Last modified on 21 September 2014, at 22:21

The Boat Race

For other uses, see Boat race (disambiguation).
The Boat Race
The BNY Mellon Boat Race
The Boat Race.svg
Contested by
Cambridge University Boat Club Rowing Blade.svg Oxford University Boat Club.svg
Official website
First boat race 10 June 1829
Annual event since 15 March 1856
Current champion Oxford
Largest margin of victory Cambridge, 35 lengths (1839)
Smallest margin of victory Oxford, 1 foot (2003)
Course The Championship Course
River Thames, London
Course length 4.2 miles (6.8 km)
Current sponsor BNY Mellon
Trophy The Boat Race Trophy
Number of wins
Cambridge Oxford
81 78
Note: There has been one dead heat, recorded in 1877

The Boat Race is an annual rowing race between the Oxford University Boat Club and the Cambridge University Boat Club, rowed between competing eights on the River Thames in London, England. It is also known as the University Boat Race and the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, or by a title that includes the name of its current sponsor (from 2013, the BNY Mellon Boat Race). It usually takes place on the last weekend of March or the first weekend of April.

The first race was in 1829 and the event has been held annually since 1856, except during the First and Second World Wars. The course covers a 4.2-mile (6.8 km) stretch of the Thames in West London, from Putney to Mortlake. Members of both teams are traditionally known as blues and each boat as a "Blue Boat", with Cambridge in light blue and Oxford dark blue. As of 2014 Cambridge have won the race 81 times and Oxford 78 times, with one dead heat.

The race is a well-established and popular fixture in the British sporting calendar. Upwards of 250,000 people watch the race live from the banks of the river each year (in 2009, a record 270,000 people watched the race live[1]) while a further 15 million or more watch it on television.[2]



An engraving of the 1841 Boat Race, with Lambeth Palace

The tradition was started in 1829 by Charles Merivale, a student at St John's College, Cambridge, and his Old Harrovian school friend Charles Wordsworth who was studying at Christ Church, Oxford. Cambridge challenged Oxford to a race at Henley-on-Thames but lost easily. As the Oxford stroke, Staniforth, and four of his crew were from Christ Church, then Head of the River, the decision was – eventually – taken to race in the Dark Blue of that college, which still persists. There is a dispute as to the source of the colour chosen by Cambridge. The second race was in 1836, with the venue moved to a course from Westminster to Putney. Over the next two years, there was disagreement over where the race should be held, with Oxford preferring Henley and Cambridge preferring London. Cambridge therefore raced Leander Club in 1837 and 1838. Following the official formation of the Oxford University Boat Club in 1839, racing between the two universities resumed on the Tideway and the tradition continues to the present day, with the loser challenging the winner to a rematch annually.

1877 dead heatEdit

Main article: The Boat Race 1877

The race in 1877 was declared a dead heat. Legend in Oxford has it that the judge, "Honest John" Phelps, was asleep under a bush when the race finished, leading him to announce the result as a "dead heat to Oxford by four feet". This is not borne out, however, by contemporary reports.

A portrayal of the dead heat finish in 1877.

Oxford, partially disabled, were making effort after effort to hold their rapidly waning lead, while Cambridge, who, curiously enough, had settled together again, and were rowing almost as one man, were putting on a magnificent spurt at 40 strokes to the minute, with a view of catching their opponents before reaching the winning-post. Thus struggling over the remaining portion of the course, the two eights raced past the flag alongside one another, and the gun fired amid a scene of excitement rarely equalled and never exceeded. Cheers for one crew were succeeded by counter-cheers for the other, and it was impossible to tell what the result was until the Press boat backed down to the Judge and inquired the issue. John Phelps, the waterman, who officiated, replied that the noses of the boats passed the post strictly level, and that the result was a dead heat.

Stanley MuttleburyEdit

Cambridge produced one of the legends of the Boat Race and of rowing worldwide, Stanley Muttlebury ("Muttle"), whose crew won the race in the first four of the five years he was a member, 1886–1890. Contemporaries writing to The Times to add to his 1933 obituary called attention to his extraordinary physical prowess and natural aptitude for rowing, traits accompanied by mildness, good manners, and natural kindness. R.P.P. Rowe wrote:[3]

A scene from the race of 1886.

Muttlebury had a natural aptitude which amounted to a genius for rowing, and, as he was not only massively large and full of courage but herculean in muscular strength, it was inevitable that he should be an outstanding exponent of oarsmanship. Added to this, he came to his prime when rowing was in a transitional stage, when the old methods of the straight back and the body catch suited to the fixed seat and the short slide, had necessarily to be superseded by methods required by the long-slide. I consider that long-slide rowing sprang suddenly to perfection in Muttlebury, that on him this new (or partially new) art was built...

