Men carrying boat
The first Boat Race took place in 1829 on the Thames at Henley.
Credit: OUImages / Rob Judges

The Boat Races

The 2023 Boat Races took place on The Championship Course, also referred to as the Tideway, on Sunday 26 March.

The 77th Women’s Race enjoyed a closely fought start before Cambridge started edging away to eventually win comfortably, four and a quarter lengths ahead of their rivals.

The 168th Men’s Race was a more tightly contested affair, with Oxford pulling away at the start with their weight advantage. Cambridge then slowly hauled themselves back into the lead in the latter stages and held on to win by just over a length.

After this year’s results, Cambridge have opened up 47-30 and 86-81 leads in the women’s and men’s races respectively.

As a result of COVID-19, The Boat Races in 2020 were cancelled. The 2021 race location was moved and was staged without spectators on the River Great Ouse, at Ely, Cambridgeshire, with Cambridge winning the Men’s and Women’s races. The Boat Races returned to the event's celebrated Championship Course on the river Thames in London on Sunday 3 April 2022 where Oxford's men's crew claimed victory.

  • The 2024 Boat Races will take place on Saturday 30 March 2024 - women's race starts 14:46, men's 15:46.

A challenge is issued

The first boat race was the result of a challenge issued to Oxford by Cambridge in 1829. It was rowed on the Thames at Henley. Oxford wore dark blue jerseys, later to become the Oxford blue, and Cambridge donned pink sashes. Oxford were the first winners. The second race was staged in 1836 when Cambridge adopted their own light blue, and was rowed on a five and three-quarter mile stretch of the Thames between Westminster and Putney. The first women's boat race took place in 1929 and became a permanent fixture in the 1960s. In 2015, the men's and women's races took place on the same course and the same day, for the first time.

Today the 4.5 mile course, which was first used in 1845, stretches from Putney to Mortlake. The race is held in March or early April, after the captain of the previous year's losing team issues a formal challenge. The average time taken to complete the course is 20 minutes, but the Cambridge men's crew holds the record for the fastest time of 16 minutes and 19 seconds, achieved in 1998.

Cambridge sank in 1859 and 1978, Oxford in 1925 and 1951, and both boats went down in 1912 when the race was started in a virtual gale. The most recent sinking occurred in 1984, when a Cambridge boat sank after ramming a barge before they were even under starter's orders. The remains of the boat now have pride of place in a Cambridge public house, and have been signed by all crew members. Oxford made history in 1981 with the selection of the first female cox in the men's race, Sue Brown. She coxed the men's crew to victory in both 1981 and 1982.

In 2012 the men's race was stopped while Oxford were leading due to a swimmer in the river. After the re-start the crew’s blades clashed, destroying the spoon on the end of Oxford’s Hanno Weinhausen’s blade. Down to seven men, the race was effectively over as Cambridge pulled away to win by 4 and a quarter lengths. After crossing the line, Oxford’s Alex Woods collapsed and was taken to Charing Cross Hospital. He made a full recovery.

  • The current score for the men's race stands at 85 to Cambridge, 80 to Oxford, with one controversial dead heat in 1877. The women's race stands at 45 to Cambridge, 30 to Oxford.

The boat races are the most famous of the Varsity Matches and have a huge audience on television, radio and online. In 2015, at least 4.8 million people in the UK alone tuned into the women's race and 6.2 million the men's, and on average more than 100 million watch the races worldwide each year. Around a quarter of a million people are estimated to watch from the riverbank on the day.

The Race becomes the Races

On the 11th April 2015, the BNY Mellon Boat Race was joined on the Tideway for the first time by the Newton Women’s Boat Race. Oxford athletes reflect on the event in this series of videos.

Watch all the films in this 2015 series here.

Oxford prepares for the boat race

In 2012 a series of short films was made over a period of six months, from when the young hopefuls trial for a place on the boat race team, through to the great day itself.

Watch all the films in this 2012 series here.