The two disciplines of rowing are sweep oar and sculling. For the former a rower will reach around a single rigger with a large oar competing in either a coxed eight (8+), coxed four (4+), coxless four (4-) or coxless pair (2-); with the coxed pair (2+) having now gone out of use. In sculling a rower will reach around two riggers with two smaller oars competing in either a single (1x), double (2x) or quad (4x); coxes are not used in this discipline apart from the coxed quad (4x+). Sculling is more efficient and more technical than rowing.
Rowing comprises of three different sections of rowing in Britain; this is club, university and school. All three have their own exclusive events and private matches; but they also combine at open events where all three will often race against each other.
Events over the season fall into two main categories: head races and regattas. Head races usually run from early September until April with regattas overlapping from April to September. Head races are processional races competing over distances around 5,000m; clubs that have shorter stretches of water host head races that may be as short as 2,000m or even less. There is one unique event that falls into the head calendar; this is the Boston Rowing Marathon, which covers 50km with a record time of less than 3 hours! Regattas vary in distance from 500m to 2000m; again this usually depends on the stretch of water that is available to the host club. Regattas are side by side races ranging from two-a-breast (most rivers) to six-a-breast (Holme Pierrepont Ė Nottingham, Strathclyde and Dorney Ė Eton).
Prior to April 2009 crews that beat three or more other crews were allocated a point. Accruing points promoted a competitor through different ďdivisionsĒ which consisted of Novice, Senior 4, Senior 3, Senior 2, Senior 1 and Elite. The new system has changed to Novice, IM1, IM2, IM3, Senior and Elite, with minor changes in the point boundaries. A significant change is the definition of a qualifying event: all side-by-side racing. The reason for this change is that roughly 75% of all competitors in 2007 were Senior 3 or less with very few breaking into Senior 1 or Elite; the new system is likely to rapidly change the ratio of competitors in each category; so much so that it is conceivable that British Rowing may readjust the status of qualifying events at some point in the future. Points are not transferred between the two disciplines of sculling and sweep oar, and points are not accrued by winning head races.
Club rowing tends to focus on open events informally classified as local, regional and national depending on the standard of races at the event. Local regattas and head races are held at Lancaster, Runcorn, Northwich, Liverpool, Trafford, Hollingworth Lake, Warrington and Agecroft (Salford). For a higher standard of regional racing travel extends to Nottingham or Durham. At national standard events include the National Championships (usually held at Nottingham) and Henley Royal Regatta. Henley is unique within the racing season as crews will often have to qualify for the event due to oversubscription; most clubs will enter at entry level - Menís Coxed Eights (Thames Challenge Cup), Menís Coxed Fours (Britannia Challenge Cup) and the Menís Coxless Fours (Wyfold Challenge Cup) - with better crews racing intermediate or international events. There are a number of womenís events at Henley but these are restricted to higher standard events - there is a separate Womenís Henley and a Veteranís Henley.
There are a number of key head races which are held on the Thames; these include Scullers Head of the River (1x), Pairs Head of the River (2-/2x), Head of the River Fours (4-/4+/4x), Womenís Head of the River (Womenís 8+) and the Head of the River Race (Menís 8+). The latter two are probably the most important as it is a good way of measuring clubs against each other. Leander is the premier club in the country having consistently topped the Head of the River Race in recent years; in 2009 Tideway Scullers took the title with a mixed international crew - 5 of the crew were in the 2008 Olympic Sculling Final! Agecroft is the best club in the North-West; they have had a major investment in a new water sports centre at Salford Keys forming a central hub for top local rowers.
Better universities will be in contact with incoming junior oarsmen who have had many years of rowing experience. These athletes will often receive scholarships and development through a strong network of coaching and selection for representative honours. Weaker rowing universities will have a strong recruitment through fresher fairs but their intake will be made up of a large proportion of beginners.
University rowing was initially slow to embrace the British University Sports Association (BUSA) - now named BUCS - as there were only two BUCS scoring events at the turn of the Millenium (BUSA Championships and Head of the River Race). This meant that many university boat clubs made their members pay entry fees at most events; other university sports often have a full range of BUCS fixtures and members have these fixture fees waved by their Athletic Union. There are now three additional events including BUCS Sprints, BUCS Head and BUCS Small Boats Head. A lot of universities have private matches; the Boat Race is not only the most famous private match in the university calendar but the most famous race in the sport. In the pecking order of university rowing Oxford and Cambridge come top; the post Olympic year is usually their strongest as athletes look for a break away from the international seen: it is not unusual for international crews to find that they are slower than these two universities! The second tier is made up of clubs such as Redding, Durham, Oxford Brookes, Imperial College and London; which can arguably be called the top university rowing clubs as their athletes tend to be undergraduates. In addition to the main universities there is a tier of college rowing within the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Durham; some of the better colleges compete at a higher standard than many university clubs.
Most male university rowing squads highlight the Head of the River Race, BUCS Championship and Henley Royal Regatta as their main seasonal goals. At Henley there are two student only events: Menís Student Eights (Temple Challenge Cup) and Menís Student Coxed Fours (Prince Albert Challenge Cup). The Temple Challenge Cup is dominated by foreign crews: 2002 was the last year when the event was not dominated through to the quarter finals by overseas crews, and 1999 and 2006 were the last two occasions when a foreign crew was not victorious. Qualification is particularly difficult for mid-range universities in the Temple as one-third of the entry tends to be either an overseas crew or a top school boy entry; once the better universities have qualified or pre-qualified their first and second crews then few places remain.
In 2004 the Student Fours event was created by removing university entry from the Britannia Challenge Cup and reducing the number of crews in each event to sixteen. To date the Student Fours is an event that overseas entries have not entered en masse Ė as with the Temple Challenge Cup qualification appears to be slightly tougher than the club equivalent. There is a Womenís Henley and Womenís Head of the River for the female rowers. Post-Henley university crews disband, with better university crews staying together to race at the National Championships or represent Great Britain in the Under 23 World Championships; European University Championships or the World University Championships.
School rowing has its own national regatta (National Schools Regatta); despite the name juniors from clubs can also compete in this event. National School results will often differ from those at National Championships; coaches often re-jig their crews and stronger athletes find themselves in representative crews at the same time as the National Championships. It is not unheard of for a crew to finish 5th at the National Schools Regatta to then end up with a Gold Medal at National Championships (Harry Shepherd in the Junior 16 1x in 2002)!
Junior rowing has its own Head of the River Race. A glance at the results will show that this event tends to be dominated by schools; this is probably due to the large cohorts of juniors that row in schools. Smaller boat types are where clubs are able to come into their own as talented athletes are not lost amongst their peers in larger boats. Top school clubs include Eton, Abingdon, Shrewsbury and St. Paulís. Henley Royal Regatta has two junior events; these are the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup (Junior 8+) and the Fawley Challenge Cup (Junior 4x). Some of the larger school clubs enter crews in the Temple Challenge Cup.