1959 Oxford mutinyEdit

Main article: The Boat Race 1959

Oxford in Autumn 1958 had a large and talented squad. It included eleven returning Blues plus Yale oarsmen Reed Rubin and Charlie Grimes, a gold medallist at the 1956 Olympics. Ronnie Howard was elected OUBC President by the College Captains, beating Rubin. In 1958, Howard had rowed in the Isis crew coached by H.R.A. "Jumbo" Edwards, which had frequently beaten the Blue Boat in training.

Howard's first act was to appoint Edwards as coach. Edwards was a coach with a strong record, but he also imposed strict standards of obedience, behaviour and dress on the triallists which many of them found childish. As an example, Grimes withdrew from the squad after Edwards insisted he remove his "locomotive driver's hat" in training.

With selection for the crew highly competitive, the squad split along the lines of the presidential election. A group of dissidents called a press conference, announcing that they wanted to form a separate crew, led by Rubin and with a different coach. They then wished to race off with Howard's crew to decide who would face Cambridge.

Faced with this challenge, Ronnie Howard returned to the College Captains and asked for a vote of confidence in his selected crew and the decision not to race off with the Rubin crew. He won the vote decisively and the Cambridge president also declared that his crew would race only the Howard eight.

Three of the dissidents returned and Oxford went on to win by six lengths.[4]

1987 Oxford mutinyEdit

Main article: The Boat Race 1987
Cambridge at their stakeboat, just prior to the race's commencement, 2009.

In 1987, another disagreement arose amongst the Oxford team.[5] A number of top class American oarsmen refused to row when a fellow American was dropped in favour of the Scottish President, Donald Macdonald. They became embroiled in a conflict with Macdonald and with coach Dan Topolski over his training and selection methods. This eventually led most of the Americans to protest at what they perceived to be the president's abuse of power, by withdrawing six weeks before the race date.

To the surprise of many, Oxford, with a crew partially composed of oarsmen from the reserve crew, won the race. Oxford adopted Topolski's tactic, communicated to the cox while the crews were on the start, to take shelter from the rough water in the middle of the river at the start of the race, ignoring conventional wisdom that centre stream is fastest even if rowing conditions are poor.

A further surprise was that the captains of the Oxford college boat clubs, who had voted in support of Macdonald and Topolski and precipitated the Americans' withdrawal during the mutiny, voted one of those Americans, Chris Penny, as OUBC president for 1988, a break with the tradition that the president is a returning Blue (the other candidate being Tom Cadoux-Hudson, who was a British member of the 1987 winning crew).

Topolski wrote a book entitled True Blue: The Oxford Boat Race Mutiny on the incident.[6] A movie based on the book, True Blue, was released in 1996. Topolski's account was seen by some as one-sided, and Ali Gill, who had been a member of the university women's Boat Club at the time of the mutiny, wrote a book The Yanks at Oxford to present the other side of the story.

Both crews after crossing the finish line in 2007.

Reports of the "mutiny" still differ greatly depending on the source, and with the historians having been personally involved in the events or in the small community in which they occurred, a definitive, unbiased version has never been agreed upon. Captain Donald Macdonald and the Americans long refused to contribute to any debate on the event, including a 2007 BBC radio programme to mark its 20th anniversary. However, in 2012, after 25 years, Macdonald gave his own account of the dispute in a newspaper interview.


In the 1912 race, run in extremely poor weather and high winds, both crews sank. Oxford rowed into a significant early lead, but began taking on water, and made for the bank shortly after passing Hammersmith Bridge to empty the boat out: although they attempted to restart, the race was abandoned at this point because Cambridge had also sunk, while passing the Harrods Depository.[7] In the Book of Heroic Failures it is further reported, colorfully but perhaps not entirely reliably, that Oxford's attempted restart was briefly delayed as a crewman exchanged words with a friend called Boswell in the crowd: and that as the abandonment was announced, some of the Cambridge crew came swimming past the Oxford position, minus their boat. The race was re-rowed two days later, again in poor weather, and Oxford won by six lengths.

Cambridge also sank in 1859 and 1978, while Oxford did so in 1925,[8][9][10] and again in 1951; the 1951 race was re-rowed on the following Monday.[11] In 1984 the Cambridge boat sank after colliding with a barge before the start of the race, which was then rescheduled for the next day.[12]

2012 disruptionEdit

Main article: The Boat Race 2012

In the 2012 race, after almost three-quarters of the course had been rowed, the race was halted for over 30 minutes when a lone protester, Australian Trenton Oldfield, entered the water from Chiswick Eyot and deliberately swam between the boats near Chiswick Pier with the intention of protesting against spending cuts, and what he saw as the erosion of civil liberties and a growing culture of elitism within British society.[13] Once spotted by assistant umpire Sir Matthew Pinsent, both boats were required to stop for safety reasons.

