The Tab’s Companion to: May Bumps

Don’t know your bumps from you bungs? HUGH CARSON, your friendly neighbourhood rower, is here to make all clear.

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May Bumps is the biggest event in the college rowers calendar, and over 4 days they’ll be testing whether all that winter training was worth it. 

But this isn’t for them, this is for those of you who were warm in bed all winter, and are watching not competing. So if the only time you’ve seen a crab before was that awkward trip to the laurels: this is for you.

The event:

• First up, unlike Lent Bumps, with the boat race over, this bumps includes added Blues, which combined with a few months more training means that the general quality of the racing is much higher.

• Also, unlike Lents, there are only 4 days with every crew racing every day until Saturday

• With 103 men’s crews, and 69 women’s crews, there are some 1548 people involved, before we even start counting coaches and bank parties.

• In addition to this weeks racing, there was a Getting On Race last week for lower crews to earn the right to compete this week.

• The ultimate goal of every club is to take the Headship, this is the boat at the top of the first division, on the men’s side and the women’s side.

• As the name of the event suggests, this is done by managing to ‘bump’ (though crash is often a more accurate description) into the boat ahead, the boats then swap positions the next day and have another go.

• Crews inherit their positions in the starting order from where their boat finished last year, this means that in order to really move up the rankings, a club has to perform consistently over the years.

• The boat at the top of a division, with the exception of the first, is the ‘sandwich boat’, this means that the crew earns the right to compete at the bottom of the division above, to try and break into the next division.

• The main glory, aside from the Headship which is only possible for the top 5, is Blades. You earn these by bumping up at every opportunity, and you can get a commemorative oar with names of the crew and events won painted on it.

• There’s also the threat of Spoons for those crews who are bumped at every opportunity, an award that most crews try hard to forget once the wash has finally settled.

A Blade from last years Bumps Campaigns


• The race is started with a cannon. It’s pretty loud, and can be heard in town if the winds in the right direction.

• Crews start one and a half lengths apart, attached to ‘bungs’. These are wooden handles at the end of a chain attached to the bank, this means that all the crews start the right distance apart.

• The aim is to ‘Bump’ the crew ahead, without being bumped by the one behind, before they reach the end of the approximately 2.5 km course.

• This happens when a crew literally collides with the crew in front, or a cox decides to acknowledge the bump in order to avoid an actual collision and protect their crew and boat from damage.

• Once a bump is acknowledged, the two crews involved pull into the side and allow the remaining boats to continue past, the two boats will then swap places in the start order for the next day.

• If a crew manages to reach the finish without bumping or being bumped, they are said to have ‘rowed over’ and will start in the same position the next day.

• If a crew manages to bump the crew in front of a pair of boats who have ‘bumped out’, making up approximately 4.5 lengths, they are said to have ‘Over Bumped’ and move up 3 places the next day – this is an unlikely event in the top divisions, but expect it in the lower ones.

• And a crab is when a rower loses their blade in the water, normally accompanied by a bump, as they can completely stop a boat in the water.

 A selection of Bumps from last year – photo courtesy of David Ponting

Mays Specific:

• With exams over, Mays sees the arrival of the infamous ‘beer boats’, boats of people who tend to have never stepped into a boat before, and sometimes even race in fancy dress.

• Having not really trained much, these crews also promise some of the funniest spectating, as there’s nothing quite like seeing a giant rugby player in drag celebrating a dramatic bump.

• The riverside also provides one of the best venues for Pimms drinking, and especially by Saturday, the banks tend to be full of parties, attracting even the most tenuous boatie supporter.

• Then of course, there’s also the possibility of seeing this in minimal clothing.

The ones to watch:

• On the men’s side, Downing M1 will be looking to take the headship Caius so cruelly denied them last year, so expect close racing at the top.

• Girton and Selwyn will also be looking to capitalize on some strong results from this term to rise through the rankings.

• On the Women’s side, Downing will look to continue the effortless time they had last year, and hold Pembroke at bay.

• Clare and Caius will also be looking to maintain their form and rise steadily over the week.

May bumps are always watched by hundreds, and with a party atmosphere down at the river side, especially if the weather is good, it makes for a good post exams celebration. The Tab will be there providing you with live updates of results and daily round ups of every division, and you can also listen to the events live with our Partners from CamFm.