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The Championship Course

Championship Course on a flood tide (e.g. for the Boat Race). The Start and Finish are reversed when racing on an ebb tide. "Middlesex" and "Surrey" denote banks of the Thames Tideway, not the actual English counties
Putney Bridge

The stretch of the River Thames between Mortlake and Putney in London, England is a well-established course for rowing races, most famously the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. It is often referred to as The Championship Course. The course is on the tidal reaches of the river often referred to as the Tideway.


  • History 1
  • Landmarks 2
  • Events 3
  • Rowing clubs along the course 4
  • References 5
  • See also 6


In 1845 it was agreed to stage the Boat Race (which had on five previous occasions been contested from Westminster Bridge to Putney) on a course from 'Putney Bridge to Mortlake Church tower'.[1] The aim was to reduce the interference from heavy river traffic on the race.

The following year, a race for the Professional World Sculling Championship moved to the course for the first time. The Wingfield Sculls followed in 1861.

The course was later defined by two stones on the southern bank of the river, marked "U.B.R." for University Boat Race; one just downstream of Chiswick Bridge, close to The Ship public house, and the other just upstream of Putney Bridge. The course distance is 4 miles and 374 yards (6,779 m), as measured along the centre of the river's stream.

Races are always conducted in the same direction as the tide: from Mortlake to Putney on an ebb tide or from Putney to Mortlake on a flood tide.

Since the Boat Race moved to this course in 1845, it has always been raced on a flood tide from Putney to Mortlake except in 1846, 1856 and 1863. The Wingfield Sculls is also raced from Putney to Mortlake. Most other events race on an ebb tide from Mortlake to Putney.

In April 1869 the Harvard University Boat Club challenged Oxford University Boat Club to an "International University Boat-Race" of coxed fours on the Boat Race course. The event took place on 27 August 1869 and was narrowly won by Oxford. The new Atlantic cable allowed daily reports to be received by all major newspapers across America within 23 minutes of the finish. U.S. public interest in the event was huge with more publicity than any sporting event to date, and within two years of the event the "newly awakened interest in rowing at many of the most noted seats of learning" doubled the number of boat clubs in the U.S., and lead to the formation of the Rowing Association of American Colleges.[2]


Principal landmarks, often used when racing, include (in order from Mortlake to Putney):

Landmark Bank Coordinates Comments
The University Stone South
Marked by a post on the north bank opposite the stone on the south bank, the finish of the Boat Race and the start of the Head of the River race. Just downstream of Chiswick Bridge.
Stag Brewery South
Previously owned by Watneys, now brewing Budweiser beer.
Barnes Railway Bridge n/a
When racing, crews must pass through the centre arch.
The Bandstand North
The Crossing n/a Marks the start of the long Surrey bend.
Chiswick Pier North
Chiswick Eyot North
An uninhabited river island. There is a channel behind (north of) the eyot navigable at high tide, but it is never used for racing.
Fuller's Brewery North
Just visible to crews, behind the eyot.
St Paul's School South
Hammersmith Bridge n/a
Coxes use a particular lamp-post that shows the deepest part of the river and therefore the fastest line.
Harrods' Furniture Repository South
Previously the warehouse for the famous shop, now apartments.
The Crabtree North
A pub.
The Mile Post South
A stone obelisk forming a memorial to Steve Fairbairn, founder of the Head of the River Race. It was erected by members of Jesus College Boat Club (Cambridge), Thames Rowing Club and London Rowing Club and is precisely a mile from the Putney stone marking the end of the course.
Fulham Football Club North
The stadium is known as 'Craven Cottage': crews stay wide round the bend as the area in front of the ground is shallow, with slack water.
The Black Buoy South
The large buoy marks the start of the area of the Putney Boat Houses. It has a reputation for ensnaring inexperienced crews when there is a fast ebb tide, for example during the various Head of the River races.
The Putney Stone South
The University Stone lies on the south bank, marking the end of the Championship Course and the start of the Boat Race, just upstream of Putney Bridge.


Rowing clubs along the course

Boat houses on the river bank near Putney


  1. ^ , A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 4 (1912), pp. 78–83. Date accessed: 31 March 2010Parishes: Putney
  2. ^ Miller, Bill (2006). "1869 – The Great International Boat Race". Friends of Rowing History. Retrieved 8 April 2008. 

See also

  • Rowing on the River Thames
  • The Port of London Rowing Chart includes a map of the course showing detailed rules for rowers, the deep water channel, local rowing clubs and other landmarks.
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