The umpire, John Garrett, decided to restart the race from the eastern end of Chiswick Eyot.[14] Shortly after the restart the boats clashed and the oar of Oxford crewman Hanno Wienhausen was broken. Garrett judged the clash to be Oxford's fault and allowed the race to continue. Cambridge quickly took the lead and went on to win the race. The Oxford crew entered a final appeal to the umpire which was quickly rejected; and Cambridge were confirmed as winners by 4 1/4 lengths. It was the first time since 1849 that a crew had won the boat race without an official recorded winning time.[15] After the end of the race Oxford's bow man, Alex Woods, received emergency treatment after collapsing in the boat from exhaustion. Because of the circumstances, the post-race celebrations by the winning Cambridge crew were unusually muted and the planned award ceremony was cancelled.[14][16][17][18]

Oldfield was convicted in October 2012 of causing a public nuisance, fined £750 and sentenced to six months imprisonment.[19] In June 2013 he was refused leave to remain in the UK,[20] a decision against which he successfully appealed,[21][22] with the appeal judge stating that there was "a public interest in providing a platform for protest at both common law and the European Convention on Human Rights".[23]


Competing for the fastest current

The course is 4 miles and 374 yards (6.779 km) from Putney to Mortlake,[24] passing Hammersmith and Barnes; it is sometimes referred to as the Championship Course, and follows an S shape, east to west. The start and finish are marked by the University Boat Race Stones on the south bank. The clubs' presidents toss a coin (the 1829 sovereign) before the race for the right to choose which side of the river (station) they will row on: their decision is based on the day's weather conditions and how the various bends in the course might favour their crew's pace. The north station ('Middlesex') has the advantage of the first and last bends, and the south ('Surrey') station the longer middle bend.

During the race the coxes compete for the fastest current, which lies at the deepest part of the river, frequently leading to clashes of blades and warnings from the umpire. A crew that gets a lead of more than a boat's length can cut in front of their opponent, making it extremely difficult for the trailing crew to gain the lead. For this reason the tactics of the race are generally to go fast early on, and few races have a change of the lead after halfway (though this happened in 2003, 2007 and 2010).

The race is rowed upstream, but is timed to start on the incoming flood tide so that the crews are rowing with the fastest possible current.[25] If a strong wind is blowing from the west it will be against the tide in places along the course, causing the water to become very rough. The conditions are sometimes such that an international regatta would be cancelled, but the Boat Race has a tradition of proceeding even in potential sinking conditions (see Sinkings above).

Boat Race course ("Middlesex" and "Surrey" denote sides of the Thames Tideway corresponding to the traditional English counties)

During the race the crews pass various traditional landmarks, visible from the river:

