Tower bridgeThe Great River Race is the UK Traditional Boat Championship which runs with the flood tide up 21.6 Miles of the Thames from London Docklands to Ham in Surrey.

It starts about 0900 and attracts over 330 crews from all over the globe. The Great River Race appeals to every level of competitor! From dedicated athletes who like winning, to those who enjoy laughter, fancy dress and charity stunts, it's a great fun day out for both competitors and spectators.

The Race Weekend


The Great River Race again will be run upstream from the Millwall Slipway opposite the Docklands Sailing Centre, Westferry Road E14 3QS to Ham, Richmond. Running the Race upstream means that all crews will have the benefit of the prevailing flood tide.

From 07:45 Millwall Riverside, Westferry Road London Docklands Competing crews arrive, register and prepare their boats for the launch and of course the Race.

  • 9:50 START.
  • 10:20 Tower Bridge Not long after passing Canary Wharf, the unmistakable outline of Tower Bridge comes into sight. The Bridge is a great favourite with spectators who love to line the rails to watch the crews fighting for position as they approach.
  • 10:30 Westminster Bridge Tricky currents give crews, especially novices, a tough challenge as some fight to hold on to their handicap advantage, while others try to weave their way through. Great racing for the crowds as the competition hots up.
  • 10:40 Lambeth Bridge The leading boats are now passing the Houses of Parliament and concentrating on the long haul upriver. Back at Millwall there are still more than one hundred boats yet to start.
  • 10:55 Battersea Bridge Approaching the halfway point and the crews have now received maximum assistance from the incoming tide. The riverside promenades above and below the Bridge make excellent vantage points.
  • 11:05 Wandsworth Bridge While the best crews in the slower boats are still leading the field, the more powerful crews in the faster craft are now showing their speed as they move through the field.
  • 11:10 Putney Bridge While the head of the Race is now two thirds of the way home, the end of the fleet has just cleared central London.
  • 11:25 Hammersmith Bridge Tricky currents around the Dove Pier just above the Bridge will test tiring crews and weary coxes.
  • 11:55 Chiswick Bridge With around an hour to go, speculation mounts as to whether those low-handicap boats which have led the fleet for so long will be able to hold on to their advantage or be overwhelmed.
  • 12:10 Kew Bridge Now racing a against a semi-rural backdrop, the faster dragonboats, Waterman Cutters, Pilot Gigs and Celtic Longboats are beginning to show their superior pace and feature in the top twenty.
  • 12:45 Richmond Bridge Richmond's riverside spectators cheer on the crews as they pass through the Bridge. With 35 trophies up for grabs, crews must draw on their last reserves to vie for a winning spot.
  • 13:00 Riverside Below Ham House, Richmond Our Race winner crosses the line to a cannon broadside, rousing applause, and the prospect of receiving The Challenge Trophy of The Company of Watermen & Lightermen and becoming the UK Traditional Boat Champions in the process.

What is the GRR?Celtic

Each September (usually the first or second weekend) London’s ‘River Marathon’ takes place. 21.6miles from the London Docklands to Ham near Richmond.

The race attracts around 330 crews, over 2400 competitors from around the world, from dedicated athletes who like winning, to those who enjoy laughter, fancy dress and charity stunts, it's a great fun day out for both competitors and spectators.

The race is open to any traditional (or replica of a traditional) rowing boat with a minimum of 4 oars, a cox and a passenger. Neither the cox or passenger can row but the cox may steer the boat. Crew swapping is permitted throughout the race meaning the cox and passenger can swap in to row and a rower swaps out to cox or be passenger.

The race passes under 28 bridges on the Thames including Tower, London and Battersea bridges along the way, it is a spectacular route and the biggest race of its kind in Europe.

What to expect from the race as a rower?

Before the race

You may be part of a more serious crew who will not swap positions at all during the race but more commonly the passenger and bow pair swap around as do the cox and stern pair meaning you will row for 40minutes 2 or 3 times and then rest/ cox for 20 minutes.

Whatever your commitment is to be you should be prepared to row regularly in the months leading up so that you will be prepared to row the long distance and be a good crew member of the boat. If you are part of a crew that will swap positions during the race then you will practice these transitions as the boat does not stop for you to change places, instead it is a smooth flowing swap over whilst still rowing.

The race weekend

You should plan to spend at least the night before (the race starts quite early), and most likely the night after the race in London.

It is your decision where you stay, some hotels near the finish line will offer a discounted rate to competitors or you can choose to stay at the official camping site at the Thames Young Mariners. The campsite usually has a marquee for a Friday night BBQ and breakfast as well as entertainment from the famous GRR’s Oompah band.

On Friday afternoon/ early evening the boats will arrive at the finish in Ham and need to be launched then roped together to be towed to start overnight. You must be around to help with the launching and lifting of boats at this time.

Race Day

The shuttle buses usually leave very early from the hotels/ camp site as it takes over an hour to make the journey through central London to the start of the race. Once you arrive at the London docklands you will be amazed by the hundreds of boats lining the shore. Now is a good opportunity to take some photos and buy yourself a race T-shirt if you’d like one. The race has a staggered start with the slowest boat categories leaving first and the fastest last. Take plenty of water/ drink and food with you as you will likely be in the boat over lunchtime as well as working very hard. The race takes anywhere from 2.5hrs to 4hrs on average.

After the race

On your arrival in Ham you will help your crew take your boat out of the water straight away, usually loading it onto the nearby trailers ready to leave the following day. Once the boats are sorted, your time is your own. There are numerous food vans and outdoor bars at the finish as well as a large marquee where they give out the trophies followed by live music and dancing.

What to expect from the race as a supporter?

If you are coming along to the GRR in support of your club member or a friend or family member who is rowing then you can still be part of the fun. The best way to watch the race is from the dedicated supporter boat which is a similar cost to most Thames River tours, around £32 per person, not only do you get to see all the sites from the water but you’ll do so from the centre of the race action. The supporter boat usually has a bit of a party atmosphere with the GRR Oompah band being onboard and playing live whilst you sail. At the end of the race where you depart you can join in the fun at the party in the marquee.

Boat Logistics

Taking part in the GRR involves towing your own boat with you to London. The boat can be delivered by yourselves to the start line in the centre of London the day before the race, or much easier is to take the boat to the finish and have it towed by a tug on the river over night to the start. Having the boat taken by tug boat overnight saves the driver of the towing vehicle a good 4 hours driving with a trailer through central London.

Trailers are parked at the finish in Ham on a field next to the river meaning boats can be loaded up as soon as the race is over.

What does it cost?

  • Entry fee £75 per person
  • Camping £18 a night per person
  • Hotel £80-£150+ a night per room
  • Shuttle bus to start of race £19 per person
  • Tow boat to start from finish £73 per boat (split between crew)
  • Contribution to towing cost to London £20 estimate
  • Your own travel to London
  • Food for the weekend.
  • Spectator boat £32 per person

The GRR is definitely a bucket list rowing event and can be achieved by all level of rowers, just make sure you plan and join an appropriate crew.

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