Sprint Regattas

The regatta season begins in March and is much more rewarding for spectators as this is side-by-side racing. There are often several heats in what can be a long day's racing. A heat might be first thing in the morning and if successful the final may not be until late afternoon. Regattas taking place on rivers will probably only have two or three racing lanes. The river course is unlikely to be straight and there will be other challenges to negotiate such as the bank. The larger regattas are often held on purpose built courses on lakes and allow for six to eight lane racing.

Races that usually have six shells racing against one another in separate designated lanes, which may or may not be marked. Standard distance is a straight 200 meters and can take anywhere from 5.5 to 8.5 minutes depending on boat class, weather, water current and level of experience. There are other racing distances for older men and women (Masters) and Junior (high school or junior rower).

Rowing competition takes place over the course of eight days and consists of a round of heats, followed by a repechage, and then a final race.


In Olympic rowing, the competition format varies from event to event, depending on the number of entries. All events begin with a round of heats, followed by a repechage (see below). If there are 12 or fewer boats in the field, the heats and repechage combine to determine the finalists. If there are more than 12 boats in the field, there will be a semifinal round preceding the final.


Rowing follows a unique format in that boats have the benefit of double elimination. The repechage, loosely translated from French as "second chance," is the name for the second round of competition that ensures everyone has two chances to advance from preliminary races to either the semifinals or final (if an event does not have semifinals).


A and B finals are contested in events with eight or more entries (A is for places one through six, B is for places seven through 12). When 13 or more crews are entered, a C final is held; if 19 or more crews are entered, a D final is held; and so on. The boat that wins the A final is awarded with the Olympic gold medal in the event.


Head Races

Head Races are generally run between September and November. Each boat is sent down the course, one after another, and timed between the start and the finish line in a time trail format. Competitors will be divided into racing categories, which might be determined by age, gender, and experience. As a spectator you are unlikely to know who has won until the results are published. Heads are raced over a longer course than regattas.

Between 2 – 3.5 mile races conducted later in the rowing season, starting in late September. Boats are started by division at 10-second intervals. Head races are usually held on a river with an assortment of bridges and turns that make passing a challenge. Each division winner is referred to as the ‘head’ of that river. Head of the Charles is one of the most famous head races.



Competitions on indoor rowing machines range from 2k time trials for individuals to knockout competitions between teams of athletes. Competitions run in January with categories that mirror sprint racing competitions.