Landmark Coordinates Comments
Westminster School Boat Club early morning.jpg
Exterior KCS Boat House.jpg
Oxford boats from Westminster School Boat Club (left), and Cambridge from King's College School Boat Club (right). Both clubs are near the Start, just downstream of the Black Buoy. The crews warm up by rowing downstream below Putney Bridge before taking their places at the start.
The Start by Putney Bridge
51°28′02″N 0°12′50″W / 51.467319°N 0.213756°W / 51.467319; -0.213756 (Boat Race start)
Boat Race Start stone.jpg
Cambridge VIII at Stakeboat - 2009 Boat Race.jpg
The race starts from two stake boats moored so that the competitors' bows are in line with the first University Stone. The winner of the toss has the choice of station. The Surrey station won 10 out of the 15 races 1994–2008[26] – though this is not statistically significant.
Start - 2009 Boat Race.jpg
Start section (empty) - 2009 Boat Race.jpg
Coxes raise their arms while their VIIIs are getting into position. When both crews are ready, the Umpire starts the race by waving a red flag. In the straight section after the start the Middlesex crew tries to hold the fastest water on the centre line of the river.
The Black Buoy
51°28′16″N 0°13′16″W / 51.471211°N 0.221132°W / 51.471211; -0.221132 (The Black Buoy)
Boat Race Black Buoy.jpg
Roughly marks the end of the Putney Boat Houses. The Black Buoy has been painted yellow to avoid collisions.
Fulham Football Club
51°28′30″N 0°13′18″W / 51.474895°N 0.221655°W / 51.474895; -0.221655 (Fulham Football Club)
Boat Race Craven Cottage.jpg
'Craven Cottage': crews stay wide (preferring the Surrey bank) round the bend as the area in front of the football ground (known as 'the Fulham flats') is shallow, with slack water.[27]
The Mile Post
51°28′43″N 0°13′37″W / 51.47852°N 0.226987°W / 51.47852; -0.226987 (The Mile Post)
Boat Race 1st Milestone and bust.jpg
The 'post' is in fact a stone monument to rowing coach Steve Fairbairn. Exactly a mile from the Boat Race start, it is a traditional timing point. The Middlesex bank water continues to be shallow and slack all the way to Hammersmith Bridge.[27]
The Crabtree
51°28′55″N 0°13′25″W / 51.482041°N 0.223482°W / 51.482041; -0.223482 (The Crabtree)
Boat Race Crabtree Reach.jpg
This section is called the "Crabtree Reach" after the Crabtree Tavern pub on the Middlesex bank (just to the right of the camera).
Harrods Furniture Depository
51°29′05″N 0°13′41″W / 51.484633°N 0.227956°W / 51.484633; -0.227956 (Harrods' Furniture Repository)
Boat Race Harrod's Depositary.jpg
Previously the warehouse for the famous shop, now apartments. For the next 8–9 minutes the bend will be in Surrey's favour. The deepest water now is closer to the Surrey bank.[27]
Hammersmith Bridge
51°29′17″N 0°13′50″W / 51.488129°N 0.230536°W / 51.488129; -0.230536 (Hammersmith Bridge)
Boat Race Hammersmith Bridge.jpg
Coxes aim for the second lamp-post from the left which marks the deepest part of the river and therefore the fastest line. 80%–85% of boats ahead at Hammersmith Bridge have won, though only 50% in the 6 years up to 2008.[26] The turning point comes once the crews are under Hammersmith Bridge.
St Paul's School
51°29′20″N 0°14′09″W / 51.488983°N 0.235855°W / 51.488983; -0.235855 (St Paul's School)
Boat Race St Paul's.jpg
1.8 miles have been rowed; the whole width becomes choppy when there is any form of westerly. The next 3–4 minutes where still side-by-side give the Surrey crew their last advantage.[26]
Chiswick Eyot
51°29′15″N 0°14′45″W / 51.487596°N 0.245814°W / 51.487596; -0.245814 (Chiswick Eyot)
Chiswick Eyot.jpg
A tree-covered river island. The river is briefly straight, and the deepest water is central.[27]
Fuller's Brewery
51°29′14″N 0°15′01″W / 51.487182°N 0.250411°W / 51.487182; -0.250411 (Chiswick Eyot)
Boat Race Fullers Brewery.jpg
Just visible to crews, behind the eyot. If a south-west breeze picks up then the waves will be as high as they get along the Championship Course against the upstream tide here.[26]
Chiswick Pier
51°28′57″N 0°15′03″W / 51.482452°N 0.250937°W / 51.482452; -0.250937 (Chiswick Pier)
Boat Race Chiswick Pier.jpg
2.87 miles have been rowed. When strong prevailing winds strike, the built-up inside of the Middlesex bend gives that crew the calmer water.[26]
The Crossing
51°28′44″N 0°15′02″W / 51.47879°N 0.250583°W / 51.47879; -0.250583 (The Crossing) Marks the end of the long Surrey bend. The deep water channel is in the centre of the river.[27]
The Bandstand
51°28′36″N 0°15′08″W / 51.476572°N 0.252149°W / 51.476572; -0.252149 (The Bandstand)
Boat Race Bandstand.jpg
The deepest, faster water is slightly close to the Middlesex bank at this point, the water near the Surrey bank is shallow.[27]
Barnes Railway Bridge
51°28′22″N 0°15′14″W / 51.472736°N 0.253758°W / 51.472736; -0.253758 (Barnes Railway Bridge)
Boat Race 2011 Barnes Railway Bridge centre span.jpg
Crews must pass through the centre arch. 95% of boats leading here have won. Only one boat has won since 1945 when trailing at Barnes Bridge: Oxford came from behind this late in 2002. The Barnes Bridge bend by Emanuel School Boat House is very tight: if the crews are level then the coxes may jostle, subject to directions, for the centre.[26]
The Mortlake Brewery or The Stag Brewery
51°28′14″N 0°15′59″W / 51.470474°N 0.266376°W / 51.470474; -0.266376 (Stag Brewery)
Boat Race Mortlake Brewery.jpg
Spanning almost the last 300 metres of the course, at least 3.95 miles (6.36 km) have been rowed.
The Finish by Chiswick Bridge
51°28′22″N 0°16′05″W / 51.472861°N 0.268151°W / 51.472861; -0.268151 (The Boat Race Finish)
Boat Race Finish posts.jpg
Boat Race Finish post 800x533.jpg
The finish, just before Chiswick Bridge, is marked by the University Stone on the south bank and a University Post on the north bank.
The Boat Race trophy as seen in 2014.

