How to Keep Warm and Dry While Coxing

“Dry” and “bowloader” are not words often seen in the same sentence. (What is this thing you call ‘dry’, and where can I get some?) But, we’ll try to help you out on the warmth part. When you are lying on the bottom of the hull, the water rushing past conducts an amazing amount of heat from your body. In early spring, the cooling effect is even greater because the water tends to be colder than the air, unlike in autumn when the water often is warmer.

There is a Russian proverb: “There are no cold days; only cold clothing.” Extremely wise and completely true. If it makes you feel better, repeat it to yourself on those mornings when there’s a layer of frost on the dock.

Dress to conserve heat in your head, neck, groin, sides of chest, hands and feet. They are, in approximately that order, the areas of greatest heat loss. Dressing in layers is the key, and long-sleeve t-shirts are an adaptable way to add layers under, over, or between your other clothes. They’re inexpensive, easy to wash, dry quickly, and you can put on quite a few without impairing your movement too seriously.

Baseball turtlenecks are ideal for cold-weather coxing. Not the game day mock turtlenecks with the half collar they wear under their uniforms -- you want the full collar ones that pitchers wear to practices when there’s a fair amount of standing around and they absolutely must keep warm. The full collar keeps your neck warm, and prevents at least some of the waves sweeping merrily across the foredeck from going straight down your throat. Cotton, or a cotton blend, they don’t lay claim to any fancy “moisture management” properties [that’s “sweat” to you and me], but if you wear a CoolMax shirt under them, and your normal cold weather clothes (e.g. fleeces and shells) over them, the combination works very well. You want to avoid cotton itself next to your skin because it holds moisture and wicks away heat.

Bicycling gloves are another form of non-rowing gear which someone must have secretly designed with crew in mind. They’re thinner and lighter -- thus more dexterous for steering -- than heavy gloves or mittens, so they’re perfect for those days when it’s too cold for bare skin but not cold enough for the ‘hands of Antarctica’ approach. Most of them are made out of a fabric which breathes a little, so they also work well worn as liners inside heavier gloves to add a layer when the weather turns very cold.

Long live the polyester training pants for keeping warm, for being moderately waterproof, and for making it fairly easy to slide in and out of the bow compartment. It’s nice to have a pair of lined, as well as unlined, to cover a range of temperatures. The lined pants, which lacrosse players wear, are excellent for coxing.

Most rowing programs have hard and fast rules about no shoes in the bow compartment [mud in the bow totally sucks]. This leaves us relying on: the inner sock, the outer inner sock, the inner outer sock, the outer sock, and the extreme outer sock. (You want wool because wool retains warmth even when wet). Problem is, you’ll want about ten separate sets of these because, once wet, they take forever to dry. Some coxswains wear kayak or reef booties (a type of light neoprene slipper) over their socks to keep them dry, and this is another excellent example of an unintended use that has worked well.

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Written By Rob Colburn. Colburn coxed for St. Andrew’s School in Delaware and for Columbia University in New York City . He coxes actively for several masters clubs. In his day job, he’s a historian of technology.