The original idea behind Head racing was to provide an incentive for improving stamina, strength and fitness, through competitions in the late autumn and winter months. This was and is still seen as an incentive for building a foundation for racing in the Regatta season.

Be prepared to race a Head

Heads can be anything from 2.5km to 6Km and therefore you need to be both competent and have trained sufficiently, in the gym and on the water, to compete safely. Your coach or captain will know if you are ready to compete.

What to Expect Before You Boat

  • Your boat may be checked before being allowed on the water and you will have to demonstrate to the marshal the checks on your boat.
  • Make sure your boat and blades are in good condition and will not let you down. Check all nuts are tight, no damage to the hull, steering wires and rudder are ok, all hatch covers are in place and tight, bow ball is secure and does not flex too much, Heel restraints are secure and do not allow the heel to rise above the fixing to the stretcher.
  • Coxswains check your lifejacket for any tears/punctures, the gas cylinder is tightly in place and has not been used (either a hole in its top or the green indicator missing) and that you are wearing it correctly by ensuring the straps are fitted tight round you.

Dressed for the Conditions

  • If it is considered by the marshals that you are not suitably dressed for the conditions then you will not be allowed on the water.
  • It is important to remember that the weather is likely to be cold and windy and it may also be wet. Crews may be marshaling ready to start for quite a long time and you will become very cold if not suitably dressed. Remember cold muscles cannot perform.
  • Naturally you will be wearing the clubs racing strip but in addition it is advisable to ‘layer-up’ by:
    • Wearing a white tee shirt under your ‘all-in-one’- long sleeve if necessary – this is what you will wear as you race.
  • For warming up as you go to the start and whilst waiting:
    • Add a tee shirt or two on top of your ‘all-in-one’.
    • Wear a hat and gloves to prevent heat loss
    • Wear a windproof/waterproof top to prevent wind chill and to keep dry.
    • Remember all garments need to be close fitting to prevent the blades being caught and that the layers can be removed as you warm up and replaced as you wait to start.

Race Plan

  • Make sure you have read the ‘Instructions to Competitors’ and any safety information which can be found on the competition’s website.
  • Give yourself time to walk the last 500m of the course to identify landmarks; so by knowing where you are, you can produce an effective power build-up to the finish.
  • As a crew, agree where you are going to produce ‘Power Pushes’; remember to avoid this on bends where the water speed is uneven, or under bridges where there can be turbulence.

Going Afloat and Marshaling

  • Make sure you and your boat are ready in good time to go afloat – time penalties can be given if you are late or you may not be allowed to race.
  • Make sure you have attached any numbers to the boat and the bow person’s racing strip.
  • Make sure you have your water bottle with you to use before and after you race. Being fully hydrated improves performance.
  • It is always useful to carry a ‘rigger jigger’ with you, just in case you find loose nuts after you have boated.
  • As you proceed to the start keep a good lookout as the river will be crowded and some boats may be stationary. – Make sure you shout out loudly to warn crews ‘Ahead!’ if they are likely to collide.
  • Above the start you will find your marshaling point as directed and where you need to keep in position against any stream. It is useful to check your equipment – gates tight, stretchers tight, riggers firm.
  • You will be given a signal or an instruction to get ready and turn. At this point remove your outer layers and stow them away – a plastic shopping bag is useful to keep garments dry.


  • It is usual to keep three or four lengths between boats as you proceed to the start line, but always follow the Marshals’ instructions. Generally you will be paddling light/half pressure
  • As you approach the start the Starter will call out your number and say, “Go”. At this point you build up the pressure and rating and after about three or four strokes you will pass the timing line.
  • Continue to maintain the build-up and after about 30 strokes settle into a rhythm and rating by controlling the slide and increasing the length of each stroke.
  • Be conscious of where the strongest current is and use it to your advantage – usually in the center on the straight and towards the outside of bends. Racing against the current means you try to avoid the center on straights and outside of bends.
  • At some stage you may start overtaking the crew in front. Keep a good lookout, as the crew in front may not be giving you room to overtake, in which case shout to the crew to “Move over”. Depending on the instructions to competitors you may overtake on any side or on the side given in the instructions.
  • Always think ahead and determine which side is best for overtaking, particularly when approaching a bend.
  • Try to overtake as quickly as possible by producing a ‘Power Push’ with long strokes and controlled slide.
  • If you are being overtaken move over to allow the crew to pass, but only after you have made a determined effort to keep ahead. Remember they will be just as tired as you.
  • If you have been overtaken don’t let this undermine your effort, as there will be crews in front of you, which you can overtake.
  • As you approach the finish line gradually build up the pressure and rating.
  • You will hear a sound (Bleep etc.) as you pass the finish line at which stage continue very light winding down. Do not stop as there are other crews approaching, but wind down keeping a good lookout
  • Follow the Marshals’ instructions as you make your way to the landing stages.