At the conclusion of the race, the boats come ashore at Mortlake Anglian & Alpha Boat Club,[28] directly upriver of Chiswick Bridge. Here shortly after the race the Boat Race trophy is presented to the winning crew. It is traditional for the winning side to throw their cox into the Thames to celebrate their achievement.

Moved from the original festivities by the stone in Mortlake, these are therefore at the clubhouse by Grove Park, Chiswick west of the busy bridge. Nonetheless the arms of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, covering more than half of the Surrey bank has two griffin supporters that hold oars, one light blue, one dark, in reference to the Boat Race, colours which are 'later tinctures' in English heraldry.

Previous coursesEdit

The course for the main part of the race's history has been from Putney to Mortlake, but there have been three other courses:

In addition, there were four unofficial boat races held during the Second World War away from London. As none of those competing were awarded blues, these races are not included in the official list:

Media coverageEdit

The event is now a British national institution, and is televised live each year and has been covered by the BBC since 1938 while the BBC first covered it on radio in 1927. As of the 2005 race, the BBC handed over broadcasting rights to ITV, after 66 years, but it returned to the corporation in 2010.[29]

On the radio John Snagge commentated for the BBC from 1930s to the early 1980s on BBC Radio 2. Peter Jones, Brian Johnston and Robert Hudson commentated in the 1980s on BBC Radio 2 and Jon Champion, Tony Adamson and Peter Drury commentated for BBC Radio 5 and 5 Live in the 1990s.

Howard Marshall commentated on the first BBC TV Boat Race in 1938 with a camera at the start and the finish. Desmond Hill commentated for the BBC in the 1960s and Harry Carpenter commentated for the BBC in the 1970s up to 1990 and Gerald Sinstadt commentated in 1991 and 1992 while Barry Davies became the voice of the Boat Race for the BBC for the years 1993 to 2004 and Steve Rider was the host, previous BBC hosts were David Coleman, Frank Bough and Harry Carpenter. Peter Drury then took over as the main commentator for ITV from 2005 to 2009 while coverage was presented by Gabby Logan, then Mark Durden-Smith and finally Craig Doyle.

Andrew Cotter has commentated for the BBC since its return in 2010 with Dan Topolski and Wayne Pommen while Clare Balding has presented usually with Matt Pinsent, Sir Steve Redgrave and others within the world of rowing. Jonathan Legard commentated on the 2012 Race while Andrew Cotter was at the US Masters for the BBC but has returned in 2013. Barry Davies has returned to commentate on LBC Radio when the TV coverage moved to ITV. BBC World News holds the worldwide rights to the race taking UK coverage.

The race which took place on 30 March 1895 became the subject of one of the world's first motion pictures directed by Birt Acres.

Ethnographer Mark de Rond described the training, selection, and victory of the 2007 Cambridge crew in The Last Amateurs: To Hell and Back with the Cambridge Boat Race Crew.[30]


The race is for heavyweight eights (i.e. eight rowers with a cox steering, and no restrictions on weight). Female coxes are permitted: the first to appear in the Boat Race was Sue Brown for Oxford in 1981. In fact female rowers would be permitted in the men's boat race, though the reverse is not true.

Although the contest is strictly between amateurs, and the competitors must be students of the university for which they race, the training schedules the teams undertake are very gruelling. Typically each team trains for six days a week for six months before the event.

Such is the competitive spirit between the universities that it is common for Olympic standard rowers to compete, notably including four-time Olympic gold medallist Matthew Pinsent, who rowed for Oxford in 1990, 1991, and 1993. Olympic gold medallists from 2000Tim Foster (Oxford 1997), Luka Grubor (Oxford 1997), Andrew Lindsay (Oxford 1997, 1998, 1999) and Kieran West (Cambridge 1999, 2001, 2006, 2007), 2004Ed Coode (Oxford 1998), and 2008 - Malcolm Howard (Oxford 2013, 2014) have also rowed for their university. Other famous participants include Andrew Irvine (Oxford 1922, 1923), Lord Snowdon (Cambridge 1950), Colin Moynihan (Oxford 1977), actor Hugh Laurie (Cambridge 1980) and TV presenter Dan Snow (Oxford 1999, 2000, 2001).[31]

Academic statusEdit

There are no sporting scholarships at Oxford or Cambridge, so in theory every student must obtain a university place on academic merit, but there have been unproven accusations that some students are admitted to the universities for their rowing skill without meeting the normal academic standards. Participants in the boat race are indeed academically capable: the 2005 Cambridge crew, for example, contained four PhD students, including a qualified medical doctor and a veterinarian.

