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The Head of the Charles

The Largest Two-Day Regatta in the World


The Head of the Charles

Rowing at the Head of the Charles

Darren McCollester/Getty Images

The Head of the Charles Regatta (HOCR) is a two-day regatta, or crew race, held on the Charles River, separating Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of Harvard University. The Head of the Charles is the largest two-day regatta in the world, and it is a head race, meaning it is a crew or rowing race in which boats are staggered in their start times to prevent collisions. It is usually held on the second-to-last complete weekend in October, which generally creates chilly, windy conditions on the Charles River. In recent years, the regatta has become a popular spectator event that features crews from around the world.

Who Competes in the Regatta

The Head of the Charles Regatta draws crews from boarding schools, local private day schools, local public schools, colleges, and adult crews. Many private schools have rowing programs and compete in the event, including Phillips Academy Exeter, Phillips Academy Andover, Miss Porter’s, Noble and Greenough School, Northfield Mount Hermon, and others. 

The largest rowing regatta has been run since 1965, and now crews from around the world, including from England, China, and South Africa, and from around the country, row in the regatta. In recent years, about 10% of the competitors have been from other countries. Overall, about 9,000 athletes from 20 countries participate in the race. Crews compete in a number of events, ranging from amateur to Olympian, and athletes range in age from 14 to 85. Events include singles, doubles, fours, and eights. About 300,000 spectators attend the event, including many high school and college students, and it is one of the largest sports events in New England.

Why is the Regatta So Famous?

The Head of the Charles’s course is known as notoriously difficult to navigate. Six bridges cross the 3.2-mile course, and the John W. Weeks Footbridge and Eliot Street Bridge are located in particularly sharp turns in the course, sometimes leading to collisions among the boats.

With over 300,000 spectators, the Head of the Charles Regatta has turned into a major spectator sport in recent years. The regatta used to take place over one day, but since 1997, it has stretched over two days, and there are many vendors and sponsors located along the Charles River to cater to the spectators. In addition, since 1998, the race has had a charity program. In this program, anyone can enter the race for a fee, which goes towards charity. One of the beneficiaries of the program has been Community Rowing, a charity based in Brighton, Massachusetts that offers adaptive rowing programs for people with physical and intellectual disabilities. Their state-of-the-art rowing facilities and coaching staff are also available to help girls and boys in the Boston public schools learn how to row. These programs not only provide a confidence-boosting athletic experience to students who might not otherwise have access to the expensive equipment involved in rowing, but the programs also help students connect with academic and career opportunities through the world of rowing.

In 2013, the charity program of the Head of the Charles Regatta will also support The One Fund in Boston, which was established with Boston mayor Tom Menino and Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick to assist the victims and families of the victims of the bombings at the Boston Marathon in April of 2013. The Pull for a Cure Challenge also allows rowers to participate in the Head of the Charles in order to generate funds for breast cancer research. The Head of the Charles, generally held on a brisk New England fall day, is an event at which athletes and spectators can appreciate the beauty of rowing and support worthy charities.

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