Background: Preoperative anaemia is associated with adverse postoperative outcomes. Data on raised preoperative haematocrit concentration are limited. This study aimed to evaluate the effect of raised haematocrit on 30-day postoperative mortality and vascular events in patients undergoing major surgery. Methods This was a cohort study using the American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program (ACS NSQIP) database. Thirty-day mortality and vascular events, demographics and perioperative risk factors were obtained for adults undergoing major surgery. The adjusted effect of raised (over 0·50) compared with normal (0·41-0·50, American Medical Association reference range) preoperative haematocrit concentration on postoperative outcomes was assessed. Separate sex-specific analyses were also conducted, using haematocrit concentration thresholds commonly used in the diagnosis and management of apparent or absolute erythrocytosis. Results: Some 3961 (2·0 per cent) of 197 469 patients had a raised haematocrit concentration before surgery. After adjustment, the 30-day postoperative mortality rate was higher in patients with raised haematocrit than in those without (odds ratio (OR) 2·23, 95 per cent confidence interval 1·77 to 2·80). Thirty-day rates of deep vein thrombosis (OR 1·95, 1·44 to 2·64) and pulmonary embolism (OR 1·79, 1·17 to 2·73), but not myocardial infarction or stroke, were also higher in patients with a raised haematocrit concentration. The effect on mortality was noted beyond the haematocrit thresholds of 0·48 in women and 0·52 in men; the effect estimates were considerably higher for values exceeding 0·54. Values between 0·41 and 0·45 were not associated with increased mortality risk. Similar observations were noted for venous thrombosis, although with apparent sex differences. Conclusion: A raised haematocrit concentration was associated with an increased risk of 30-day mortality and venous thrombosis following major surgery.