In order to protect the status of the race as a competition between genuine students, the Boat Race organising committee in July 2007 refused to award a blue to 2006 and 2007 Cambridge oarsman Thorsten Engelmann, as he did not complete his academic course and instead returned to the German national rowing team to prepare for the Beijing Olympics.[32] This has caused a debate about a change of rules, and one suggestion appears to be that only students that are enrolled in courses lasting at least two years should be eligible to race.[33]

Standard of the crewsEdit

The question whether the Boat Race crews are up to the standard of international crews is difficult to judge, since the Boat Race crews train for a long-distance race early in the season, so their training schedule is quite different from crews training for international regattas over 2000 metres that take place later in the year.

According to British Olympic gold medallist Martin Cross, Boat Race crews of the early 1980s were viewed as "a bit of a joke" by some international–level rowers of the time. However, their standard has improved substantially since then.[34] Current Boat Race crews do race against some club and international crews in the build-up to the race, and are competitive against them, but again these matches are over various non-standard distances, against crews that might not have been together as long as the Oxbridge crews.

In 2005 a strong Oxford crew, similar to the crew who had rowed in the Boat Race, entered the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta, losing to the winning German international crew in the first round by a third of a length. The same year, Cambridge won the Ladies Challenge Plate at the same regatta.

In 2007 Cambridge were entered in the London Head of the River Race, where they should have been measured directly against the best crews in Britain and beyond. However the event was called off after several crews were sunk or swamped in rough conditions. Cambridge were fastest of the few crews who did complete the course.[35]


The Boat Race has been sponsored since 1976, with the money spent mainly on equipment and travel during the training period. The sponsors do not have their logos on the boats, but do have their logo on kit during the race. They also provide branded training gear and have some naming rights. Boat Race sponsors have included Ladbrokes, Beefeater Gin, Aberdeen Asset Management, and the business process outsourcing company Xchanging, who sponsored the race until 2012.[36][37] Controversially, in the renewal of the deal with Xchanging, the crews agreed to wear the sponsor's logo on their kit during the race itself, in exchange for increased funding.[38] Prior to this, all sponsorship marks had been scrupulously discarded on boating for the competition, in line with the race's amateur and ‘Corinthian’ spirit. Xchanging also became title sponsor in November 2009 so, from the 156th Race until 2012, the event was known as The Xchanging Boat Race.[39] In 2013 the sponsor BNY Mellon took over and it became the BNY Mellon Boat Race.[40]

Other boat races involving Oxford and CambridgeEdit

Although the heavyweight men's eights are the best-known event, the two universities compete in other rowing boat races. The main boat race is preceded by a race between the two reserve crews. The Oxford reserve crew is called Isis (after the Isis, a section of the River Thames which passes through Oxford), and the Cambridge reserve crew is called Goldie (the name comes from rower and Boat Club president John Goldie, 1849–1896, after whom the Goldie Boathouse is named).

The women's eights, women's reserve eights ("Osiris" and "Blondie"), men's lightweight eights and women's lightweight eights race in the Henley Boat Races, usually a week before the men's heavyweight races. There is also a 'veterans' boat race, usually held on a weekday before the main Boat Race, on the Thames between Putney and Hammersmith. The women's boat race will be moving to the Tideway, using the same course and running on the same day as the men's race, in 2015.[41]


Training for the Boat Race officially begins in September, before the start of term. The first public tests are in November at the British Indoor Rowing Championships, where each university sends around 20 rowers to compete. Everyone races 2 km on an indoor rower with the club presidents using adjacent machines. Both universities also send crews to the Head of the River Fours race in London, which is raced over the reverse Boat Race course, that is to say the Championship course from Mortlake to Putney.

In December, the coaches put out Trial Eights where two crews from the same university race each other over the full Boat Race course. These crews are given names such as Kara and Whakamanawa (Māori words for strength and honour, Cambridge 2004) or Cowboys and Indians (Oxford 2004). Other trials boat names have included such pairings as Guns and Roses.

Over the Christmas period the squads go on training camps abroad, where final places for the blue boats are decided. After the final blue boat crews have been decided, they race against the top crews from the UK and abroad (e.g. in recent years they have raced Leander, Molesey, the German international crew, and a composite crew of Olympic scullers[42]). These races are only over part of the course (from Putney to Chiswick Eyot).

In case of injury or illness, each university has ten extra rowers, eight in the reserve boats Isis and Goldie, and two as the spare pair. Isis and Goldie race 30 mins before the Blue Boat event over the same course. As for the spare pair, in the week before the main event they race each other from the mile post to university stone (i.e. from a point one mile into the Championship Course back to the Boat Race start). In the final week, there is also an official weigh in and the average crew weights are announced. The perceived slight advantage of being the heavier crew leads to the practice of drinking large volumes of water directly before the weigh in order to artificially increase weight for a short period of time.[43]

Popular cultureEdit

Boat race became such a popular phrase that it was incorporated into Cockney rhyming slang, for "face".

