Walking the boat in and out of the house is something you’ll do every single day so it’s important that you understand the process, calls, and terminology that go along with it. Each team will have their own subtle variances but this should give you a general idea of what to say and do. If you’re a more experienced coxswain then how get your boat in and out will probably be a lot less regimented than what I’ve laid out below and that’s totally fine. This post is written with novice coxswains in mind though which is why the minutiae of the process is laid out a bit more systematically.
Remember that everything you say should be said assertively. You also need to speak loudly so that your crew can hear you – don’t assume that the echo or reverberation of your voice off the walls and boats will carry your voice. You can never be too loud, especially as a novice.
When giving instructions about where to go it’s important to know which way to tell the rowers to go too. “In the house” means to walk inside the boathouse/towards where the boats are stored and “out of the house” means to walk outside the boathouse/away from where the boats are stored. Vague directions such as “move that way” or “come towards me” aren’t helpful so avoid using ones like that and instead say things like “take two steps to your left” or “walk it towards bow”.
Coxing the boat out of the house
Before you begin, make sure there are four people on each end and each side of the boat. It is easiest to carry the boat if the rowers are bunched up at each end or spread out evenly throughout the length of the boat. Do not have the rowers all bunch up in the middle. This minimizes the support on the ends of the boat and makes it much heavier to carry.
Another thing to be aware of when the rowers line up is their height. You don’t want to have a tall person be on the direct opposite side of a short person because then it forces all the weight onto their shoulder. If you have a range of heights going from stroke to bow, you can have the rowers switch where they stand when they’re carrying the boat down so that it’s comfortable for everyone. (This also eliminates a lot of bitching and “get it on shoulders” from the taller rowers.)
If you’re in a boat that is fairly new to the sport or has varying levels of upper body strength, your best bet is to have two tall people on either end, that way each end will be able to push the boat up and over heads. If all the stronger people are on one end and the weaker are on the other, that spells disaster in the making. Long story short, know the individual strength of your rowers.
To get the boat out of the house, the italicized words are the calls you’ll make to tell your crew what to do.
“All eight, hands on.”
This is the call that lets people know you’re ready to go. When you get hands on everyone should be quiet so they can hear what you’re saying and then do it without wasting time. If people are talking or not paying attention, that’s when boats get damaged.
“Lift it up, slide it out.”
This is the command to get the boat off the racks. When you give the command to “lift it up”, make sure you’re watching the fin. Some people have very liberal ideas of what an inch is and will lift the boat too high, causing either the fin or the hull to hit the boat, riggers, or racks above them. This can do various sorts of damage to the boat (ranging from dents in the hull from the racks or riggers to knocking the fin loose) so make sure when you say an inch, your rowers know you only mean an inch.
Sliding it out is the second part of this command. Once the boat is lifted off the racks this is when the rowers side step it to the middle of the bay. I like to say “slide it out” instead of “walk it out” because it’s (apparently…) easy to confuse “walk it out” with walk it out of the house instead of just walking it to the middle of the bay. Keeping the calls separate just avoids confusion, boat damage, and/or injury.
“Shoulders, ready, UP.” or “split to shoulders, ready, split.”
This call is only necessary if you’re bringing the boat out of a rack that isn’t already at shoulder height. If you’re bringing the boat up from rollers that are on the ground you’ll need to say “waists, ready, up” first before giving the command to go to shoulders. Don’t go from the boat being on the ground straight to shoulders. If you’re coming down to shoulders from over heads, you’ll want to give the call to “show sides”. This tells the rowers to indicate which side they’re splitting to by leaning their head in the direction they’re going to move. Ideally they should be splitting to the side opposite their rigger.
“Watch the riggers, walk it out.”
Once you’re at shoulders, tell the rowers to watch the rigger in front of them to make sure it’s not going to hit anything and then walk it out. When walking it out, you should always be standing at the BACK of the boat. You should be able to see the entire length of the boat in front of you, regardless of whether you’re standing at the stern or the bow. The “back” of the boat will be dependent on how you store it.
