Race Formats

What are the usual racing distances and divisions?

Most major regattas have separate divisions—Men’s (M), Women’s (W), heavyweight (HWT) or open, lightweight (LWT) etc., then divided up into 8+’s, 4+’s, 1x’s, 2x’s and so on. So for a typical regatta you might see separate races scheduled for M8+, W8+, M4+, W4+ down (or up—depends on your cup of tea) to W1x and M1x. There may be separate heavyweight and lightweight divisions that would require a weigh-in for the lightweights some time before the start of the regatta. You may also see divisions according to experience (novice, varsity), age (junior and masters) ,and skill level (senior A, B, Elite, etc.)
Sprint Race

The standard international racing distance is 2000 meters (1500 high school races) and the course usually has six shells racing against each other in their separate designated lanes which may or may not be marked by buoys. These races can take anywhere from 5 1/2 to 8 1/2 minutes depending on boat class, weather conditions, water current and the physical condition and experience of the rowers.

Another racing distance used is 1000 meters for the older guys and gals (Masters). Also, there is a match style (i.e. races with two boats head to head in a single elimination format for each division) racing at some regattas. The Henley Royal Regatta in England comes to mind.

Starting Procedures

Crews are expected to be at their starting stations two minutes before the scheduled time of the race. Once the boats are locked on, the judge at start will supervise the alignment process. When all crews are level, the Starter will then poll the crews by calling their name. When all crews have been polled, the Starter raises a red flag, and says; “Attention!”. After a clear pause the starter shall give the start by dropping the red flag quickly to one side, and simultaneously saying: “GO”.

In windy conditions, the Starter may dispense with polling the crews and use a “quick start”. Here, the starter says “Attention!” and if no crew responds, immediately raises the red flag and gives the starting commands. In a FISA regatta, once the red flag is raised in a quick start, hands are no longer recognized, but in the US, the Starter will still recognize hands.

In the US, the procedure of last resort is the ‘countdown start.’ The Starter dispenses with further polling, and counts down “5-4-3-2-1 Attention! GO!” Once the countdown starts, hands are not recognized, and the crews should use the five second countdown to point their boats.

Crews can be assessed a warning for a false start, for being late to the start, or for traffic rules violation. A crew that receives two warnings in the same race is excluded from the event.

If a crew breaks equipment in the first 100 meters of the race, it should stop rowing and signal to the referee, who will then stop the race. Broken equipment under FISA and USRA rules does not include a crab or jumped slide.

Once the race has begun, the Referee follows in a launch. He/she will instruct a crew only to avoid a foul or safety hazard. If a crew is about to interfere with another crew, the referee will raise a white flag, call the crew’s name, and drop the flag in the direction where the crew should move. If a crew is about to hit a known obstruction (such as a bridge abutment) the referee will raise a white flag, call the crew, and yell “Obstacle!” or simply “Stop!” If the referee needs to stop the entire race, he will ring a bell or sound a horn, wave a red flag, and call out “Stop!” if necessary.

Head Races
These races are essentially time trials which are held in the fall (US). The races are 2.5-3 miles long and the boats are started in their respective divisions separately at 10 second intervals. The races are usually conducted on a river with an assortment of bridges and turns that can make passing quite interesting.