[kok-suhn, -sweyn]
The coxswain is the person in charge of a boat, particularly its navigation and steering. The etymology of the word gives us a literal meaning of "boat servant" since it comes from cox, a coxboat or other small vessel kept aboard a ship, and swain, which can be rendered as boy, in authority.


Most familiarly, the coxswain is the member of a crew who sits in the stern (except in bowloaders) facing the bow, steers the boat, motivates the rowers, and coordinates the power and rhythm of the rowers. During a competitive rowing/crew racing the coxswain is responsible not only for the steering, motivation, and coordination of the rowers, but for notifying the rowers about the position throughout the race. They also are required to keep the straightest, most direct course to ensure fastest speed and accuracy is utilized. However, the term can be used for the skipper of any small muscle or motor-driven boat. The coxswain usually communicates with the crew through a microphone, the most common form being the Nielsen-Kellerman, or coxmate Cox Box, although coxswains may occasionally use megaphones if they don't have a Cox Box.


In the Royal Navy in the days of sail, the Coxswain was a Petty Officer or Chief Petty Officer who commanded a Captain's or Admiral's barge. Later they were the senior Chief Petty Officer aboard a smaller vessel such as a corvette or submarine, who was responsible for the steering and also assumed the duties which would be performed by the Chief Boatswain's Mate and Master-at-Arms aboard larger vessels.

In Royal Navy Sections of the Combined Cadet Force, the rank of Cadet Coxswain is the highest that a cadet can achieve, except in the rare occurrence that they are promoted to the rank of Cadet Under Officer. The Rank of Coxswain equates to the rank of Cadet Warrant Officer in the Royal Air Force Sections, and the rank of Cadet Regimental Sergeant Major in the Army Sections. A CCF Cadet Under Officer is frequently the most senior cadet in their corps, and works with the Contingent Commander along with the Cadet Coxswain, the Cadet Warrant Officer and the Cadet R.S.M, to run the corps.

In the Canadian Navy, the appointment of Coxswain (or capitaine d'armes in French) is given to the senior non-commissioned officer aboard a ship, the equivalent to a Command Master Chief Petty Officer in the USN. For larger vessels such as a destroyer, frigate or Protecteur class auxiliary vessel, a Coxswain holds the rank of Chief Petty Officer 1st Class (CPO1). For smaller vessels such as a submarine or Kingston class patrol vessel, a Coxswain usually holds the rank of Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class (CPO2).

United States Coast Guard

In the United States Coast Guard and United States Coast Guard Auxiliary the coxswain has the authority to direct all boat and crew activities during the mission and modify planned missions to provide for the safety of the boat and the crew. A "boat" is any vessel less than 65 feet in length. Before a person can be assigned to be a coxswain, they have to go through a qualification procedure, be certified and maintain the certification to be a coxswain. Upon certification, they are awarded the Coxswain Badge. This qualification procedure requires a significant amount of practice in boat handling as well as previous experience as a boat crew member. Any Coast Guard member (enlisted or officer) may become a coxswain upon proper qualification. An advancement to BM2 (Boatswain's Mate second class) requires that the individual qualify as and maintain certification as a coxswain. A commanding officer or officer in charge of a land based unit with boats has to be certified and stay certified as a coxswain on all boats in the unit or be relieved of command. A coxswain is assigned to a boat by the command authority and can only be relieved by the commanding officer or the senior officer present. The coxswain’s authority is independent of rank and/or seniority in relation to any other person onboard the boat. Unlike the commanding officer (captain) of a cutter or ship, a coxswain does not automatically have command authority.


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