The 50 foot "day boat" launches used for umpiring at the regatta are some of the most beautiful and expensive boats you'll see on the Thames.

rabbit travels in styleIf you're offered a chance to ride in one of them while following a race down the course then you'd be advised to take it, as it will give you a wonderful oppportunity to see not only the rowing at close quarters, but also to get a feel for how the atmposphere changes though the different enclosures as the race moves down the Henley reach.

The surge of power required to keep up with top level eights in the Grand is something you really need to experience to appreciate - a feel for the raw power of these crews that you'll simply never get from the bank.

There are a limited number of ways you can get yourself into an umpire's launch and as with most things to do with the Royal, your chances will be greatly enhanced by knowing the right people.

a launch ticketLaunch Tickets
The launches are limited by the Environment agency to carrying a maximum number of passengers (usually twelve plus driver but it depends on the size of the boat). If they're spotted carrying too many passengers, the fine for the driver is 5000 quid, so you can understand why they won't budge on numbers. What this means in practice is that once you've accounted for the driver, the umpire, the race recorder and a member of the commentry team, that doesn't leave many seats. Any available tickets are divided out amongst:

  • the crews in the race
  • guests of the umpire and
  • members of the press.

    A limited number of launch tickets for crew supporters are available from the Boat Tent Official and can be collected an hour before each race by an accredited representative of the crew concerned, e.g. coach or captain. Now, this is the bit not a lot of people are aware of -- any tickets which haven't been collected 30 mins before the starting time of the race available to ANY applicant - so by hanging around the boat tent area and asking at the booth, you may just be able to get a ride on a launch...

    A maximum of one press ticket may be allocated to each race. Press who wish to follow a particular race, express their interest by submitting a written request to the press office the day before.

    Each evening, press requests for the following day's racing, are taken to the regatta office, where a number of them (but not all) will be granted. The press office will also be given a couple of un-allocated launch tickets which are given out on a first come, first served basis.

    Obviously, press tickets requested for races early in the regatta are more likely to be granted, for, as the regatta progresses, the number of races each day decreases as do the reporter's chance of getting to follow their race of choice.

    Big races, such as those involving any of our national rowing treasures are the preserve of the major rowing press only. Though the rabbit has previously gotten round this restriction by hitching a ride with one of the racing crews, this is not to be recommended for human sized reporters...

    On-board Etiquette

    Mike Williams umpires a raceThe area for boarding the umpire launches is next to the floating grandstand by the Bridge Bar, though unless you have a tag that identifies you as a regatta official, you will not be allowed in or out through the gate into Stewards, instead the launch area is accessed via the competitors' enclosure.

    Make sure you get there in time - Henley Royal Regatta waits for no man, and if you turn up late you will simply 'miss the boat'.

    It is worth noting that regardless of how you got your ticket, you are still on the launch as a guest of the umpire and must behave accordingly.

    This means nothing louder than quiet talking during the race - no shouting; no cheering and certainly no criticizing of the umpire's actions; whooping or jumping up and down in excitement, if you don't think you'll be able to contain your emotions then stay on the bank...

    Cameras and cam-corders are allowed on the boat but your view is likely to be obstructed by the umpire at the front of the boat.

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