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The Boat Race

The Boat Race, between the University crews of Oxford and Cambridge was first raced in 1829 at Henley. It is one of the oldest sporting events in the world and takes place around Easter every year. The course runs over 4.2 miles of the Thames Tideway, starting at Putney and finishing at Mortlake.

The PLA works in close cooperation with the organisers of the Boat Race every year to ensure that the race is run properly and safely. It is the PLA’s responsibility to do this while keeping goods and traffic flowing in the port. While the Boat Race is taking place, container ships and tankers will likely still be arriving and departing on the Thames further downstream.

Planning for the Boat Race starts many months in advance; however, the real preparation happens the week before the race. At the start of the week, the PLA’s Harbour Masters will inspect the course to identify any hazards or debris and ensure that they are removed. This will be removed throughout the week. On the Friday before race day, the PLA puts in the stake boats that hold Oxford and Cambridge on the start line; this allows the teams to practice their starts ahead of the race. Darren Knight, Deputy Harbour Master for the PLA said, “Our aim is to keep river traffic moving, while also allowing the Boat Race to practice what they need to”. Work on these lead-up days can sometimes last 15 hours, starting at dawn.

On the Sunday - race day – the river is closed quite early, allowing plenty of time for the PLA and the Police to complete various safety and security checks. The PLA team also performs one final check along the river for debris which may affect the crews during the race. The next step is to put the stake boats back in, ready for the start of the race. PLA personnel man the start boats, holding the stern of the competing craft before the off. On race day, the PLA has its own command and control centre in Putney. As well as boats at either end of the course, there is a third boat which follows the race to help oversee safety. A driftwood (small salvage) vessel with a diver on board also stands-by at Chiswick, in case of any emergencies. “It’s a fairly busy day for us in terms of resources on the river” says Darren Knight. This section of the river is usually closed for 8 hours or more on race day.

For more information please visit the Boat Race website.

Film: Behind the Scenes at the Boat Race with the PLA

View the PLA YouTube short film Behind the Scenes at the Boat Race with the PLA.