In the stories of P. G. Wodehouse, several characters allude to Boat Race Night as a time of riotous celebration (presumably after the victory of the character's alma mater). This frequently sees the participants in trouble with the authorities. Bertie Wooster mentions several times that he was fined five pounds at "Bosher Street", possibly a reference to Bow Street Magistrates Court, for stealing a policeman's helmet on Boat Race Night. The beginning of the first episode of the Jeeves and Wooster television series shows his court appearance on this occasion.[44]


The detailed nature of the record-keeping over the event's history has many record statistics being carefully monitored. A selection of the more frequently cited statistics includes:

  • Number of wins: Cambridge, 81; Oxford, 78 (1 dead heat)
  • Most consecutive victories: Cambridge, 13 (1924–36)
  • Course record: Cambridge, 1998 – 16 min 19 sec; average speed 24.9 kilometres per hour (15.5 mph)
  • Narrowest winning margin: 1 foot (Oxford, 2003)
  • Largest winning margin: 35 lengths (Cambridge, 1839)
  • Most races: Boris Rankov, 6 (Oxford, 1978–83)
  • Heaviest rower: Thorsten Engelmann, Cambridge 2007, 17 st 6 lb 4 oz (110.8 kg; 244 lb)
  • Lightest rower: Alfred Higgins, Oxford 1882, 9 st 6.5 lb (60.1 kg; 132.5 lb)
  • Heaviest crew: Oxford 2009, 15 st 9 lb 13 oz (99.7 kg) average
  • Tallest rower: Josh West, Cambridge 1999–2002; Paul Bennett, Oxford 2013; 6 ft 9.5 in (2.07 m)[45]
  • Tallest crew: Cambridge 1999, 6 ft 6.3 in (1.98 m) average
  • Oldest rower: Mike Wherley, Oxford 2008, 36 yrs 14 days
  • Oldest cox: Andy Probert, Cambridge 1992, 38 yrs 86 days
  • Reserve wins: Cambridge (Goldie), 29; Oxford (Isis), 17[46]


Main raceEdit

There has been 160 official races in 185 years.

Decade Total races Cambridge wins Oxford wins Notes
1820s 1 0 1
1830s 2 2 0
1840s 7 5 2
1850s 6 2 4
1860s 10 1 9
1870s 10 7 2 1 dead heat
1880s 10 5 5
1890s 10 1 9
1900s 10 7 3
1910s 5 1 4
1920s 10 9 1
1930s 10 8 2
1940s 4 3 1
1950s 10 7 3
1960s 10 5 5
1970s 10 5 5
1980s 10 1 9
1990s 10 7 3
2000s 10 3 7
2010s 5 2 3
Total 160 81 78 1 dead heat


Unofficial wartime racesEdit

No. Date Location Winner Time Margin
1 2 March 1940 Henley-on-Thames Cambridge 9:28[48] 5 lengths
2 13 February 1943 Sandford-on-Thames Oxford 4:49[49] ⅔ length
3 26 February 1944 River Great Ouse, Ely Oxford 8:06[50] ¾ length
4 24 February 1945 Henley-on-Thames Cambridge 8:17[51] 2 lengths

