Your guide to the history of Cowes Week

Jul 18 2022

Yachts on the water during Cowes Week

Cowes Week 2022 is here!

One of the longest running regattas in the world, Cowes Week has a fascinating history dating back nearly 200 years. With 8,000 competitors - from weekend sailors to Olympic champions - and over 100,000 spectators, it truly is the event of the season. From its origins as a celebration of the Cowes customs office’s crackdown on pirates in the early 1800s to its position as a much-loved event with locals and tourists alike, the history of Cowes Week is rich and exciting. Read on to find out how it’s developed throughout the years and join us on a trip down memory lane to races past.

Sailing boats on the water during Cowes Week


  • 1808 – To try and combat the amount of smuggling in the area, the Customs Office established a fleet of fast and maneuverable ‘cutters’ based in Cowes to intercept boats manned by pirates. Many of the locals in Cowes were involved in the smuggling trade at the time, so in a show of power the Customs Office launched a parade of their new fleet across the Solent and joined in the local races around the island to show off their skills. Races around the island had been held by islanders since before recorded history, but this is the first account of a regatta taking place.”
  • 1814 – Visiting yachters began to follow the pilot cutter parade in their own parade, creating the idea of a yacht club.
  • 1815 – The Royal Yacht Club was founded (originally called just the Yacht Club).
  • 1826 – The Royal Yacht Club introduced cups for the first time to the now longstanding Cowes Regatta. The first of these newly organised races was held on 10 August 1826, awarding a gold cup to the value of £100 to the winners. The regatta had just three races, with the last finishing on 22 September and only 17 different yachts competed across all of the competitions.
  • 1827 - King George IV attended to award the newly named King's Cup which was then presented at every following event until 1939.
  • 1833 – The Royal Yacht Club became known as the Royal Yacht Squadron.
  • 1897 - The Queen's Cup was presented to the Royal Southampton Yacht Club by Queen Victoria in 1897, the year of her Diamond Jubilee.
  • 1950 - The King's Cup was replaced by the Britannia Cup, presented by King George VI.
  • 1953 – The races now lasted for nine days, with each competing yacht club organizing their own races.
  • 1964 - Cowes Combined Clubs was formed to organise and run the regatta. This was the first time that universal start lines and sailing instructions were introduced.
  • 2004 – HRH Prince Phillip opened a new Regatta Centre specifically for the Cowes Week races to celebrate 40 years of Cowes Combined Clubs.
  • 2012 – Cowes Week is moved to accommodate the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Present day

In 2022, Cowes Week Regatta has up to 40 races a day for about 750 boats, with over 100,000 spectators flocking to watch the boats take to the water.

While the Cowes races have grown in scale since they began nearly 200 years ago, you can also still watch the regatta live and in person. In fact, our beach at Calshot provides the perfect spot to sit and watch the races taking place. With a unique view out over the Solent towards the Isle of Wight, why not enjoy the races and take in the sight of the breathtaking fireworks display that caps off the week (a tradition dating back 150 years). Or if you’re looking for a more historic lookout point, why not climb to the top of Calshot Castle to enjoy vast views of all the action? You can also enjoy refreshments at the Café Bar to keep your energy up and stay hydrated throughout all the excitement.

Fireworks during Cowes Week

Get involved

Blown away by the experts? Take a sailing course at our Royal Yachting Association (RYA) recognised centre!

Calshot Outdoor Centre offers a range of both adult and youth sailing experiences and courses, all of which are RYA recognised, and are sure to put the wind in your sails. Our courses are created for all levels of experience ranging between RYA levels 1-3 so no matter your background there’s a programme for you.

Or, if you’re looking for something a bit different, give kitesurfing or windsurfing a go!

Let us know about your favourite Cowes Week memories on Facebook and Twitter, and tag us in your best sailing photos on Instagram.

You can also sign up for our newsletter for more information about our watersports courses and other fun things to do at Calshot.

Sailing at Calshot Activities Centre