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A spectacular four-day regatta of bumps rowing races on the Isis (aka the Thames) in the fifth week of Trinity Term every year, from the Wednesday to the Saturday. Men’s and women’s coxed eights compete in separate divisions for their colleges, with some colleges entering as many as five crews for each sex.

2019 heads of the river:  MenORIEL COLLEGE  and  Women  –  WOLFSON COLLEGE

Summer VIIIs has seven men’s divisions alongside six for women’s, encompassing a total of 171 boats and around 1,500 participants.

Nobly sponsored by:      

There are qualifying rounds, in which success is termed “Rowing On”, that take place this year on Saturday, 25th May. These races pass totally unobserved by spectators.

A busy riverbank scene as a boat is returned to one of the college boathouses in Eights Week 1982.

The scene at Boathouse Island during Eights Week 2005, crammed with spectators awaiting the next race.

The racing takes place on the Isis, which is generally too narrow for side by side racing. For each division, thirteen boats line up at the downstream end of the stretch, each cox holding onto a rope attached to the bank, leaving around 1.5 boat lengths between each boat. The start of racing is signalled by the firing of a cannon, each crew attempting to progress up their division by bumping the boat in front, while avoiding being bumped by the boat behind. Once a bump has taken place, both of the crews involved stop racing and move to the side to allow the rest of the division to pass. It is possible to “over bump” if the 2 crews in front of your boat bump (and so drop out) and your boat can catch the boat that was in front of them. They then swap places for the next day’s racing, whether that be the calendar day or the first day of racing in the next year’s competition.

The ultimate aim of a crew is to become “Head of the River” (top of the first division) and stay there. This entitles the winning crew to commission trophy “blades” in their college colours with the names of the successful crew on them. As this is only possible for crews already near the top of division one, another way to win blades is to bump on each day of the competition. As the responsibility for awarding blades to crews rests with the individual colleges concerned, there are slight differences in the criteria required.

Early History of Eights

Recreational rowing had begun in Oxford with students rowing in single wherries at least as early as 1769.

The first amateur races between organised clubs which prepared and trained for the event began in Oxford in 1815. In this year, crews from Brasenose College and Jesus College raced for the Head of the River, from Iffley Lock to Mr King’s Barge, which was moored near the current Head of the River hotel. The event is also notable for the fact that both crews rowed in eight oared boats, specially built for the purpose. Such recreational as occurred at this time was usually conducted in pairs, or four or six oared cutters. The fact the racing was conducted in eight oared boats gave rise to the event being known as Eights.

Brasenose College and Jesus College recontested the event in 1816, with Brasenose again triumphing. Christ Church joined in the event from 1817, when they went Head, a position they retained until 1819.

Christ Church did not row in 1820, and it is unknown whether any racing occurred. The next recorded races, between Brasenose and Jesus, were in 1821 and 1822. A dispute about professional watermen being allowed in college crews precluded racing in 1823. Until this time, Jesus and Brasenose had each used paid coaches who rowed in the stroke seats of the crews.

From 1824, Christ Church and Exeter College Exeter College began racing, with Exeter going Head in that year. A rule banning the use of “out college men” (i.e. men from other colleges) rowing in college crews saw the entry of Worcester College in 1825, University and Balliol Colleges in 1827, and Oriel and Trinity Colleges in 1828.

courtesy Wikipedia (edited).


Stay safe around Oxford’s waterways – don’t drink and drown!

Every year, someone drowns in one of Oxford’s waterways and there are many near-misses where tragedy is narrowly avoided. Often, these incidents involve that person having drunk excessive alcohol or being under the influence of drugs.
As part of the national Royal Life Saving Society’s Don’t Drink and Drown Campaign, we are urging all crews to take extra care around the waterways, to drink responsibly and to look after your friends when on a night out.
For some, exams are over. End of term is approaching. Social events with clubs and teams or just a good night out with your friends may be planned as you prepare to leave for the Christmas break. But please remember the dangers of Oxford’s waterways and stay safe.

Our advice:

  •  Look out for your friends, make sure they get home safely
  •  If you’ve had a drink, stay away from the water – on foot and on bicycles
  •  Find an alternative route home, don’t walk home near the water
  •  Stay away from the water in winter, cold water shock kills
  •  Never jump from bridges
  •  Call 999 and ask for the fire service in an emergency

Be aware of the effects of alcohol on the body:

  •  Alcohol lowers inhibitions, leading to impaired judgement which means you are more likely to take risks and get in trouble
  •  Alcohol limits muscle ability making simple movements much harder
  •  Alcohol slows down your reactions making it more difficult to get yourself out of trouble
  •  Alcohol numbs the senses making swimming very difficult

Oxford Race Not Waste:

Help us clean up boathouse island by putting this poster up in your boathouse! Race not Waste poster 

It would make a huge difference if you can get the message to all your students, staff and alumni:

Everyone who can brings a re-usable cup to the event, refills it there and takes it away with them

Anyone who can’t do that has drinks served in cups that aren’t plastic – unbleached non lined paper is BEST

Any waste that is generated is properly separated out into the marked bins so we can deal with it properly

Put this message on your website and social media accounts –enlist your Communications officer to help with this

Put the attached poster on notice boards around your college.

THE BOAT RACE 2020 was held on March 29th. CANCELLED