What Happens in the Winter Months of Rowing in the UK?

It’s time for a change. A big change. Whilst British rowing on the world stage in the guise of GB Rowing goes from strength to strength, the domestic racing calendar, to put it mildly, is boring.

To be clear on one thing, Henley Royal Regatta is a fantastic event whilst other events throughout the racing calendar offer real competition and a great deal of excitement. This excitement, however, doesn’t really start until the Head of the River races.

Copying the format of the Swiss Bobsleigh team didn’t work for the Jamaicans, but perhaps Britain copying a format of the U.S domestic season is something to certainly start with.

Whilst our universities and schools try their best to avoid each other until it is no longer an option, the American universities actively seek each other for racing. At the time of writing the duel racing system is starting up with Washington defeating Brown in the Varsity by around half a length over their own course in Seattle and upcoming races including Princeton racing Yale and Harvard taking on Northeastern. On the women’s side, it is the same; Ohio State defeating UVA in the Varsity boat with upcoming fixtures including Cal racing Washington and UVA racing Texas.

Top ranked squads racing against each other. A lot is made of the Varsity eights, but it is the squads racing each other in fours and eights that is a big draw to introducing it to our domestic racing calendar.

A university or school could take most of their rowers to race against relevant opposition both in rank and speed. It would be very cheap for them to race, rather than the extortionate amount of money currently being paid to receive a time for racing in procession. How many alumni, parents, supporters would go along to watch Newcastle racing Brookes in Wallingford? Or Headington racing LEH on the Thames?

An example of racing this way could be as follows;


Matched Racing Head Race
School 1st VIII/4x



2nd VIII,

3rd VIII,




University 1st VIII,

1st 4x/-,

Fresher VIII

2nd VIII,

3rd VIII,

2nd 4x/-/+

3rd 4x/-/+

Fresher 2nd VIII


I believe it would keep costs of racing down. Revenue for hosting races, for some clubs or universities, is a vital way of making money. An equal problem for a lot of schools is racing for those lower down in their squads. This way, the club would get their much-needed funds for the event and the athletes get to experience competition. The standard of racing for some head races would inevitably suffer though.

We do currently have matched racing in the form of the boat races and the pre-race fixtures with other clubs that take place, but our racing calendar is starved of any sort of excitement between British Championships in October, which in my opinion should be raced in April, and the Tideway races.

When recruiting athletes in schools to try rowing, it’s a hard sell. The sports they currently do compete against each other every week. Most week we head down to the river and go and train. A lot of school aged athletes are not interested in training for weeks on end and perhaps it’s time we made it easier to sell our sport. Racing your rivals one-on-one, side-by-side, in winter!

Lastly, what is the incentive to take part in the new structure of racing? For the schools, how about the top two crews from the dual racing get selected for their events at Henley Royal Regatta? For student level, this could equate to gaining BUCS points based on their overall position at the end of the winter racing?

Thank you for taking the time to read this. If you have any comments, insight or contributions, please feel free to leave them at the bottom of the page.

You May Also Like

  • Daniel Walker

    It is an interesting idea and I certainly would like to see more of the trial eights type events but I do have some questions about it.

    Firstly you say that we are “starved of any sort of excitement between British Championships in October, … and the Tideway races.” well the Tideway races start in October with the Pairs Head, then Fours Head in November; Scullers Head in December; Quintin Head in January; Hammersmith Head in February; WeHoRR and Schools Head in March and finally HoRR in April, plus of course the Boat Races (and trial eights) … where exactly is the gap? And that is without considering all the non-Tideway races.

    Secondly, why do you think it would be cheaper? The great bulk of the costs associated with putting on events comes from providing safety cover and (particularly for regattas/side by side racing) hiring umpires launches. When these costs are spread over many entrants they are quite reasonable, if we are only talking about a handful of crews they could well be prohibitive.

  • Tristan Mayglothling

    Dear Daniel,
    Thank you for the comment I hope I can clear things a little?
    When writing the Tideway races I apologise for ambiguity. What I meant were the WEHORR, HORR & SHORR races that take place around mid March.
    In terms of safety I completely agree that this is a priority that costs. However, I am sure that all schools with have their own risk assessments and insurance. safety is important but a private fixture on ones own river is fairly easy to run safety wise, especially if it is one on one. With bigger rivers with multiple users such as the Tideway, Severn or Trent rivers for example will have more difficulty but perfectly doable with minimal costs.

    Best wishes,

    • Daniel Walker


      Thanks for the reply.

      I now understand what you mean by “Tideway races” but it is a little bit selective on what constitutes excitement isn’t it?

      However, regarding safety, I’m really not clear what you are suggesting – a risk assessment and insurance won’t get a crew in difficulty out of the water. If you are offering racing on a paid basis, as you seem to be suggesting (“This way, the club would get their much-needed funds for the event …”) then you are likely to have to provide professional on the water safety cover. Over a long course that is potentially a lot of money, but at the same time you suggest it’ll be cheaper – “it would keep costs of racing down”.

      Can you expand on what you envisage? For example how many crews would you see racing over what sort of distances? Is it long distance “trial eights” type stuff; is it multiple events on the same day over the same course? Is it an open event or more of a private match between schools/universities?

      • Tristan Mayglothling

        Hi Daniel, These races will be private one-on-one side by side races. The idea would be a group of crews go to race as shown by the table above. The distance would be to the discretion of the home crew and they get to decide. This would be agreed upon at the beginning of the season and then consistent throughout the duel season.
        It won’t cost anything to the visiting team except the cost of getting there.
        I hope these answer your above questions?
        The crews lower down in a school or uni programme will attend races to support the income of the clubs whilst racing other crews similar to them. There is a current problem of b/c crews having relevant racing against opposition.
        My hope is it will encourage racing opposition whilst enabling more athletes to experience head races and support clubs who put these on.

  • rower

    I graduated a couple years ago and was at one of the big UK rowing universities. We did match race other university squads pretty often during the head season, often starting in January. It just wasn’t really advertised to outsiders. Additionally there was also invite only side by side racing at Caversham or Dorney in Uni crews. I’m talking about Newcastle/Durham/Brookes etc. However no real structured calendar to it. Tended to be we’d race a head event near one other uni, then stay the night and do match racing the next day. It is generally more common than you think.

    • Tristan Mayglothling

      Yes i used to coach at one of the uni’s you mention above. We would go and race other crews in private matches that you describe but thats exactly it, they were private. my plan would be to make them more mainstream events getting alumni, parents etc to come along and support the events.
      I agree with you that is more common that thought and sounds like your coach made the most of the opportunity to race opposition which is excellent. Lets make it more official, more supported, more marketed and more structured?
      Thank you for your input