The Boatmen’s Guild celebrates “Schifferstechen” on the River Limmat only every three years.
The custom of “Schifferstechen”, celebrated by the Boatmen’s Guild, is similar to medieval jousting. In those days, they were knight tournaments at which two knights each armed with a lance would try to knock each other off their horses. The rules are similar for “Schifferstechen”, except that the jousters are not on horseback but instead standing on a rather wobbly boat.
This tradition has existed in Zurich since the late Middle Ages, when the combat sport became popular throughout Europe as a commoners’ alternative to the riding tournaments of the nobility. A city map drawn by Josiah Murer dating from 1576 shows that “Schifferstechen” was held in exactly the same place then as it is today. Water jousting was often staged as an attraction at the annual festivals of the various guilds or in honor of eminent guests. And while in bygone days the jousters fought with helmet, armor, shield and a pointed lance – which often led to accidents and even drowning incidents – nowadays the guilds compete in a much safer manner without heavy armor and with a blunt lance.