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The Boat Race: everything you need to know

Only in it for the riverside drinks? Sound like a rowing pro with our guide to the Boat Race

© Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Join the crowds and line the four-and-a-quarter mile course from Putney to Mortlake on Sunday March 27 2016 to catch all the Boat Race action. Even if you're just interested in the sunshine and socialising, here’s our ultimate boat race crib sheet, filling you in on ten key facts you need to know about the annual event.

CHECK THIS OUT: Where to watch the Boat Race

Ten facts about the Boat Race


Ladies first (finally)

This year, for the first time ever, The Newton Women’s Boat Race will take place on the same day as the men's and be held on the same course (the women's race has previously taken place in Henley). Founded in 1927, it wasn't until the 60s that the race became an annual fixture and, even by then, the participtating female rowers faced abuse and ciritism from their male couterparts. Hoping to promote positive attitudes towards women in sport, the Women's Boat Race will start at 4.50pm, an hour before the men's race, and will be broadcast live on BBC television.


It's over in a splash

The men's race doesn’t last very long; the record, set by Cambridge in 1998, is 16min 19sec. But the atmosphere will be building up along the course all day and your riverside walk, lingering lunch or extended session in the pub will be crowned by a sighting of one of the capital’s great sporting events.


A good start

The rowing clubs’ presidents toss a coin (an 1829 gold sovereign) for the right to pick which side of the river they row on. Choosing the Middlesex station means an advantage on the first and final sections of the race; the Surrey station has the advantage round the long middle bend. Don’t worry, the traditional terms ‘Middlesex’ station and ‘Surrey’ station signify nothing to most people, but in the lingo of some Londoners, Middlesex means the north bank of the river and Surrey, the south.


An oar-some view

The towpath along Putney embankment is a great viewing location because there’s a long, clear view of the race in both directions.


Making waves

If you’re watching from the water’s edge, don’t get too caught up in the excitement. Following the competing eights is a dramatic procession of other vessels – the umpires’ launch, the camera boats, the Port of London Authority boat and the Marine Support Unit. Between them, they create a wash big enough to give the unwary a serious soaking.


It's not all plain sailing

A major part of the umpire’s role is keeping the crews apart as each fight for the best racing line. In 2012, the umpire stopped the men's race after a rogue swimmer appeared in the race path. The race was restarted with the crews level, however, shortly after the restart, Oxford broke an oar and Cambridge went on to take the win. Umpires are always old ‘Blues’ and will sometimes wear a colour, often a cap, that reveals which university they rowed for.


That sinking feeling...

Sinking is not as rare an occurrence as you might think. If a crew is going to sink, the final stretch after Barnes Bridge is the likeliest place. Due to a strong wind meeting the incoming tide, which creates dangerously choppy water, the Cambridge boys went down in that exact spot in 1978.


A floody nightmare

In 1898 Cambridge was waterlogged but still finished the race. Oxford sank in 1925, and in 1951, before the race had even started, thanks to a howling gale. And in 1912 both boats sank and the race had to be rescheduled for the following day.


Water off a cox’s head

The Boat Race tradition of dunking the winning cox takes place on the north bank by the Mortlake Anglian and Alpha Boat Club after the winning crew has been presented with the trophy.

Where to watch the Boat Race

Bar and pubs along the race route

Making history, the women's race will take place for the first time from 4.50pm. So where will you be? We've put together a list of prime location pubs along the route, all perfect for a pint while you spectate

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By: Elizabeth Darke


Refresh P
Refresh P

REFRESH yourself at the boat race with us! We are launching our brand new Athlete Development and Physio Clinic at Duke's Meadows and are celebrating at the boat race with our stand on the banks of the Thames just outside the Dukes Meadows car park - free car parking, carnival performances from Rio Paraiso, a big screen - giving a great view of the entire race and of course expert advice and management for golfers, tennis players, runners and rowers...

Cynthia H
Cynthia H

The Riverside Studios have closed and the adjacent building is being demolished.  Not a great place to watch.  If you're looking for a great pub to run to after the boats go by I'd recommend the Jolly Gardener in Putney.


Hi I'm looking forward to this boat race and Oxford will win! Everything in his right place and what did i see? black eyed angel swimming with me!


11. There is a women's race as well!


Go with Andy... Take a boat and race. Weather is lovely!,,


The start time would be a good idea!!!