The reason you should be at the back is so you can see if your boat is going to hit anything, which includes but isn’t limited to riggers on other boats, bay doors, random people standing around, etc. By following the boat you can pull it to the side if you need to in order to avoid clipping a rigger or something. Don’t count on your rowers to pay attention to whether or not the riggers are going to hit something (even though you’ve told them to “watch the riggers”) – you have to assume responsibility for your boat.
You also don’t want to stand beside the middle of the boat because if you have to make a turn coming out of the boathouse, you won’t be able to see what’s going on with the back end. If the crew swings too early, that end can hit the boats on the racks, a wall, etc. Additionally, your field of vision for what’s in front of you just decreased by about 50% because now you can’t see what obstructions might be in your way on the other side.
Coxing the boat in the house
For the most part, walking the boat in the house is the exact opposite of walking it out.
“Watch the riggers, walk it in.”
When the rowers are walking in, make sure they’re walking in in a straight line, not at an angle or anything. This is directed more towards crews who can’t walk directly into the boathouse from the dock. The back of the boat is going to follow the front, so if the front walks in at an angle the bow is going to follow, meaning that if/when the front swings around to straighten out, the bow of the boat won’t know what’s happening and will continue to try and walk forward. This typically results in the front of the boat getting pushed forward into another boat or into a wall. More experienced crews can get away with walking it in like that as long as they’re cautious but it’s not something novice or younger crews should do.
The easiest way to bring the boat in is to walk up parallel to the boathouse, weigh enough, and then side step the boat over so that it’s in a straight line in front of the bay. The key is to make sure everyone side steps it over together so the boat stays straight. Once you’re in front of where you want to be, you can walk it in.
Once your boat is in front of the racks you can tell the crew to weigh enough. A good way to know when/where to weigh enough is to put tape on your boat to mark the spots where it sits on the rack, that way whenever you walk in the house you always know exactly where to tell them to weigh enough. If you go in the house too far or not far enough, see where the tape is in relation to the racks and say “walk it in one step” or “walk it out three steps”. Always give the rowers specific directions so there’s nothing left open for interpretation. Don’t ever say “walk this way” because … which way is “this way”?
“Waist, ready, down.” or “up and over heads, ready, up.”
Be mindful of your position in the bay so that when you go over heads you don’t knock the riggers on other boats on the racks or the fin on any small boats you might have hanging from the ceiling.
“Side step it over, lift it up, and slide it in.”
Same as before, make sure when they lift the boat to get it on the racks, they’re not lifting it too high. Be aware of where the fin and hull are in relation to the boat above them. It’s important that everyone walks it over and puts the boat in together so that the rowers on one end aren’t already walking away from the boat while the other end is still trying to get it on the racks. Before you set it down double check that none of the riggers are sitting on the racks either because it can bend them or cause damage to the hull. If you’ve got tape on the hull to indicate where it should be on the racks, make sure it’s still lined up before everyone disperses.
The most important things to remember when bringing the boat in and out are:
Speak loudly, slowly, clearly, and concisely
Make sure your crew can hear you and clearly understand your instructions. They should never have to yell “what?!” or “we can’t hear you!”.
Pay attention to everything around you
Watch out for people standing in your path, boats that might be in slings in the boat bay, riggers on other boats, etc. It’s your responsibility to communicate to them that there’s a boat coming out/in and they’re in the way.
Don’t get frustrated
Coxing a boat on or off the racks can be nerve wracking, especially as a novice. Stay calm and be in control of the situation. Don’t let the rowers start telling other rowers what to do. Make sure everyone is quiet and listening to your instructions.
This whole process really is incredibly simple once you get the hang of it. Sometimes it requires being in a few different places at once but as you and your rowers become more experienced, both you and they will learn how to make it a smoother process and your instructions won’t need to be as nitpicky.