Rowing on Rivers – how to use strong currents to your benefit

When the current becomes a challenge – Rowing on Rivers

The cox makes the difference. – Take advantage of the currents!

Many rowing clubs row on rivers and experiance a current – as a normality. This requires an extra set of coxing skills, compared to those of us who row on a lake. We suggest, dealing with this floating river needs to be practiced. The potential for the rowing team of using the floating water in their benefit is often underestimated, not fully exploited or is simply unaware. More detailed knowledge can help to bend the unused potential in advantage of the team. In this blog you will find 1) the elementary rules of rowing in rivers and 2) answers to the question: “How do I take advantage of the strength of the  current of  the flow, in general (a), uphill (b), downhill (c), at the turn (d) and at the landing (e)?

The elementary rules of rowing on rivers

Slower and faster current in curves

The greater the strength of the floating, the greater the advantageous differences by good coxing skills.

  • The speed of the river depends on the gradient, amount of water, width and depth.
  • The strongest flow is in the middle of a straight river.
  • The strongest flow of a curved river is bend outwards.
  • In a S-turn, avoid the slopes with the fastest flowing water and look for the smoother streaming parts on the other side of the river. How the cox should choose the way  is depending  also on for example, the water traffic and visibility
  • Uphill a moving rowing boat is well controllable. Downhill a rowing boat is only cox able, if the boat is faster than the river.
  • Under normal wind conditions always start and end uphill
  • As the water level rises, pay increased attention to driftwood.


brv 1884 e.V. Bacherach, Germany. Rowing in rivers – good conditions
brv 1884 e.V. Bacherach Germany – Club Rowing – unrowable conditions

How do I use the current to my advantage?

  1. In general: Steering always means losing speed and disturbing the balance of the team. Therefore the cox does as little as possible and with light impacts.
  2. Uphill, you row as close as possible along the shore, so that the braking effect of the coxing have the least impact.
  3. Downhill, the flow is used to the maximum by going downhill as centrally as possible.
  4. The turnaround – Especially with long boats (in this case we will keep it in Metrics – fours 11.70 – 12.80m and eights 16.5 – 17.75m) good coxing can bring big benefits. In the ideal case the turn is made with less muscle strength of each individual rower and less time. For the uphill turn, the cox brings the bow in the mainstream of the river. The flow takes the boat in the desired direction and relieves the team with the easy turn. For the downhill turn put the the boat deliberately on the desired side of the main flow. Bring the bow out of the mainstream. The rear is being moved by the water. The stronger flow pressure on the tail supports the crew at the turn.
  5. When landing Again, it is the angle to the main flow of the river, which determines the approach speed. In case the water level is rising, especially with large boats the impact of the flow should not be underestimated and should be used for the benefits of the team.

Conclusion while rowing on rivers: “Less is more “. A good cox influences the boat as little as possible and as much as necessary. Every cox movement slows down the boat. Benefits of the floating to strengthen the rowing team are easy to find: lett the stream work for your team, instead of you having the team work against the flow. The quality of the coxing skills will make the difference.

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One thought on “Rowing on Rivers – how to use strong currents to your benefit

  1. Murty Bhamidipati S says:

    A very helpful guide.
    We are preparing our rivers in India for goods transport in large boats for sustituting lorry transport system.
    While there is excellent prospect for inland water transport, there will be considerable *savings on “diesel” consumption* which concomitantly provides clean climate .

    We need assistance in designing appropriate substitutes for 18/20 ton lorries as well as lock systems in the canal courses

    We thank you for the help.

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