Turning the Buoys

Turning the boat around a buoy on the course is fairly unique in rowing races. The races in St. John’s, Placentia, and Harbour Grace have one set of buoys for the start and the finish of the race. Each team is required to turn the boat around a buoy at the halfway point of the race and return to the start/finish buoys. The exception will be the Squirts category.

The goal for a crew is to turn the boat around the buoy in as few strokes as possible while maintaining boat speed. There are many ways to accomplish this. The coxswain has a critical role and must ensure that the crew does specific things in order for the boat to turn safely and quickly. The coxswain may also have to make adjustments in their turning strategy depending on their starting buoy, crews next to them, rower strength and experience, and wind conditions.

Videos of a men’s turn and a women’s turn:

Below is a set of details given to a coxswain who wants to turn the boat around the buoy:

  1. At the starting line, aim for a point that is between the crew’s turning buoy and the buoy to the right ( or in the case of buoy #5, a point to the right of #5 buoy)
    • Women’s course – aim for a spot approximately three quarters away from the turning buoy (a little further away if you are turning around buoy 1 or 2)
    • Men’s course – aim for a spot three quarters away or more from the turning buoy
  2. On the way down the course, focus on keeping the rudder straight, steering straight to the point (see #1).
    • NOTE: be careful when steering; it is easy to veer to your left and lose your point.
  3. At approximately 60 meters from the buoys, pull on the rudder to turn the boat toward the turning buoy. Aim for a point a little behind the buoy – the goal is to position the bow of the boat behind the buoy with the boat somewhat parallel to the bottom of the pond.
    • NOTE: resist the urge to turn too early as you will end up on a sharp angle to the keg rather than being parallel to turning line
  4. When the bow of the boat is close to the turning buoy, call ‘hold water,’ or some other call that the rowers are familiar with, and the rowers will do the following:
    • Stroke – ‘hold water’ by holding the oar handle close to the body and placing 1/4 – 1/2 of the blade in the water on a backward angle. Hold the handle firmly to ensure the blade helps the boat to turn. If the blade goes deep, it will act as an anchor.
    • Five – take full strokes, leading the way for number three and one. Don’t rush; be sure to finish each stroke strong.
    • Four – balance the boat with your body straight up and your blade flat on the water. You may have to gently tap your oar handle down so the shaft clears the top of the buoy. You may have to move ahead slightly on the seat to make room for number three.
      • NOTE: some crews choose to have number four hold water with number six.
    • Three – follow five.
    • Two – same as four; two will also be critical in balancing the boat.
    • One – follow three.
  5. When the bow side rowers have the boat around the buoy, usually in 4-10 strokes, call “pick it up,” or some other call that the rowers are familiar with. Stroke side rowers start rowing in time with the bow side with all six rowers rowing together. Timing is critical here.
    • NOTE: some crews may choose to ‘pick up’ one stroke side rower at a time. The call may be something like: “Go four, go six, go two.”
  6. When the boat is somewhat straight, the coxswain may call a ‘power 10’ to get the boat back up to speed. Rowers will complete 10 power strokes to get the boat moving and the team will then transition into their race pace and rhythm.

When the coxswain is pulling on the rudder and stroke side rowers are not rowing, the boat may dip down on the bow side. It is critical that stroke side rowers, and the coxswain work together to balance the boat to ensure that the bow side rowers get maximum power on the drive and can turn the boat around the buoy.

Tips for rudder use when turning around the buoys

  • Accelerating the boat increases the rudder’s effectiveness; bring the boat speed up before you start steering and the boat will respond better to the rudder.
  • Start the rudder gently, not abruptly, gradually adding pressure on the rudder as you are making the turn.
  • You get maximum turning power when the rudder is at a 30 degree angle to the boat, no more (the rudder should be set to be a max of 30 degrees when the rudder is fully on – test to be sure).
  • If you push the rudder beyond a 30 degree angle you will slow the boat down more than you are turning it.
  • Bring the boat speed up coming out of the turn and gradually release the rudder to get your point to the finish.
Remember that it takes a couple of strokes to get the boat turning and a couple of strokes to stop it from turning. Anticipate when you need to apply and release the rudder so that you don’t over steer.