Rules of the Row: Getting to the Start

Many coxswains take their crews to the starting line without knowing the rules that are governing the race. This issue, we’re covering the rules for getting to the start. 

Test your knowledge of the rules here every issue, but don’t stop there. As you can see, there are thirteen rules that apply to The Start. Download a copy of the Rules of Rowing and spend some time with it. The more you know, the bigger advantage you’ll be able to give your crew. Some of the rules may surprise you. Know every rule to cox the best and safest race, every time. The rules for The Start are covered in Part C of Article II, Conduct of the Race.

We spoke with Jan Stone, a recently-retired official who spent thirteen years as a referee at regattas. She shared her first-hand knowledge and perspective on how to be the best coxswain you can be at a regatta. Here’s what she had to say about the start.

Go to the coxswain’s meeting. Don’t miss it. If you can’t make it to the meeting, have a very reliable friend tell you what was covered. As a referee, I expect that every coxswain has been to the meeting and knows what was talked about there. You’ll get the traffic patterns, the warm-up area, and any revisions to the schedule.

As you head to the start, it’s very important to know the traffic patterns. Even if the regatta is on your home course, the traffic pattern may be different for the races. It’s also very important to know what the warm-up pattern is. We may ask you to travel clockwise or counter-clockwise around an area, and most people now have digital watches, so make sure you know what those terms mean.

Going to the start, you may travel along the course.  Stay well clear of the course. Remember to stop as a race passes. When you reach the warm-up area, look around. Find the buoys. It may look a little different from what’s on the map. 

Be ready to enter the course ten minutes before the start of your race. Don’t take another loop around the warm-up area. The officials may let you on five minutes before the start time, and you need to be there, not at the announced time of your race, but ten minutes earlier. You need to be locked onto the stake boat two minutes before the starting time of your race. 

Before getting to the regatta, practice backing up to lock onto a stake boat. Make sure you’ve practiced having your two-seat scull bow’s oar to straighten the bow of your boat once you’re locked onto the stake boat. If there’s a wind, be aware of the wind and the current. If there’s a crosswind, point your bow into it rather than straight down the course and try to hold that point. Once your bow gets sculled around, then your bow seat or your two-seat can hold it there with chopping strokes. Remember that hands [in the air] are no longer recognized. We don’t mind if you put up your hand but the Starter has control of the line and they will call it when they think it’s ready. If your two-seat is sculling your bow around, they will not call the start.

If you are not ready to start when the start is called, do not leave the line. Sit there. Do not go. This is really hard for novice coxswains. But it’s what we want to have happen. We try very hard to make sure the start is fair, but if we miss something, we want to re-start the race. It’s possible to give the start signal when in fact not everybody is ready. The best thing to do is not leave the start. If you leave, you’ve accepted the start and you cannot object later. This is the one place you can object to the start. (Make sure you understand objections; there’s an entire section on this in The Rules of Rowing, Article II, Part F.)

The official will ask you “What was the matter?” And you’ll tell us “I wasn’t ready,” or “I have broken equipment,” or “I didn’t have my point.” The worst thing that can happen is, if we don’t think it’s a good reason, you’ll get a warning. Should you delay the start a second time, make sure you have a good reason, because if you receive two warnings, your boat will be excluded from the race.