The Start

The racing start is important to racing fast and will require practice. There are many variations of the start but most starts include a few stroke to get the boat moving, strokes at a high stroke rate and pressure to build speed, and strokes to lengthen and to get into the race rhythm and pace.

The official start call

This is the official call for the start on race day for the Royal St. John’s Regatta. The race starter will call out the following:

  1. “Are you ready number one?;
  2. Are you ready number two?;
  3. Are you ready number three?;
  4. Are you ready number four?;
  5. Are you ready number five?”

If all crews are ready, the starter will ask “Are you all ready?” and the starter will fire the gun (this will happen fast – coxswains and rowers must be ready).

If the team is not ready to start, the coxswain, and only the coxswain, should raise his or her hand or stand up. The starter will restart the starting sequence.

After the gun fires, rowers will take their first stroke and the coxswain will call out the starting stroke sequences.

If a problem occurs within one minute after the gun is fired, the coxswain should raise his or her hand or stand up. The starter will fire the gun a second time to indicate a false start.

Coxswain basics

It is important for coxswains to practice the following so that they are ready for a race start:

  1. Line up on a starting keg and grab the toggle
    • You may need to call for forward and back strokes to maneuver the boat to the toggle
    • Generally, you will want to grab the toggle with your right hand. This will ensure that when the wind blows the boat toward the north side of the pond (your left) the toggle rope does not go under the shell or get caught in the rudder.
  2. Find your point so you can steer a straight course to that point
    • Number one and two can help you find your point
    • Call “touch number one” and “touch number two” to keep your point and the keep the boat as far from the starting keg as possible
  3. Hold the rudder ropes tightly around your waist or hips with your free hand so the rudder stays straight while you are waiting to start and during the first couple of strokes

The racing start – stroke breakdown

Starting strokes

The first few strokes will get the boat moving from a dead stop. The strokes should be quick but powerful and the timing of all six rowers must be perfect. These strokes may be done at half slide (rowers slide halfway up the slide only) or three quarter slide (rowers slide three quarters of the way up the slide only) and the back swing may be shortened.

Hard/high strokes

At the end of the starting strokes the stroke rate will likely be in the 32 to 36+ range. Continue this high stroke rate for a few strokes to build speed. These strokes will be at full slide but with a slightly shorter back swing for quickness. It is critical to concentrate on perfect timing and keeping the blade buried with all rowers rowing well together.

Some teams may choose to do 7-10 high strokes, focusing on quickness, followed by 7-10 hard strokes, focusing on pressure and leg drive; other teams may choose to do 7-10 strokes only, focusing on quickness and pressure together.

Strokes to lengthen

After boat speed is established, it is important to lengthen the stroke. The goal is to steadily increase the ‘run’ of the boat and allow more time to recover between strokes. Row smooth, long, powerful strokes.

Be careful not to lose power on the leg drive as you lengthen the stroke and as the stroke rate comes down. A possible coxswain call during and just after the strokes to lengthen: “stay on the legs”


A simple start sequence

Start at half slide and take two to three quick strokes to get the boat moving. The fourth and subsequent strokes will be at full slide and full layback and rowers should get into race rhythm immediately. If the stroke rate is too high, the coxswain and stroke rower will have to work to establish a lower stroke rate while keeping good pressure, rhythm and stroke length.

An advanced start sequence

  1. Five starting strokes – start at half slide, or a little more, and push all of the way back. The coxswain should call “pry” or “push”. Take two quick strokes at 1/2 slide, one at 3/4 slide, and one at full slide. All five strokes will have a short back swing (or ‘lay back’)
  2. Seven to ten high/hard strokes – follow the starting strokes with quick strokes at full slide and full pressure. The back swing may be similar to the five starting strokes – a littler shorter than normal
  3. Seven to ten strokes to lengthen – keep full pressure on the footboard and gradually increase stroke length by getting a little more angle at the catch and a little more length at the finish. Use these strokes to establish good ratio and rhythm.

Drill to work on the start

This drill uses an advanced start – half, half, three quarter, three quarter, full. Practice the strokes and the sequence with this three part progression drill. This drill, or a variation of it, can also be used in a race warm-up.

Part one

From a dead stop, complete the five starting strokes. After the fifth stroke, let it run with arms away.  Call blades down (rowers place their blades flat on the water), check it down (rowers square their blades and place them in the water to stop the boat).

Repeat 2-3 times.

Part two

From a dead stop, complete the five starting strokes and then seven high/hard strokes. After the seventh high/hard stroke, let it run with arms away. Call blades down, check it down.

Part three

From a dead stop, complete the five starting strokes, seven high/hard strokes, and seven to lengthen. After the seventh stroke to lengthen, let it run with arms away. Call blades down, check it down.

Note: the coxswain should make calls to prepare rowers for the next set of strokes. For example, “Get ready to lengthen after two, one, two, on this one!”