Henley Royal Regatta is a rowing event held every year on the River Thames by the town of Henley-on-Thames, England. The Royal Regatta is still sometimes referred to as Henley Regatta, its original name pre-dating Royal patronage. It should not be confused with the three other regattas rowed over approximately the same course (Henley Women's Regatta, Henley Veterans Regatta and Henley Town & Visitors Regatta), each of which is entirely separate.
The regatta lasts for 5 days (Wednesday to Sunday) over the first weekend in July. Races are head-to-head knock out competitions, raced over a course of 1 mile, 550 yards (2,112 m). The regatta regularly attracts international crews to race. The most prestigious event at the regatta is the Grand Challenge Cup for Men's Eights, which has been awarded since the regatta was first staged.
As the regatta pre-dates any national or international rowing organisation, it has its own rules and organisation, although it is recognised by both the Amateur Rowing Association (the governing body of rowing in England and Wales) and FISA (the International Federation of Rowing Associations). The regatta is organised by the Stewards, who are largely former rowers themselves. Pierre de Coubertin is said to have modelled elements of the organisation of the International Olympic Committee on the Henley Stewards.
Entries for the regatta close at two o’clock in the afternoon fifteen days before the Regatta. In order to encourage a high quality of racing, create a manageable race timetable and to ensure that most crews race only once a day, each event has a limited number of places. Qualifying races are held on the Friday before the regatta. The regatta's Committee of Management decides at its absolute discretion which crews are obliged to qualify; the Committee will examine the form and calibre of the entrants and may choose to pre-qualify some of them.
The qualifying races take the form of a timed processional race up the regatta course, with the fastest crews qualifying. Times are released for non-qualifying crews only. This does not stop an enthusiastic band of unofficial timers with synchronised watches working out how fast their first round opposition might be.
If it is apparent that there are a number of outstanding crews in an event, they may be 'selected' by the Stewards, to prevent them from meeting too early in the competition. The regatta insists that selection is not the same as seeding, the main difference being that there is no 'rank order' as is usually the case in, for example, a tennis tournament.
The draw is a public event that takes place in the Henley town hall. For each event the names of all selected crews are placed on pieces of paper which are then drawn at random from the Grand Challenge Cup. These crews are then placed on pre-determined positions on the draw chart, as far apart as possible. The remaining qualifying crews are then drawn from the cup, filling in from the top of the draw chart downwards, until all places have been filled.
Each event in the regatta takes the form of a knockout competition, with each race consisting of two crews racing side by side up the Henley course. The course is marked out by two lines of booms (wooden bars which float on the water, secured between vertical poles), which are placed along the river to form a straight course 2,112 metres long. The course is wide enough to allow two crews to race down with a few metres between them. As such it is not uncommon for inexperienced steersmen or coxswains to crash into the booms, possibly costing their crew the race.
The race begins at the downstream end of Temple Island, where the crews attach to a pair of pontoons. The race umpire will then call out the names of the two crews and start them when they are both straight and ready. Each crew is assigned to row on either the 'Bucks' (Buckinghamshire) or 'Berks' (Berkshire) side of the race course.