A Guide to the Boat Race
What You Need to Know
- The Boat Race is an annual rowing competition between the Oxford University Boat Club and the Cambridge University Boat Club.
- As of 2012, Cambridge have won the Boat Race 81 times to Oxford’s 76 victories.
- The Race sees two teams of five compete along a 4 mile stretch of the River Thames, also known as the Championship Course, in London.
- The four-and-a-quarter mile course from Putney to Mortlake will take place on Saturday April 11th 2015. The race itself starts at around 2pm.
- The Boat Race has grown to become one of the UK’s major annual sporting events, with thousands of people lining the Thames to watch the action and millions watching live on TV.
- Putney Bridge and Hammersmith are prime viewing spots, but you need to arrive early in order to be able to see any of the action.
- The Boat Race in the Park events hosted by the event’s sponsors allow spectators to watch the action on big screens in Bishops Park, Furnival Gardens and in Hammersmith.
What is the Boat Race?
The Boat Race is an annual rowing competition between the Oxford University Boat Club and the Cambridge University Boat Club.
The event sees two teams of five (four oarsmen and one cox) race along the River Thames in London. While all of the participants are required to be registered students at their respective universities, the event has grown to become much more than a varsity contest, attracting tens of thousands of spectators and a global television audience of millions each year.
As of 2012, Cambridge have won the Boat Race 81 times to Oxford’s 76 victories.
History of the Boat Race
The tradition of an annual boat race between the two prestigious universities goes back to 1829 when students Charles Merivale (Cambridge) and Charles Wordsworth (Oxford) first came up with the idea. Within a few years of being founded, the course had been moved from Henley-on-Thames to London, where it has remained ever since.
Though the Boat Race has changed significantly over the years, some traditions still remain. For instance, the losing university always asks the victors for a re-match the following year and both teams compete in blue, though for Cambridge it is light blue and Oxford dark blue.
The Modern-Day Boat Race
The Boat Race today is one of the UK’s major annual sporting events, with thousands of people lining the Thames to watch the action and millions watching live on TV.
The Course: The modern-day course – known as the Championship Course - is 4 miles and 374 yards long, running from Putney to Mortlake. As is tradition, the teams toss a coin before the race to determine who starts on which side of the river.
Timing: The Boat Race takes place on either the final Saturday of March or the first Saturday of April each year. The race itself starts at around 2pm, since this coincides with the incoming tide and so gives the teams the fastest possible currents.
Where to Watch the Boat Race
It is estimated that as many as 300,000 people can line the banks of the Thames to watch the Boat Race. As such, if you want to watch the action, it’s a very good idea to arrive early and pick a prime spot. Prime viewing locations, that is those that offer the best views but that are also always the most crowded, include:
- Putney Bridge: Easily the place to be to watch the start of the race as well as to watch the crews warming up, it’s always standing room only on the bridge and, unless you arrive a few hours in advance, you are unlikely to get a spot. Bishops Park and the length of Putney Embankment are also good places to watch the start of the race from.
- Hammersmith: Mid-way through the course, the Hammersmith riverside is a good spot to watch the action in a pub beer garden. However, while there is a good selection of pubs to choose from, they do get full very early, so advance bookings are highly recommended.
- Dukes Meadow and Chiswick Bridge: A little bit further out of London, both Dukes Meadow and Chiswick Bridge are good spots to watch the end of the Boat Race. Since many races have been close-run things, it’s very likely you’ll get to see some high drama from these vantage points.
If crowds aren’t your thing or if you don’t want to take the risk of heading to the riverside just to look at the back of other people’s heads, then the Boat Race in the Park events hosted by the event’s sponsors could be for you. Big screens and bars are put up at Bishops Park, Furnival Gardens and in Hammersmith, giving you the chance to see the action unfold while soaking in the atmosphere of the day.
- Learn more about the colourful history of the event at the Boat Race’s official website.
- Find a good pub to watch the Boat Race from with the help of this guide from Time Out London.
- Learn more about the major events on the sporting calendar, such as Wimbledon and the Grand National, with our dedicated sports section.