Cox Voice Amplification Systems in Cornish Pilot Gigs

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by Penny Chuter – Flushing & Mylor Pilot Gig Club

Much to the crew’s amazement, the Flushing and Mylor Pilot Gig Club (FMPGC) LA crew were stopped from using our Cox-Box Mini System after the 2nd round race of the 2015 Newquay Championships.  The reason given was that “someone had complained about us using it”.

We have been using the system for 4 years now, both for our LA and MA crews, and where possible, other crews as well.  In the spring of 2012 when we first used the system we did ask permission to use it at the 3-Rivers Race, Helford’s Mini-Scillies and at the World Championships, and no one seemed to be bothered about it at all.  We continued to use it throughout that summer and, since the early regattas we asked also had no reservations, we simply stopped asking. Furthermore, I don’t think we asked at the 2012 Newquay Championships because we simply didn’t think it necessary.   Since then we have continued to use it for training and racing.

We should stress from the outset that in no way is our system connected with anyone on shore.  It is simply for internal amplification and distribution of the coxes’ voice to the whole crew.

Since we feel there are great advantages for both coxes and rowers in using an inboard voice amplifying system, we think now might be a good time for a debate on whether the use of such electronic aids should actually be encouraged rather than discouraged.

Most coxes of the top crews now use stopwatches for taking times and stroke-rates, and a few also use other speed and stroke-rate recording devices, as well as tracking devices, etc.  Indeed putting trackers on all gigs in order to better monitor and record results, would make the whole business of results recording much easier and more accurate for organisers and crews alike.

Whilst we entirely support the CPGA rules in respect of requiring the use of only wooden gigs and oars for major events, we cannot understand why the CPGA would wish to ban the use of voice amplifying systems – indeed we think it a very negative stance, at least for safety reasons, if not for the future development of the sport.

In sliding seat rowing these systems have been used in coxed boats for 40 years now, and all clubs choose to use them in all their training and racing boats; indeed they are considered a significant part of safety since, in an emergency, the whole crew can hear everything the cox says, and can therefore react much more quickly if, for example, a collision is imminent.

With at least improved safety in mind, we feel the CPGA should now consider allowing the use of cox voice amplifying systems in gigs.   Unfortunately any current debate cannot be well informed at present, because few other gig clubs have experienced the benefits of these systems.

Since I have coached, coxed and rowed in crews using cox voice amplification systems ever since they were first introduced, FMPGC have asked me to outline what a system comprises, and what the benefits are for gig rowers and coxes. In addition, I am happy to visit clubs, or for clubs to visit FMPGC if they would like to try out my system.   I only have experience using the Nielsen-Kellerman (NK) Cox-Box System, so this is the one I will explain; however other systems are available.

When I started gig rowing and coxing, it soon became very clear that the bow pair often didn’t hear what the cox said.   I therefore purchased my own Cox-Box Mini so that when I coxed I didn’t have to shout. Equally, when I was rowing, I could hear the cox clearly regardless of which seat I was rowing in.   I purchased it  in the autumn of 2011, since when our top men’s and women’s crews have used it for training and racing without any objection until this autumn.

What do the Nielsen-Kellerman Cox-Box Systems offer:
There are several types of Cox-Box, some offering just voice amplification, and others offering the full range of timing and stroke-rate facilities – also automatic and manual memories so that information can be stored and then uploaded to a computer.  There are also other compatible instruments which will record boat-speed and “surge” profile through the water and boat-speed over the ground, but some of these require external apparatus on the hull or via a fin clamped on the side of the gig.  Whilst we use these in training, the drag on the hull is such that we don’t use them for racing.

The original cylindrical cox-box is unsuitable for CP Gigs because it is designed specifically to fit in sliding-seat boats between the coxes’ knees. It is also more expensive and offers options that can’t be used in a CPG.

For racing therefore, we simply use a stop-watch with stroke-rate facility in conjunction with the Cox-Box Mini voice amplification system which is also smaller and lighter.

For a more detailed look at the Cox-Box Mini system components, and photos, and how they can best be fitted into a CPG, please CLICK HERE.

The Benefits of the Cox-Box Mini for use in CPGs:  


Essentially there are three main benefits:

  1. Firstly, it enables all 6 rowers to hear the Cox clearly, instantaneously, and all at the same time – Good for all rowers, especially the Bow and No.2 rowers!
  2. Secondly, the Cox doesn’t have to raise his/her voice and endless shout – Good for Coxes!
  3. Safety:  Thirdly, since the whole crew can hear the Coxes’ voice clearly and instantaneously, their reaction time to any commands in an emergency are much improved, and therefore any imminent collision, etc., is more likely to be averted – Good for the CPGA and the safety of all!

Coxes don’t need voice amplification in order to steer the boat, but they do need it to be heard by the whole crew so that their words of wisdom can be equally beneficial to all.   If you are a Bow or No.2 rower, I am sure you would love to be able to hear your coxes’ voice clearly at all times?

There are now more and more female coxes, and often female voices “carry” less well as they are usually higher pitched; equally there are many male coxes too, whose voices simply can’t be heard in the Bow or No.2 seat.

