A Beginner’s Guide to the Boat Race



  • The Boat Race is the annual rowing race between Oxford University and Cambridge University, which takes place on the River Thames.
  • The race consists of two boats with eight rowers each, along with a cox who is there to instruct the boat and control the direction. Each rower controls one oar on alternate sides of the boat (bow and stroke side).
  • 2013 will see the 159th Boat Race occur on Easter Sunday (31st March), with the current score standing at 76 Oxford wins to 81 Cambridge wins.
  • The Boat Race is accompanied by an audience of about 250,000 along the banks of the Thames. It’s also televised on the BBC, and usually attracts a UK audience exceeding 6 million, and a worldwide audience of 120 million in 180 countries.


  • The first race was held in 1829, and the event has been held annually since 1856 (except from during World War I and World War II).
  • The race of 1877 is still recorded as a dead heat after the legendary judge “Honest John” Phelps of Oxford was found asleep in the bushes when the race finished.
  • The race has a history of boats sinking; both boats sank in 1912, but more recently, Cambridge sank in 1984 after hitting a barge in the build up. Cambridge’s 1978 sink was 79th in Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Sporting Moments.
  • Since 2000, Oxford lead 7 wins to Cambridge’s 5. 2012 was arguably the most dramatic race in Boat Race history. With Oxford just leading three quarters of the way through the race, a member of the public jumped in off the uninhabited island of Chiswick Eyot and forced a delay of over 30 minutes. When the race was restarted, the boats clashed and one of Oxford’s oars was broken. Cambridge went on to win by four and a half lengths, which was upheld despite an appeal.

The course

  • The course is four miles long between Putney and Mortlake along the River Thames. This is longer than the standard Olympic race distance of two kilometres.
  • The start and the end of the course is marked by two stones, each with ‘UBR’ printed on them.
  • The boats row upstream along the course. The race is often decided by the crucial left hand Surrey Bend, that gives a distinct advantage to the crew on the inside. However, the right hand bend following at Barnes Railway Bridge has led to many dramatic comebacks.

Where to watch

  1. All places below are free. Putney Bridge, Putney Embankment and Bishops Park – watch the Boats begin the race, powering up the river until they disappear round Fulham FC’s Craven Cottage. You can follow the rest of the race on the big screen at Bishops Park.
  2. The most popular place to view the race is Hammersmith and Barnes. This middle section is situated at the outside point of the Surrey Bend, and boasts the most viewing time and a festival atmosphere. Once again, the big screen at Furnivall Gardens means you don’t need to miss any of the race.
  3. The final spot is the finishing line at Dukes Meadows and Chiswick Bridge. With the boats finishing just metres in front of the bridge, in a close race this is the ‘Golden Ticket’.
  4. The race can also be watched on BBC from 15:15 (start time is 16:30), and on the BBC Sport website too. TV coverage in other countries can be found here: http://theboatrace.org/men/tv-and-radio.

The Oxford Crew

  • Crew averages: Age 25, Weight 94.7kg, Height 194cm (6ft 4in).
  • Bow: Patrick Close, 27, American, Pembroke (MBA).
  • 2 Seat: Geordie MacLeod, 21, British/American, Magdalen (BA Geography).
  • 3 Seat: Alexander Davidson, 22, British, Christ Church (D Phil Chromosome and Development Biology).
  • 4 Seat: Samuel O’Connor, 25, New Zealand, Christ Church (MSc Engineering Science).
  • 5 Seat: Paul Bennett, 24, British, Kellogg (MSc Computer Science).
  • 6 Seat: Karl Hudspith, 25, British, St Peter’s (D Phil Neurosciences).
  • 7 Seat: Constantine Louloudis, 21, British, Trinity (BA Classics).
  • Stroke: Malcolm Howard, 29, Canadian/British, Oriel (M Res Clinical Medicine).
  • Cox: Oskar Zorrilla, 25, American/Colombian, St Hugh’s (M Phil Economics).

Jargon Buster

Bowside: The right, or starboard, side of the boat.

Bow: The front of the boat.

Cox: The oar-less member of the crew who is in charge of steering and race strategy.

Crab: To catch a crab means to not be able to pull the oar out of the water. It acts as a brake, severely slowing the boat down. In the Boat Race, this usually means defeat.

Engine Room: The middle section of the boat that can provide the power as it is most stable. Usually seats 6, 5, 4 and 3.

Rate: The number of strokes per minute.

Stern: The back of the boat where the cox usually sits.

Strokeside: The left, or port side of the boat.



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