What is a Regatta?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2019
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A regatta is a boat race, more typically a series of boat races, along with the accompanying events. Regattas usually involve either rowing or sailing, although some with powered boats have been gaining popularity, and they are governed by formal rules which are based in centuries of tradition. Residents of regions where boat races are held like attending regattas because they offer an opportunity to see a wide range of ships, and to socialize with sailors and other members of the community. Historically, a regatta was also a place to see and be seen for members of high society.

Humans have enjoyed racing each other with whatever craft they can find for centuries, and boat racing is an ancient tradition, as numerous works of art from ancient times indicate. A regatta classically begins with a procession of boats flying their signal flags, followed by a series of races in which boats are grouped by class. The winners receive cups, cash prizes, wreaths, and accolades from the crowd, with members of the crowd watching from stands along the shoreline or from other boats.


One of the most famous regattas is the Henley Royal Regatta, which takes place along the banks of the Thames. This regatta is a major social event in England, and many of the competitors, along with their boats, are quite famous. Rowing at Henley is considered an immense honor, especially if prizes are won. In North America, the Royal St. John's Regatta is another example of a well-known series of races.

Some regattas take place on an annual basis in the same location, while others follow complex rules about timing and location. The America's Cup races, for example, move around depending on who won the last match. As a general rule, a regatta is named for the region where it occurs, and participants may need to be issued formal invitations, rather than simply showing up.

The procession of ships at the start of a regatta can be quite exciting. At many matches, ships of historical interest may be included in the procession, although these ships may not compete, so the procession offers an opportunity to see tall ships and other things of historical and cultural interest. The attendees tend to dress up for the event, attending a variety of dances, lunches, dinners, and parties which are linked with the regatta, some of which are quite swanky and most definitely invitation-only.


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Is a regatta run in a straight line from one place to another or does it make a circle to return to the start?

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