How we time the Head of the River Race

Times are recorded at Start and Finish, and at two mid-way points at Barnes and Hammersmith.

We use tablets and laptops at each of the timing stations, and no longer use stop watches or paper. Start and Finish crew numbers and times are recorded as four separate data streams. These are automatically e-mailed to our control centre as every tenth crew passes. Provisional results are produced and published to our web-site within a few minutes of each crew finishing; initially these are only made available to the host clubs.

We record four times at the start and finish to allow for cold fingers and the odd slip in concentration during the almost two hours of racing. At the centre the times are compared using a spread sheet and then manually reconciled. They are finally crosschecked  by a digital video interpretation of the finish. Final verified results are available a few hours after the race, as penalties need to be posted and careful attention is given to all crew times where any discrepancy has been detected between the recorded times. These results are available via the HoRR web site results section.

Technically –  Samsung Android 4.2*  10” tablets are used as recording devices and run a  Java programme that displays a large numeric key-pad.  An identical application is also used on PCs; written in C#. Time is maintained by Internet Standard time, using the 3G network. A crew number is entered and when the DONE key is pressed, the crew number and time are captured on the tablet. Data transmission is by E-mail over 3G and sent to nominated addresses. An Excel spreadsheet is used at the centre, with the data being pasted in to designated columns. The spreadsheet then runs comparisons by crew and highlights discrepancies. A formula is used to obtain the best start and finish times, and to produce the race time for each crew: it then completes its job by deciding category winners before going onto the website.

Apart from the digital aspects of all this, we house our twenty five or so timekeepers in two red double decker buses, a flat, the British Rowing office, a large cruiser and the top floor of a sailing club.

So yes we still use ‘spotters’ and ‘callers’ and binoculars, but have now introduced ‘tableteers’ and ‘interpreters’ and ‘operators’  – they all contribute to what we believe to be a highly accurate timing system.

We keep looking out for a system as accurate as this that will capture times and crew identities automatically, but we have not yet found another system that will handle hundreds of possibly overlapping entries competing over a wide stretch of water. GPS we do not find to be accurate enough and the devices are expensive. Video is still unable to digitalise boat numbers and associate them with time. But we are open to suggestions!

* Been upgraded by Samsung.