Reserves raceEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Record crowd for Easter Boat Race". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 31 August 2014. 
  2. ^ Smith, Oliver (25 March 2014). "University Boat Race 2014: spectators' guide". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 7 April 2014. 
  3. ^ "Mr. S. D. Muttlebury (Obituary)". The Times. 6 May 1993. p. 14. 
  4. ^ Dodd, Christopher; Marks, John (2004). Battle of the Blues The Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race from 1829. P to M Limited. p. 72. ISBN 0-9547232-1-X. 
  5. ^ "Account of the 'mutiny'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 31 August 2014. 
  6. ^ Baker, Andrew (6 April 2007). "When mutineers hit the Thames". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 26 November 2012. 
  7. ^ "Boat Race - WHERE THE SMOOTH WATERS GLIDE". Retrieved 31 August 2014. 
  8. ^ "Rowing back the years". BBC Sport. 31 March 2003. Retrieved 19 April 2014. 
  9. ^ "Oxford university - The Boat Race". University of Oxford. Retrieved 1 September 2014. 
  10. ^ "How it began". The Race History. The Boat Race Limited. 2006. Retrieved 31 August 2014. 
  11. ^ "The 10 worst mishaps in the history of sport". The Observer. 5 November 2000. Retrieved 22 March 2014. 
  12. ^ "1984: Boat race halted before starting". BBC. 17 March 2005. Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  13. ^ Peck, Tom (29 March 2013). "No regrets, says Trenton Oldfield, man who ruined the boat race – but don’t worry, he won’t be back". The Independent. Retrieved 31 August 2014. 
  14. ^ a b "Boat Race: Man charged over swimming incident". BBC Sport. Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  15. ^ "The Boat Race Results - 1849". The Boat Race Limited. Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  16. ^ Millar, Paul (8 April 2012). "Shock and oar as Australian protest swimmer wrecks Oxbridge boat race". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  17. ^ Bull, Andy (7 April 2012). "Oxford bow Alex Woods recovering in hospital after Boat Race collapse". The Observer. Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  18. ^ "Race: Royal Marines to help with security". BBC News. 9 March 2013. Retrieved 1 September 2014. 
  19. ^ "Boat Race protester Trenton Oldfield jailed". BBC News. 19 October 2012. Retrieved 31 August 2014. 
  20. ^ "Boat Race protester Trenton Oldfield must leave UK". BBC News. 24 June 2013. Retrieved 24 June 2013. 
  21. ^ Drape, Julian (8 December 2013). "'Enough is enough': boat protester's wife". The Australian. Retrieved 31 August 2014. 
  22. ^ Booth, Robert (9 December 2013). "Boat race protester Trenton Oldfield wins appeal against deportation". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 August 2014. 
  23. ^ Muir, Hugh (23 December 2013). "Judge rules Home Office's bid to deport Boat Race protester 'an overreaction'". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 August 2014. 
  24. ^ "Statistics of The Boat Race". Boat Race Company Limited. Retrieved 18 March 2013. 
  25. ^ "The Boat Race course". 28 November 2006. Archived from the original on 28 November 2006. Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  26. ^ a b c d e f Doyle, Craig; Cracknell, James; Pommen; Wayne; Foster, Tim; Williams, Barney; Drury, Peter (29 March 2008). The Boat Race 2008. ITV Sport. 
  27. ^ a b c d e f "Rowing Chart" (PDF). Rowing on the Tideway. Port of London Authority. 6 September 2006. Retrieved 12 April 2008. 
  28. ^ "The Oxford v Cambridge Boat Race". Retrieved 12 April 2014. 
  29. ^ "ITV drops Boat Race for football". BBC news. 9 December 2008. Retrieved 19 August 2014. 
  30. ^ de Rond, Mark; Redgrave, Steven. "The Last Amateurs: To Hell and Back with the Cambridge Boat Race Crew". Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  31. ^ "The Boat Race - Personalities". The Boat Race Limited. Retrieved 31 August 2014. 
  32. ^ "Engelmann punished for early exit". BBC. 17 July 2007. Retrieved 5 June 2009. 
  33. ^ "Choppy waters ahead for Boat Race". BBC. 20 July 2007. Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  34. ^ Cross, Martin (9 April 2012). "Rowing is elitist, but not in the way Trenton Oldfield thinks". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  35. ^ Quarrell, Rachel (1 April 2007). "Boat Race: Cambridge confidence gets big boost". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  36. ^ "Boat Race sponsor Xchanging to end contract". BBC News. 29 March 2011. Retrieved 1 September 2014. 
  37. ^ "Xchanging sponsorship of The Boat Race draws to a close". Xchanging. 29 March 2011. Archived from the original on 23 August 2011. Retrieved 1 September 2014. 
  38. ^ Quarrell, Rachel (20 November 2009). "University Boat Race to have title sponsorship from 2010 onwards". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 1 September 2014. 
  39. ^ "Xchanging becomes title sponsor of The Boat Race". The Boat Race Limited. Retrieved 20 November 2009. 
  40. ^ "Boat Race - BNY Mellon announced as new Boat Race Title Sponsor". The Boat Race Limited. Retrieved 1 September 2014. 
  41. ^ "Women's Boat Race set for men's course from 2015". BBC. 7 February 2012. Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  42. ^ Gough, Martin (24 March 2009). "Students v Supermen". BBC News. Retrieved 27 March 2010. 
  43. ^ Cracknell, James (25 March 2005). "Oxford bank on a flying start to counter light blues' finess". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  44. ^ "Jeeves Takes Charge". Jeeves and Wooster. 22 April 1990. 1 minutes in.
  45. ^ "Boat Race - Rower profile - Paul Bennett". Retrieved 12 April 2014. 
  46. ^ "The Boat Race Limited statistics". The Boat Race Limited. Retrieved 1 September 2014. 
  47. ^ "The Boat Race yearly results - men". The Boat Race Limited. Retrieved 19 August 2014. 
  48. ^ "The Boat Race 1940". The Times. 28 February 1940. p. 8. 
  49. ^ "The Boat Race 1943". The Times. 15 February 1943. p. 2. 
  50. ^ "The Boat Race 1944". The Times. 28 February 1944. p. 2. 
  51. ^ "The Boat Race 1945". The Times. 26 February 1945. p. 2. 

External linksEdit