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1. What are the speed limits on the tidal Thames?

There are strict maximum speed limits as follows:

  • 12 knot speed limit between Wandsworth Bridge and Margaretness ((just east of London City Airport!)
  • 8 knot speed limit above (ie west of) Wandsworth Bridge (and in all creeks and off Southend  - in the inshore area)

Anyone navigating must ensure a safe speed at all times in all locations. This includes taking into account prevailing weather and tide conditions; size and type of vessel; location; and the safety of others.

Even at lower speed some vessels create unacceptable wash. Be aware of your wash – eg near piers, smaller craft, or riverworks.   London VTS will broadcast information on local speed restrictions during regular bulletins on VHF Channel 14.

[All users of recreational craft need to be aware they may come across some commercial vessels operating at higher speed – this is only permitted for certain ‘authorised vessels’ which have a special Certificate of Compliance enabling them to operate at higher speed in two specific ‘High Speed Craft Zones’ between Margaretness and Wandsworth Bridge].

2. Do I need a boat licence or to register my recreational vessel with the PLA?

Put simply, a small boat used only for your own personal recreation or leisure use does not normally need a specific licence to navigate on the tidal Thames. If you are in any doubt about your craft – please contact the PLA for guidance.   We do encourage all recreational and leisure boat users to sign-up to the Tidal Thames Navigators Club (TTNC) – at http://www.boatingonthethames.co.uk/Join    This is free of charge and provides:

• PLA Notices to Mariners and e-Newsletters etc
• PLA Recreational User Guide and Tide Tables booklet
• access to recreational briefings and discounts on PLA Charts and publications

3. Should I wear a lifejacket?

Yes!  The Thames is a challenging and busy river. It can be harsh and unforgiving. Everyone on small recreational boats and craft should wear a lifejacket at all times. See:  http://www.pla.co.uk/assets/safetybulletin1of2016-killcordslifejackets.pdf

4. Where can I stop in Central London for a short period? Where are moorings?

Guidance about where short term visitor moorings are available and who the operator is can be viewed at: www.boatingonthethames.co.uk/Visitor-Moorings   You must ensure you have contacted these mooring providers direct in advance of your journey. Information on pump out / fuel facilities etc is also shown.

5. I’m planning to come onto the tidal Thames for the first time. What should I do to prepare myself and vessel?

The tidal Thames is a very challenging and potentially hazardous river. It is not suitable for a novice. If you are new to boating or inexperienced with your craft, you should first go on a suitable course – for example those run by the RYA.  More details at www.rya.org.uk

Those experienced with their vessel need to consider safety carefully – for example:

  • ensure the watertight integrity of your vessel and be prepared for the water conditions you will be navigating through. The Thames is categorised by the MCA as Category C waters - you should expect waves up to 1.2 metres
  • plan your passage carefully
  • read the current Notices to Mariners for the area of your intended passage and consider them in your passage plan.
  • consider where you will be mooring and make your mooring bookings well in advance
  • check all equipment – eg VHF, navigation lights, lifejackets etc. Ensure anchors are easily deployable and you have enough chain and rope for the waters you will be navigating in

6. Can I go on the Thames foreshore?

There are hazards on the foreshore: it should not be regarded casually as a pleasure ‘beach’.  Normal guidance is to avoid it and instead enjoy the river safely from dry land at embankment level.

Anyone visiting the foreshore does so entirely at their own risk - accepting it is a dangerous place and dangers may not be immediately apparent. It follows that those on the foreshore take personal responsibility for their safety and of any accompanying minors, and must satisfy themselves that the route taken is safe and suitable. All steps and stairs have slip and trip hazards and can be in poor repair. There is raw sewage on the foreshore. Wear strong footwear.

The river is cold and deep with fast currents.  It rises and falls by seven metres. Check tide times carefully on our website www.pla.co.uk.  Make sure you can get off the foreshore quickly - watch the tide and wash from passing boats and make sure appropriate steps are close. ‘Paddling’ or anything that risks entering the river should be avoided.   For more information see: https://www.pla.co.uk/Environment/Thames-foreshore-permits

7. Can I jetski on the tidal Thames in London?

No. No Personal Water Craft (PWC) / jetskis etc are allowed anywhere on the Thames in the London area. In other words they are strictly prohibited anywhere in west, central or east London. There are a small number of designated locations in the Thames Estuary off the Essex and Kent coasts where they are permitted - further guidance at: http://www.pla.co.uk/assets/thamespwccode.pdf

8. Can I row / paddle / SUP through Central London?

There are restrictions for some types of craft.   Our normal advice is for non powered craft and inexperienced boaters to avoid the very busy central London stretch.   The River above Putney is relatively benign. But below Putney and into central London it is much more hazardous. It becomes increasingly ‘sea-like’ and small craft have to navigate in areas of high traffic density – including large and fast powered vessels, some with limited manoeuvrability and others generating significant wash. Wave heights of a metre are easily possible. More guidance on your specific activity at: www.boatingonthethames.co.uk

9. Is swimming in the tidal Thames safe?

No – swimming anywhere in the tidal Thames is potentially lethal. The Thames has very strong currents; considerable river traffic including during the night; powerful undertows and eddies; and structures and hidden obstacles. There are also serious risks from illnesses and infections.

Swimming is not permitted in the Thames anywhere in central London and is specifically prohibited downstream (ie east) of Putney Bridge. Swimming across the river is not permitted anywhere.

10. Can I arrange a race or similar leisure event on the tidal Thames?

All events or race ideas need to be discussed with the PLA at the earliest stage, however at least 4-weeks notice is required – to ensure the safety of the event and that of other river users in this very busy and safety critical river. More information can be found here. 

11. Are there rules on the scattering of ashes into the tidal Thames?

Our advice is to find a suitable and safe location next to the river – and a quiet time of the day. Please do not place the container or any plastic etc into the water. We request ashes are not scattered from bridges.  Additional guidance is published by the Environment Agency -  click here

12. Do I need a VHF radio on the tidal Thames?

We highly recommend you carry one. VHF is a useful navigational aid and can be used to ‘listen and learn’ from other transmissions so that you can be aware of traffic movements. In addition, London VTS may need to contact you about a particular vessel movement or convey important safety information.  A VHF (particularly with DSC functionality) could be a lifesaver in an emergency situation.   Ensure you have the appropriate qualifications and licences to carry an operate a VHF.

Only vessels more than 13.7m are required to have operational VHF and maintain a continuous listening watch on the appropriate VHF channel (see London VTS.)  There are exemptions for narrow boats above Brentford and vessels travelling in convoy – see our recreational users guide or our General Directions for more details.