Remote steering for blind rowers


Today we bring you a heartwarming story of a coach whose innovation enables his blind athlete to race against able-bodied athletes.  This was first published on Hear the Boat Sing   Her coach, Bob Berry tells us about the “Remote Coxswain” steering device he made for her.

blind rower, remote coxswain Sofia Priebe blind rower and coach Bob Berry

Sofia is a student of mine for the past two years. She has such grace and balance from ten years of ballet that I didn’t hesitate to put her in a single that I modified for her. She’s only 14 years of age but is a true inspiration to me as you will see why from viewing the video.

The remote Coxswain it’s just a name that has been given to the box mounted on the stern of her single. It is actually a remote controlled rudder. It works up to over 500 feet away from the boat and if longer distance is required that is possible also but really not necessary.

You follow your crew or individual in a launch as you normally would do while coaching on the water. You have a handheld transmitter you are able to steer the shell as if a coxswain were in it. The only verbal instructions that are given are with a megaphone that most coaches have and are only necessary when maneuvering to leave or returning to the dock and also to line up for a race.

The person rowing only needs to keep even pressure on the sculls. I set up a slalom course and steered Sofia through it while all the time she was pulling even on both sculls. This shows how well the boat turns by just using the rudder.

The remote coxswain box

It can be installed on any type of shell and potentially kayaks and paddle boards.

The device can be installed in about an hour. Most of the components can be bought locally or online but two I have to custom make at a machine shop. Some people don’t want to search for all the components so I have some assembled in”kits”. I just need to know the thickness of the stern at point of installation.

Building a water proof cover may take a little longer but maybe only a few hours depending on one’s skill level. It can also be installed below deck but this involves more time and custom fabrication. I think it would also work great on coaching any uncoxed boat for a novice crew as well as for visually impaired athletes.

Another adaptation I made a few years ago was I converted an Alden double into a coxed single. This works really well to train a coxswain for a race that was only days away. She won all three heats and she was only 10 years old. It also works great on training a beginner in sculling. One on one seems to work better sometimes.

Visit the Remote Coxswain website to learn more.

Bob writes “I am glad to answer any more questions. Thank you again for your interest in this.”  So add your questions in the comments below.


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