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Head Racing & Regattas

The Rowing Season

Rowing is a year round sport that is divided into two distinct parts, the head season that takes place over the winter months and the sprint season that runs from spring through to summer.

Head Racing

Head racing is a time trial over a distance that is anything between 3 and 7km. In this form of racing, rowers compete against the clock where the crew or rower completing the course in the shortest time in their age, ability and boat-class category is deemed the winner.  Competitors cross the start line at short intervals and simultaneously try to catch and overtake the boat in front while not being caught by the boats behind. These events often feature hundreds of crews with the WHORR and HORR attracting clubs from all over the country.

What to expect at a head race

For say a large event like Head of the River the start times are determined by the tide so can either be early morning or afternoon. There are considerable logistics required to organise a head race so that hundreds of crews start at the correct time and in the correct order and participating clubs need to familiarise themselves fully with the course map, launching and landing areas, crossing points and any hazards. After launching, you will make your way to your 'holding pen', typically signs placed on the riverbank instruct crews what boat numbers need to be where, marshals will also be on hand to provide instructions. The paddle to the start line is a good opportunity to do some warm up drills. Depending on your race number there is the possibility of a long wait for your turn to cross the start line so make sure you have plenty of layers on. The cox will instruct the crew to get ready several minutes before the race at which point you remove layers, take on fluids, make last minute checks and get your 'race head' on. Cross the start line, execute the race plan as set out by your coach. During the race there will be plenty of distractions, be it other crews nearby, supporters on the riverbank and calls from race marshals, keep focused and keep your eyes in the boat, the only person you should be listening to is the cox. After crossing the finish line there will be little time to rest as you will need to clear the finish area for other crews behind you. Your cox will steer you to the instructed landing area using the provided navigation pattern. When instructed and it is safe to do so, get out of the boat and return it to your trailer area as soon as possible, collect your blades as soon as your boat is safely on trestles. Derig you boat, place it in the correct position on the trailer and secure it with straps. If your boat and equipment is safely stowed, offer to help other Twickenham crews with their loading duties. Have a well deserved pint.

Sprint Racing

Also called a regatta racing, in this form of racing all the competing boats start at the same time from a stationary position and the winner is the boat that crosses the finish line first. The number of boats in a race typically varies between two to eight, but any number of boats can start together if the course is wide enough.

Sprints are short races between 500m and 2000m. Henley Royal Regatta is the  exception to the standard distance with course measuring 2122m.

What to expect at a regatta

It is a fact of life that most regattas and head races involve an early start. You need time to travel to the venue, rig your boat, launch it, perform some warm up drills and be ready at the start line at the correct time.

A typical medium sized regatta might require two or three races to get to the final and these races might be a few hours apart. Waiting between races is something you will need to get used to, take this opportunity to rest, take on food and fluids and cheer on other Twickenham crews that are racing. It is not uncommon for crews to race in different categories if the regatta schedule allows it (i.e. two crews racing 4+ and 4- that also combine to form an 8+).

Your coach will advise an 'on the water time' so make sure you are ready near the trailer before this time to carry your boat and blades to the launch area. Like head racing the paddle to the start line is a good opportunity to perform some warm up drills.


The start of race could be from a stake boat, a pontoon or a free floating start in open water. At the start line the umpire will announce the race, the competing crews and their stations and the outcome. For example:

"Race number 34, Men's Open Coxed Fours, Twickenham Rowing Club verses Vesta Rowing Club, Twickenham on Middlesex station, Vesta on Surrey station, winner to progress to final"


You must be focused and alert while at the start line as the cox will providing a series of frequent instructions to the crew in order to maneuver your boat into the correct position. Whilst doing this they will raise their arm to indicate to the umpire that your crew is not ready to start, only when the cox feels the crew is ready will they lower their arm to signal to the umpire that they are 'ready' to race. If the umpire is satisfied that all boats are correctly aligned and crews are ready they will begin the 'roll call' (race start procedure) as follows:

"Twickenham Rowing Club, Vesta Rowing Club"........."Attention"......(pause while they slowly raise a red flag)......."Go" (while simultaneously dropping the red flag smartly to one side)"

You will execute your race plan as instructed by your coach, side by side racing offers plenty of distractions so remain focused and again keep your eyes in the boat and listen to calls by your cox. After crossing the finish line and winding down your cox will instruct you to make a traditional congratulatory call to the other boat you have just competed against.

"Three cheers to Vesta......hip hip....(hooray)......hip hip....(hooray)......hip hip....(hooray)"

Make your way to the landing area, safely climb out of the boat when instructed to do so, carry your boat back to your trailer and place on trestles before immediately returning to the landing area to retrieve your blades.

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