The Women’s Eights Head of the River Race is raced on the River Thames over 4 miles and 374 yards, or 6.8 kilometres, from the start at the University Pole in Chiswick to the finish at Putney Pier.
Entries are capped at a maximum 320 crews, which means up to 2,880 competitors are on the river right before the start and that’s not even counting marshalls, safety crews and other volunteers!
Competitors range in age, from 15 to 70+ years, and in ability, from beginner to international levels.
The Women’s Head is a time-trial or processional race; each crew races the clock, aiming to get the fastest possible time in their division. Each boat is assigned a number and the crews proceed down the river one by one in numerical order with a gap of approximately 10 seconds between each crew. Each boat earns an individual time, just like a person racing a marathon – timing begins when they cross the start line and stops when they cross the finish.
Because the race is processional, results can’t be compiled until all racing crews have crossed the finish line. During the race, a crew may pass a slower boat or be passed by a faster one, so if you’re cheering on a competitor, keep a sharp eye out for their boat – you may find they’ve skipped around a few places by the time they reach the finish!
Race day is a busy day for everyone involved. If you’re new to the Women’s Head, this page will give you an idea of what to expect from the time you launch to your return to your boating location.
Preparing to Boat
If you’re boating from a busy location like Putney Embankment, make sure your boat and crew are prepared for launch. This means going through a few steps before taking your boat off trestles:
- Make sure your race number is securely fastened to the bow of your boat and your bow seat’s back.
- Check that your boat meets all safety requirements. Marshals will inspect your boat and will not allow you to lauch if your bow ball, heel restraints or hatch covers are not compliant with current safety requirements.
- Take your blades down to the water first or ask coaches/friends to carry them alongside. With so many crews waiting to boat, marshalls will expect you to be ready to push off within a minute or two of setting your boat on the water.
You’ll need to wade into the Thames to boat, so be prepared with a pair of wellies or waterproof socks to keep your feet dry. If you intend to leave your wellies behind, make sure someone is on hand to collect them as your crew gets in the boat.
Coxswains should ensure at least one pair is fully ready to row before pushing away from the bank. With a high number crews in the area and a moving stream, at least one pair is required to manoeuvre successfully. For crews with less power, having four rowers ready may be better.
Preparing to Race
Crews will be paddling both upstream and downstream to warmup and find their marshaling positions. Listen to your coxswain; he or she may not be able to execute the pre-race warmup as planned due to conditions or the positions of other crews.
Once you are in your marshaling position, your coxswain will continue to manoeuvre the boat. Remember, the stream will keep your boat moving even though your crew has stopped rowing. Be prepared to row or back down at any time.
The time you spend marshaling will depend on your punctuality and your start number. Crew number 10 may spend under 5 minutes marshaling while crew number 300 may be waiting for an hour before spinning to race. The marshals will call on boats to move up individually as well as by division.
Once your division is upstream of Chiswick Bridge, the marshals will notify crews to remove extra kit and will call each crew to spin and paddle towards the start.
After the Race
All crews must continue paddling through both Putney Bridge and Fulham Rail Bridge after crossing the finish line. You’ll spin to the Surrey bank after passing under the Rail Bridge and return to your boating location via the inshore zones. Bear in mind you may not have time to take water or put on spare kit until you are upstream of the moored boats at Putney Embankment.
If you are required to cross the racing line to return upstream, you must wait for a signal from the race marshals that your crew is clear to cross.