Rowing head racing extravaganza on the River Thames

Nearly 8,000 rowers and coxes will race in three of the biggest head events in the UK on the Thames this weekend in a bumper festival of rowing


Getting ready for the Women's Head by Fredrik Azzopardi (BigBlade)

The Women’s Eights Head of the River, the Head of the River and the Schools’ Head – the pinnacle of head racing in the UK – are taking place on consecutive days this weekend, showcasing the strength and depth of rowing on the River Thames in three action-packed days. Each head race will feature over 300 crews of eights and coxes, with smaller boat categories also competing in the Schools’ Head.

The four and a quarter mile distance from Mortlake to Putney is a rite of passage for many rowers, providing a gruelling test of endurance on this iconic stretch of water, held in the opposite direction of the famous University Boat Race course.


GB rowers, including several Olympians, will join the thousands of club rowers travelling from clubs as far away as Aberdeen, Norwich, Plymouth and Worthing.

Rowers and coxes have been training hard all winter for a chance to test their progress against clubs not just from around the UK but also from overseas, including the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland.

The head races start with crews setting off at approximately 15-second intervals in procession with each boat aiming to occupy the fastest stream on the water – sometimes involving bold overtaking manoeuvres in order to clock the fastest time possible at Putney. Depending on the conditions on the day, the quickest crews might take between 18-22 minutes to complete the course.

GB rowers, including several Olympians, will join the thousands of club rowers travelling from clubs as far away as Aberdeen, Norwich, Plymouth and Worthing

The three-day head racing extravaganza begins with the Women’s Eights Head of the River on Saturday, 10 March at 9.45am. The largest women’s rowing race in the world, 319 crews – around 2,862 women – will take on the Tideway in the quest to win a prestigious pennant.

Defending head champions Leander will start first with Cambridge University Women’s BC A and Imperial College BC A next. Leander will be going for a hat trick after winning the 2016 headship in a composite crew.

On Sunday – Mother’s Day – the men take centre stage with 313 crews from 164 clubs competing in the Head of the River, starting at 10.45am from Mortlake.

Last year, the event was cancelled because of adverse conditions so the 2016 headship winners, Oxford Brookes University will be first under starter’s orders this year. Leander, with GB Olympians likely to be on board, is second while London-based Thames RC races in third.

The starting position for each crew is based on their ranking index and points, as prescribed by British Rowing and the new Competition Framework.

The three-day festival on the Tideway finishes with the junior crews racing in the Schools’ Head on Monday at 1pm with 356 crews in different boats including eights, fours and quads. Shiplake College lead the procession in the boys’ Championship eights with Headington School leading the girls’ Championship eights as they bid to make it a sixth headship in a row.

The juniors also have another chance to put their skills and fitness to the test when the Oarsport Junior Sculling Head takes place at Dorney Lake on Tuesday 13 March. This is the biggest race of all, with 532 crews across 14 different categories, including eights and quads for J14 through to J18 age groups. Unlike the Tideway head races, crews race 3,600m over two legs on the London 2012 Olympic rowing course with the first race starting at 9.30am and the last at 4.25pm.

Where to watch the Tideway head races

The best place to enjoy the head racing is on Hammersmith Bridge or Putney Embankment. On Hammersmith Bridge, spectators gather around the famous second lamp post, the point where coxes aim to pass underneath, so expect it to be busy.

If you would rather catch the end of the race then head to Putney Embankment where you’ll be able to soak up the racing atmosphere and buzz of activity. Refreshments and results are available at the many clubs and pubs along the river so why not make a day of it.