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What Is Coxless Pair in Rowing?

What is coxless pair in rowing

Hi friends! It’s Petra again, and today, I would like to talk about what rowers mean when they talk about a coxless pair.

In sweep rowing, the term “coxless pair” refers to two rowers, each holding one oar, who don’t have a coxswain riding with them.

If you are unfamiliar with rowing terminology, some of these words, such as shell, coxswain, or other words might make you shake your head and wonder what they are talking about!

As you may have guessed, a “coxed pair” has three people on board- two rowers and one coxswain.

It’s not as complicated as you might think! Once you discover what these words mean, you will find the Olympic games and other regattas much more interesting!

Jump aboard! We are going to talk about all things coxless, coxed, and other rowing terminology!

What Is a Coxless Pair?

coxless pair rowing on the water

As we’ve laid out in the intro, a coxless pair means two sweep rowers who are not using a coxswain. On the other hand, a coxed pair are two sweep rowers who do have a coxswain on board.

If you’re still confused about what a coxless pair is, I think maybe you’ve got it mixed up with double sculls (or coxless/coxed quad). So, let me clear the air for you.

Two Types of Rowing

coxless sculling and sweeping

There are two types of classes recognized in rowing.

  1. Sculling – the type of rowing in which each rower holds two oars (one in each hand).So in sculling, the crew consists of 1 (single), 2 (double), 4 (quad), or 8 (octuple) rower/rowers in a boat.
  2. Sweep rowing or just rowing – each rower holds only one oar, and there should be at least two rowers in a boat.In sweep rowing, the crew consists of 2 (pair), 4 (four), or 8 (eight) people rowing.

Notice how the terms are different between sculling and sweep rowing? For example, see how the terms differs when referring to 2 rowers (double vs pair), 4 rowers (quad vs four), and 8 rowers (octuple vs eight).

Cox Vs Coxless & Symbols Used in Rowing

team of rowers with a coxswain

The coxswain does not row. What they do is steer the boat using a foot-controlled rudder, and they help to coach and motivate the crew.

Now, you must have noticed that not all rowing classes have coxed/coxless options. For clarity, let’s go through each class, which is assigned its respective symbol during competitive rowing events :

rowing class and symbols

  1. In sculling:
    • single – always coxless (symbol: 1x-)
    • double sculls – always coxless (symbol: 2x-)
    • quad – coxed or coxless (symbols: 4x+ or 4x-)
    • octuple – always coxed (symbol: 8x+)
  2. In sweep rowing:
    • pair – coxed or coxless (2+ or 2-)
    • four – coxed or coxless (4+ or 4-)
    • eight – always coxed (8+)

I find the symbols used in assigning rowing boats easier to remember. Here’s why:

  • All boats with an ‘x’ are for sculling, those without ‘x’ are for sweep rowing.
  • The digits (1, 2, 4, 8) tell you the number of rowers in the boat.
  • The plus (+) and minus (-) signs indicate whether they’re coxed or coxless, respectively.

Easy, right? Now, take note that:

  • You will rarely see 4x+ or 8x+ in races- they’re mostly used for kids rowing events.
  • In both types of rowing (scull and sweep), boats with eight rowers always have a coxswain.

A coxswain isn’t mandatory (for the quads, pairs, and fours), but most crews find that having a coxswain gives them certain advantages, so if they can find one, they will put the coxswain to work!

See? I told you this wasn’t as hard as you imagined!  Side Note:  Now just to make you even more confused you might also like to read more on rowing a pair!

More Confusing Terms Clarified

Just when you thought you’ve mastered all the terms, a question comes up, and you’re back to clueless again! I know, I know. Been there. I’ll never tire explaining, so here’s another round of questions.

What Is the Difference between Sculls and Coxless?

They’re different mainly because scull refers to one type of rowing (either sweep rowing or sculling), while coxless means there’s no coxswain on the boat. But I understand your confusion.single female rower

Again, there are two types of rowing boats used in rowing because there are two different types of rowing sport. Sculling or sculls involve rowers who have two oars, one in each hand. There can be 1, 2, 4, or 8 rowers in a scull, called single, double, quad, or octuple, respectively.

two men rowing without a coxswain

Coxless simply means that there is no coxswain, and that’s the case with almost all single, double, and quad sculling events- all boats have no coxswain. Except when the rowers are children, that is. In those instances, you will find coxed quads and octuples (as mentioned, an octuple is always coxed).

What Is the Difference between a Double Scull and a Coxless Quad?

two women rowing together

A double scull means that there are two rowers in a boat, each rower holding a pair of oars, one oar in each hand. As mentioned above, double sculls (also called double or 2x-), are always coxless.

A quad refers to four rowers in a scull, each rower with a pair of oars. In competitive rowing, a quad is mostly coxless, so you could just say ‘quad’. However, if the rowers in such a boat are kids, the organizers may deem it necessary to require a coxswain, in which case, you’ll have a coxed quad.

Please don’t confuse this with coxed/coxless four (or 4+ or 4-), which is what you call a sweep rowing crew of four with one oar each.

Generally, in events when the word coxed or coxless is used, they are talking about sweep rowing. The terms only appear in sculling when rowers are children and need a cox with them for safety.

What’s the Difference between a Coxed Pair and a Coxless Four?

These are terms used in sweep rowing. A coxed pair means that there are 2 rowers in the boat, each with one oar, and they’re with a coxswain.

team of rowers training with a coxswain

A coxless four means that there are 4 rowers in the boat, each with one oar, but such a boat has no coxswain.

Is the Boat Called a Boat Whether its Sculling or Sweep Rowing?

sculls on grass

Yes, you can feel comfortable calling the boat a boat, that word is fine.

You can also call it a rowing boat, but especially in competitive rowing, the most common term that you will hear is shell.

This is because, unlike a yacht or fishing boat, a rowing boat depends on speed, so it must be lightweight and have as little as possible attached to it.

The lighter or thinner a boat is, the faster it will go. To remember the word, you might want to think that a rowing boat is just a shell of a fishing boat.

Rowing boats, especially in sculling, are very small, narrow, and as light as possible. If you’ve ever seen one up close, you will understand why it is frequently called a shell.

Don’t be afraid to use the word boat, however. After all, at its core, that is what rowers sit in, right?

Are They Called Oars or Paddles?

They are oars! While you can call the boat a shell or the shell can be called a boat, or you can get away with calling sculling and sweep rowing just rowing, but never, ever call an oar a paddle.

red boat with oars

A paddle is the wood stick that you use when you are in a canoe. Think of Davey Crockett rowing downstream. He would kneel in the center of the boat and use the paddle on alternating sides of the boat to steer the boat in the direction he wanted to go, right?

That is a paddle. You usually put one hand on the end and the other on the handle to use it. Paddles are quite short.

rowing oars on a wooden deck

An oar has a very long handle that you will use either one or two hands to control. An oar is quite long so you would never think to use it by switching sides with it as you do with a paddle.

Sweep oars and sculling oars might look a bit different from one another, but they accomplish the same thing and they are oars, not paddles!  FYI:  Learn more on paddle vs oar here.

The Bottom Line

These terms can be a bit confusing at first, but they aren’t complicated.

Once you start hearing them regularly, you will quickly get the hang of what they mean.

Before you know it, you will be talking like a master rower!

When in Rome, speak like the Romans. When rowing, speak the rowing language, and don’t forget to have fun!

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