The coxed four is my favourite boat as a rower, although (probably because it is no longer used at the Olympics or FISA rowing competitions) it is less popular with more ambitious rowers. It is more responsive than the eight, more forgiving than the pair and allows rowers to concentrate on rowing while they leave steering duties to the cox. Perhaps for this reason, the coxed four is in my view the best boat for coaching the technical aspects of sweep-oar rowing and the most satisfying to row with a good crew who can fine-tune its balance and handling characteristics.
The term ‘coxed four’ covers two very different configurations. The original configuration has the cox sitting in the stern (as with an eight). A later adaptation is the ‘bow-loader’ in which the cox lies down inside the bow section of the boat. Both types have their advantages and disadvantages.
The cox seated at the stern of a four has a wider field of view and can see (and talk with) the crew, see their blades and other boats around and even behind them. On the downside, a stern-coxed boat creates more wind-resistance and has a higher centre of gravity than a bow-loader.
By lying the cox down in bows of the boat, the bow-loader addresses the two main disadvantages of the stern-loader. The additional weight in the bows of the boat also lessens the tendency of the bows to pitch up as the crew move up the slide into frontstops. The tradeoff – and it is a significant one – is that the cox in a bowloader has a very limited field of view. He/she can’t see the crew and can’t see behind the boat. This makes coxing a bow-loader safely a far more demanding job than coxing a stern-loader and in my view a role only for experienced coxes if you have to share your river with other boats. An experienced cox can tell how the crew are moving from the sound and ‘feel’ of the boat but this is a skill which novice coxes can take a while to acquire.
From the cox’s point of view, as for the crew, the four offers more opportunity for fine control than the eight and more opportunity to understand individual crew members and the effects they have on the boat.