There are primarily two race types in rowing—sprint and head.


Sprint races occur primarily in the spring and early summer and has competitors start at the same time from a stationary position. The standard distance for a sprint race is 2kilometers (1.24mi). In general sprint races are organized in a series of rounds, with the fastest boats moving on to the next round until a winner is declared. Some races allow for losing boats to qualify through repêchage.
The goal of the race is to cross the finish line first, similar to a track and field race. When all the rowing shells are lined up at the starting line, a marshal will announce “Attention, GO!” From that point, each shell will sprint as fast as they can to the finish. If within the first 100 meters there is legitimate equipment breakage (e.g., an oar snaps in two), the race will be stopped and restarted with repaired equipment.

The stroke rate (the number of rowing strokes per minute that a crew is taking) is high at the start – maybe 45 to even 50 for an eight; 38 to 42 for a single scull. Then, the crew will “settle” into the body of the race and drop the rating back – 38 to 40 for an eight; 32-36 for a single. The coach and the way the race is going determine when the crew will sprint but finishing stroke rates of 46+ in the last 200 meters aren’t unheard of. However, higher stroke rates are not always indicative of speed. A strong, technically talented crew may be able to cover more water faster than a less-capable crew rowing a high stroke rate.


Head races are run over a course with an average distance of 5 kilometers. Instead of all boats starting at the same time, boats will race against the clock and attempt to complete the race quickest with the least amount of penalties. It is not known until all participants in a race complete the distance, who won the race.

Due to the size width of the river, crews are started individually. Only when the last crew finishes the event will the winner of the event be determined. During the race, crews must stay within the marked boundaries of the course. An official follows the crews to ensure safety and fairness.

Despite the exhaustion of the race, the crew will row for five to 10 minutes afterwards in order to cool down. In rowing, the medals ceremonies include the shells.