guests at henley regatta

Henley Regatta: a Unique Event in British Rowing

Henley-on-Thames hosts a truly one-off event in British rowing.  Henley Regatta combines the best of English traditions and culture with an incredible display of sporting prowess.  Here are five reasons why this regatta is truly special in the hearts of fans and rowers alike:

1 – Henley Regatta predates almost any other British rowing competition – and international ones for that matter

First held in 1839, Henley Regatta has existed since before any rowing governing body. It has always remained independent from governing body British Rowing.

The one notable race which predates the Henley Regatta is also held on the Thames in the summer.  The Doggett’s Coat and Badge is a race held each July in London and is the longest running sporting event in the world.


2 – It’s not only the most famous annual British rowing event, it’s the most well known worldwide

Almost 2000 athletes compete yearly on the Henley Royal Regatta course, far exceeding the 800 at the British Rowing Championships and any other rowing event held in the UK.

Henley Regatta always draws huge crowds, too

It’s also hugely popular with spectators, both at home and at the event.  Between the 200,000 in attendance at Henley-on-Thames each year, 20,000 pints of Pimm’s is drank and over a tonne of strawberries are eaten.

Guests at Henley also go through over four thousand bottles of Champagne, mostly in Henley Regatta hospitality enclosures.


3 – Henley Royal Regatta has an unusual knock-out format

With each race being head-to-head with no repechages, it’s necessary for each boat to win every race.  With no ‘fastest loser’ spots, every race becomes a battle to the end, with every rower knowing the requirement to win.

British rowing events often see more boats face each other.  Most British regattas will feature anywhere between two and eight boats per heat, and often allow second placers (or even thirds) to pass through the rounds – but at Henley Regatta, it’s essential to win each race.


4 – The longer than usual course at Henley Regatta

The current course is 2.11km (1 mile, 550 yards) long, much longer than the British rowing and international standard

This leads to a unique experience in British rowing – endurance is much more valued than on other regatta courses.  Generally, British rowing course distances vary between 500m (550 yards) and 2km (1mile, 390 yards).  Adding the extra hundred metres is known to be strenuous on the rowers at Henley – and many races are decided in this final stretch.

The extra element of the unpredictable adds to the great atmosphere at Henley Royal Regatta.  As well as each boat vying for top spot, it’s even harder than usual to complete the course, and as exhaustion sets in towards the end of the course, rowers have to dig deeper to ensure they can move into the next round.


5 – The essential ‘Three Cheers!’ between Henley Regatta boats

After each race, it’s a tradition at Henley for both racing teams to congratulate each other with a loud three cheers, often joined in by spectators.  Both boats will congratulate and commiserate with each other.  It keeps the polite and kind nature of Henley alive – a constant reminder of the fun of the English Social Season.

It’s important to the Henley Stewards to keep the event as it always has been, and the ever- British three cheers is great for everyone, win or lose.