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Head of the Charles

Head of the Charles is one of the most exciting and chaotic races of the fall. It is the largest two-day race in the world, and can be one of the most fun to cox. The shores are packed with fans, the fall trees are turning colors, and the racing is competitive! With over 2,000 different boats racing, the race course can turn into an “obstacle course” pretty quickly from the coxswain seat. To cox a good race at the Charles, it is important to know the course, have a good line, and have great spatial awareness of the other boats.

The 4,800 meter (3.2 mile) race will feel long for your rowers, so I like to use the endless amount of landmarks and bridges to break down the race. I memorize or write down the distance between each landmark so I can give my boat small markers to break down the race. If you decide to write them down, I recommend doing it on a piece of tape and putting it on your thigh or gunwale so you can easily reference it during the race. Also – make sure to use a sharpie or marker that won’t smear if it gets wet! I am including the distances between each landmark below, and highly recommend memorizing or writing these down for your Charles race this year…

Meter Markers:

0 Meters – Start

250 Meters – BU Bridge 

550 Meters – Magazine Beach 

300 Meters – Riverside Boathouse 

350 Meters – River St. 

150 Meters – 1 Mile

200 Meters – Western 

500 Meters – Weeks 

400 Meters – Anderson 

500 Meters – 2 miles 

800 Meters – Elliott

200 Meters – Final Turn

600 Meters – Finish 

Total: 4,800 Meters

Course Map:


When it comes to the race, steering is everything. Head of the Charles is known as “a coxswain’s race,” and let me tell you… it certainly can be! Taking a thoughtful and strategic course is the best thing that you can do to help your boat succeed. I pulled together some tips from the years I raced the Charles for specific bridges and segments of the race. I am hopeful these notes will help new coxswains navigate the course for the first time, and help experienced coxswains potentially think about a turn or bridge differently this time around. See tips to help your line below, as well as some important safety notes!

Pro Tip: I recommend reading over these a few times while also looking at the course map to make sure you are able to visualize the different parts of the race course. Sometimes printing out the map and writing in the distances between each landmark is the best way to help the information stick before race day.

Click here for more resources on calling a head race, and steering your best course!

Bridge Guide: 

Steering Tips By Bridges:

Start to BU Bridge: 

  • Start your race with your point on the middle arch of BU Bridge

BU Bridge:

  • Safety: Only fits one boat through the designated arch of the BU Bridge at a time, so start with enough room behind the boat in front of you so you don’t catch them within the first 250 to BU Bridge 

Out of BU Bridge: 

  • Move to starboard to start magazine beach (soft turn)

Magazine Beach:

  • Stay all the way to starboard and ride (or overlap your blades on) the buoy line for shortest course
  • Safety: small boats launch from magazine beach so just be mindful – shouldn’t be a problem but just keep your eye out

River Street Bridge:

  • Use the buildings behind the middle arch coming off of Magazine Beach to get your line
  • Safety: only 2 boats side by side fit well through the arch here. Tucking in behind or between boats is an option if you are approaching with many boats around you

Western Bridge:

  • Continue line from River St. – straight through middle arch
  • Safety: only 2 boats side by side fit well through the arch here. Tucking in behind or between boats is an option if you are approaching with many boats around you

Out of Western coming into Weeks:

  • Find “the turning tree” straight ahead and continue on your line

Weeks Bridge:

  • Keep pointed at “the turning tree” until you are ~20 strokes from the bridge, then shift point to the archway and cut hard to get port oars tight to the left side abutment of the middle arch.. Try and complete most of this turn before you are under the bridge.
  • Safety: If you are next to a bunch of boats here, and being forced to the outside of this turn (far to starboard), it will be hard to take the turn to port all the way from the outside. This could drive you off the course to starboard if you are not able to make your turn. In this case, it might be better to take a few pauses and tuck behind the boats so you can cut hard to port side and make the turn efficiently. 
  • Safety: Know your own boat and rudder, and test out making some turns before the actual race. Every boat turns differently, so make sure you are not waiting too long to turn if your hull/rudder need more time!

Out of Weeks into Anderson:

  • Do NOT hug port buoys 

Anderson Bridge:

  • Point a little to the left abutment then cut hard to starboard a few strokes before 
  • Safety: it is tough to fit more than 2 boats side by side through Anderson, so make sure you have enough speed or plan strategically to only enter 2 boats across here max

Out of Anderson:

  • Coming out of Anderson is the super long turn to port coming into Elliot Bridge, so even though Anderson is a starboard turn, anticipate coming out and getting left to make sure you can get the inside of the long port turn ahead 

Elliot Bridge: 

  • Once you are on the buoy line (a few hundred meters after Anderson), put the buoys next to your hull and keep the port oars over the line if you feel comfortable 
  • When you can visualize a straight shot through the bridge (in by port side abutment, out by starboard side abutment) come off the buoy line
  • Safety: This is a tough turn, so be thoughtful about what boats are around you, what line you want, and steering carefully through here

Out of Elliot: 

  • Stay all the way to starboard to hug the buoys next to the dock off the shore

Once you see the finish: 

  • Ease off starboard turn and stay straight for last 300 meters, straight shot to the finish once you come off the buoy line 


Priorities for coxing the Charles are safety of your boat and crew, steering, then calling your best race! Stay aware of your surroundings and prepare well with the course information. Control what you can control, go into the race knowing your plan, and be ready to think on your feet as other boats start to come into play. Be ready to make quick and critical game time decisions to steer the best line possible. And most of all, be sure to look around and enjoy it! The vibes as you cox your boat down the Charles are the best… Help your boat feed off the energy from the hundreds of thousands of fans on the banks. Coxing the Charles is like no other. Good luck, take the inside turns, and have fun! 

Looking for a little extra support as you prepare to cox the Charles this year? That is what Inside Turn is here for! Reach out to me at to set up a 1:1 coaching session to go in depth on steering, calls, race plan, and more. 

A few extra resources:

HOCR Official Rules:

Course Map:

Bridge Guide:

Izzi Weiss is the owner of Inside Turn and a contributor to Rowers Choice.
You can find more information at and connect with Izzi at