GREENS” or Hold Up REDS” to steer the boat in that direction.

COXING TERMS

Forward to row – The first command to prepare to start rowing, lean forward arms locked out and ready to take first stroke.
Row or GO – All rowers start to row.
Hold up – Hold Water – Put the blades square into the water, causing the boat to decelerate quickly and stop. Command for an EMERGENCY STOP!
Back down – Push the oar backward through the water to move the boat towards the stern. In effect REVERSING.
Big twenty – Coxswains call to take a certain number of power strokes that muster all their strength.
Easy oars – Coxswains call to have all rowers stop rowing and lay the spoons/blades flat on the water. (This has a good stabilising effect on the boat when rowers have to move around).
Let it run – call for all rowers to stop rowing and to pause at the finish, letting the boat glide through the water and coast to a stop. Used as a drill to build balance.
Greens or Reds only – Command for the other side to stop rowing when maneuvering a sharp turn or cross current.

Light or Hard – Commands to control the amount of force to be applied.  E.g. Light on reds, hard on greens – to steer the boat to port.

General maritime terms:-

Broaching – A wave breaking over the side of the boat possibly causing a capsize. But sometimes unavoidable when beaching at end of beach started races.
Ebb tide – Tide going out.
Flood tide – Tide coming in.
In the Lee of – protected from the wind by a headland or another boat or structure.
Lee Shore – When the wind is blowing onto the shore. Potential DANGER of being driven onto shore or rocks.
Neap tides – Short tides occurring between full and new moon. Tidal differences considerably reduced. Less
Off Shore – when the wind is blowing off the land. Potential DANGER of being blown out to sea
Pooped – A wave breaking over the stern of the boat. Celtics can cope with one possibly two of these before in danger of capsizing. Best to avoid this type of situation developing by keeping away from shallow water and surf.. But sometimes unavoidable when beaching at end of beach started races.
Rip Tide – A strong under current running parallel to the shore caused by tidal flow. Frequently catches out swimmers and can carry them out to sea.
Spring tide – Extremes of high and low water occurring around full and new moon. A lot of water on the move water on the move.
Wind over Tide – Choppy Sea caused by the tide/river running in the opposite direction to the wind.
Port – LEFT/RED
Starboard – RIGHT/GREEN

Useful reading: –

The Seaway Code RYA, The Stationery Office – ISBN 0-11-702535-6 £5

Tides and Currents, by David Arnold – Fernhurst Books – £9

Yacht Master, RYA training publication. – £7

Flags and Signals. RYA,Blackmoor Ltd. £4

*ref 1. WSRA-Web site- Notes on Coxing Technique & Rigging

Simon Pendrell Porthmadog April 2007 amended January 20121

I would like to express my gratitude to Bill Piper and Dr John Jones-Morris for imparting their experience and knowledge of the sea to me.

One Response to Notes for COXING in estuary waters

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