Most races that are held in the spring and summer feature side by side racing, or sprint racing, sometimes called a regatta; all the boats start at the same time from a stationary position and the winner is the boat that crosses the finish line first. The number of boats in a race typically varies between two (which is sometimes referred to as a dual race) to six, but any number of boats can start together if the course is wide enough.
The standard length races for the Olympics and the World Rowing Championships is 2 kilometres (1.24 mi)) long, 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) – 2 kilometres (1.24 mi) for US high school races on the east coast and 1,000 m for masters rowers (rowers older than 27). However the race distance can and does vary from dashes or sprints, which may be 500 metres (1,640 ft) long, to races of marathon or ultra-marathon length races such as the Tour du Léman in Geneva, Switzerland which is 160 kilometres (99 mi), and the 2 day, 185 kilometres (115 mi) Corvallis to Portland Regatta held in Oregon, USA. In the UK, regattas are generally between 500 metres (1,640 ft) and 2 kilometres (1.24 mi) long.
A feature of the end of twentieth century rowing was the development of non-olympic multicrew racing boats, typically fixed seat-gigs, pilot boats and in Finland church- or longboats. The most usual craft in races held around the coasts of Britain during summer months is the Cornish pilot gig, most typically in the south-west, with crews of 6 from local towns and races of varying distances. The Cornish pilot gig was designed and built to ferry harbour and river pilots to and from ships in fierce coastal waters. The boat needed to be stable and fast with the large crew hence making it ideal for its modern racing usage. In Finland 14-oared churchboats race throughout the summer months, usually on lakes, and often with mixed crews. The largest gathering sees over 7000 rowers mainly rowing the 60 kilometres (37 mi) course at Sulkava near the eastern border over a long weekend in mid July. The weekend features the World Masters churchboat event which also includes a 2 kilometres (1.24 mi) dash.
Two traditional non-standard distance shell races are the annual Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge and the Harvard-Yale Boat Race which cover courses of approximately 4 miles (6.44 km). The Henley Royal Regatta is also raced upon a non-standard distance at 2,112 meters (1 mile, 550 yards).
In general, multi-boat competitions are organized in a series of rounds, with the fastest boats in each heat qualifying for the next round. The losing boats from each heat may be given a second chance to qualify through a repechage. The World Rowing Championships offers multi-lane racing in heats, finals and repechages. At Henley Royal Regatta two crews compete side by side in each round, in a straightforward knock-out format, with no repechages.