In addition to the three main benefits listed above, there are other benefits as follows:

  1. Whilst coxing/coaching the crew as a whole, the cox no longer has to shout and can coach technique using a normal range of voice nuances.  For example, if a cox wants the crew to “steady” the speed of their hands over the knees on the recovery, he/she can really modify his/her voice in order to say the word “s t e a d y” in a relaxed, easy, quiet, soft manner.  In this way coxes are much more likely to elicit the right response from the crew than if they simply shout the words at the top of their voices.Equally, if you want the crew to extract their blades square at the finish by “tapping” them out with the outside hand, then the cox can modulate his/her voice so that the word
    “t a p” is expressed in a short, sharp, direct tone.There are thousands of examples where modulation of the coxes’ voice can convey much more meaning than by simply shouting.
  2. When giving technical feedback to individuals within the crew, voice modulation is even more important, since each individual will respond differently to a given tone or choice of words.   Coxes using voice amplification can achieve this far better than those without.
  3. The cox also has to give commands to the crew both in training and when racing, and these commands may be related to a change of stroke-rate or pressure, and need to be expressed differently depending on the comment.  For example when changing rate or pressure upwards the command needs to be sharper and louder, whereas when changing down it may need to be smoother and/or slower.
  4. When addressing individuals in a crew for coaching technique, or perhaps when asking one rower only to “pull-on” when turning, then it is much easier to do this with a loud-speaker in the boat than without one.
  5. In emergency situations, it is extremely important that the whole crew hears the coxes’ voice instantaneously, and indeed if an emergency stop is called for during racing, the boat simply won’t be stopped within its own length, unless all 6 rowers do respond instantly and simultaneously.  If the bow pair don’t realise an emergency stop has been called, then it is unlikely that the stern 4 rowers alone can stop the boat effectively. This indeed is just one really important reason for coxes to use inboard loud-speaker systems.
  6. In racing situations, when two or several crews are in close proximity, if a cox shouts loudly for a 10-stroke “burn”, or any other change of pace, the coxes/crews of the other gigs will hear the command and will know what tactics are being used by the crew in question.  If the cox is using a cox-box, then his/her crew will hear the command, but crews around them won’t hear it, therefore giving themselves the advantage of surprise.
  7. One of our coxes is also a singer in a good choir.  When she started coxing us two years ago, she had an excellent and very clear voice, but even so needed to raise her voice above normal to be heard in the bow.  After 3 weeks of coxing 3x mornings per week, she soon suggested she would have to stop because she was straining her vocal cords, and this was effecting her singing voice. Since she has used the cox-box she has had no voice problems.
  8. Training versus Racing:  Coxes/coaches will be using their voices for coaching crews for thousands of hours, whereas the amount of time spent racing is a very small percentage of the total year.  On the basis of time, then clearly the benefits of a cox-box are by far greater for training than for racing.  However, there are also significant benefits for racing tactics, and also for racing safety if cox-boxes are used.
  9. For training situations where the crew has a coach coaching from a coaching boat, the coach has traditionally used a megaphone.  However, training with a speaker-system in the boat, and with the addition of cheap walkie-talkie radios (separate from the VHF radio), it is now possible for the coach to coach the crew, via a walkie-talkie radio being placed close to the coxes’ microphone.  This alleviates the necessity to use heavy megaphones.


In summary, I believe that in-board voice amplification systems have benefits for coxes and rowers in respect of coaching and racing tactics which make them an essential piece of equipment for every gig in every aspiring gig club.

The reason I have outlined in detail the NK systems is simply because they are the ones I am very familiar with.  Equally, I have found that the Cox-Box Mini is the most suitable for use in CPGs in conjunction with a rating stopwatch for racing, and often in conjunction with other NK instruments for training.

In addition, the staff at Oarsport, (who are the UK Distributors for NK), have been extremely helpful in facilitating the production of a CPG specific harness and they are keen to support any gig club interested in purchasing a Cox-Box Mini system.

If you want any further information on its use specifically in CPGs, or would like to try out my coxbox mini, then email me:  [email protected] – (Falmouth Area)

Otherwise, why not take advantage of the 10% Discount offer, and order one from Oarsport immediately.  Probably better to order by telephone, in case the Oarsport website hasn’t yet been updated to offer the exact CPG packages included in the Price List here.

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6 Comments on "Cox Voice Amplification Systems in Cornish Pilot Gigs"

  1. Locky

    As a bow rower and coxswain I can see both sides of the argument but I am also a traditionalist and thus this sways me towards the non use of the cox box.

    However if we were allow them there would be 150 extra voices heard in the Scillies pubs on the Sunday night at the champs.

  2. Neil Milbourne

    As someone who has a severe hearing impairment. I would welcome the use of this practical devise. Whilst I have hearing aids, these tend to pick up the sound of water and wind which drowns out the cox. For me, I often just have to follow the oar in front re rate or stop rowing etc. So clearly would help for both safety and reaction to instructions.

  3. Adam

    I fail to see why people have an issue with this. If you club or crew do not want to use the technology (I know our crew doesn’t feel a need to), why would you have an issue with another crew doing so? 10% of the rowers in Britain row gigs and yet as an association we are still determined to deter any form of progression.

  4. Dave Morralley Brixham Gig Club

    I think this is a great idea the world of gig rowing should be moving forward. I know Penny from when I started to cox in Datmouth in fine boats in the 70s she certanly knows what she is on about
    This is great idea the way ahead.

  5. Septicpeg

    Says it all in Item 6 of benefits.
    If the cox is using a cox-box, then his/her crew will hear the command, but crews around them won’t hear it, therefore giving themselves the advantage of surprise.
    So no thank you as gaining an advantage using modern technology is not in the best in best interest of our traditional sport.

  6. Bell Labs

    “Modern technology” – really? Microphone, amplifier, battery, speaker. Hardly modern, and apt that the condenser microphone is 100 years old this year.

    Given it’s a safety aid as much as anything, to ban it simply exposes the organisers of an event to more potential liability. What next – ban certain clothing (non traditional), food (unfair advantage), out of boat training (unfair advantage), gig under 50 years old (unfair advantage), VHFs?

    What a joke. Just ignore any “ban” unless the event organiser or CPGA formally publishes proper rules to race and abide by.

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