Recent Comments

Frequently asked questions

Last updated: 19-06-2020 @ 08:53

Welcome to our FAQ page. It is very much under development so don’t get too excited! Let us know what questions you would like answered, absolutely no guarantee that we will know the right answer! This page is here to steer you in the right direction for things that perhaps are not covered on any of the other websites concerning the tidal Thames.  Please do remember that any decisions are yours as master/skipper of your boat.

Remember that to get back to the “what do you want to do page” click on the appropriate box in the top left corner or click here.

How do I know whether my boat is river-worthy?

Start off by checking whether you have a valid boat safety certificate or equivalent. Is your engine capable of  working hard for several hours? Do you have an anchor and chain? Do you have a full tank of fuel? Look at the check lists (ok still a work in progress) On the day, check that you are afloat and the boat in not listing i.e. leaning. Following an incident on the tideway in August 2012, do check that you have sufficient freeboard i.e. space between the water surface and the deck, or, more importantly, any vents that might take in water.

Is my insurance ok?

Very importantly make sure that your insurance company is happy for you to make this trip. If you are going on a Thames Barrier Cruise, out to the Royal Docks or to Barking Creek then beware as many insurance companies seem to say that “tidal access” does not include anything below the barrier. Get in touch and get your cover extended, it does not seem to cost much.

What engine checks should I do before setting out?

This will depend on your engine but we would suggest that you:

  • Check your engine filters
  • Make sure that you have spare filters on board
  • Check your fuel, if you have any water traps then check those. Crap, or water, at the bottom of the fuel tank is not encouraged.
  • Check that your bilge pump is working
  • Check your fan belts (you have got spares haven’t you?)
  • Check that your propeller is clear and that the weed hatch is secured

What weather conditions do I need for cruising the tideway?

Ideally clear skies, dry weather, light (or no) wind – but even if you have these conditions, the combination of the relentless passage of commercial craft and currents from the tide and river mean that certain areas of the river may be choppy anyway – typically the ‘Pool of London between Victoria and Limehouse, then again the ‘hairpin’ bend around the Isle of Dogs. Wind is often a limiting factor – we tend NOT to cruise the tideway if the winds are forecast to be over Force 3 (Beaufort Scale) or up to 15 mph. Wind direction may be important – if the wind is blowing against the tide (known as ‘wind over tide’) then that can make conditions more choppy than if the wind is running with the tide.

The other important consideration is visibility – we would not want to cruise the tideway in fog; we have been caught out by heavy rain, which is manageable, but makes for very unpleasant cruising conditions. We have come down the Tideway in the dark: extreme concentration is required which means that you miss some of the beauty of London at night.

This is a amazing trip, you want good weather so you can fully appreciate how fantastic London looks from the water.

Above all, use your common sense and if you don’t like the look of the river then don’t go!

Met Office, or Met Check websites are worth checking

What equipment do I need?

That’s a big question but basically you need all the equipment that you’d need for cruising a canal, but in addition we would suggest:

  • a suitable anchor
  • a reliable means of communication e.g. VHF radio, mobile phone
  • life-jackets or buoyancy aids
  • life-ring
  • a heaving line (much easier to throw to someone than a life-ring)
  • a long line for giving or taking a tow
  • navigation lights, for use in poor visibility (not just at night)
  • horn, and a spare.

Do I need a VHF radio?

If you are a motorised craft over 45′ (13.75m) below Brentford then you MUST have a VHF radio; however there is an exemption if you are travelling in convoy with other boats who have VHF radios. You do not need to have a VHF radio between Brentford and Teddington. Of course a VHF radio is just as useful for a 44′ boat as for a 46′ boat.

You do not need to have an operator’s licence in order to possess a VHF radio. It is a good idea to have a VHF radio on board even if you are not a licensed user. Keep a listening watch on Channel 14 – you’ll then be aware of what’s happening around you on the river.

If you have a VHF it is worthwhile undertaking a radio check with London VTS so you know they can hear you if you need to talk to them quickly.

  • Leo No2:  London VTS, London VTS this is narrowboat Leo No2 radio check
  • London VTS:  Narrowboat Leo No2 reading you strength 5 (5 is max strength)

I’m thinking of buying a VHF radio – should I get a hand-held or fixed model?

Opinions vary on this. If you are a regular tideway user it may be worth investing in a fixed set with a long aerial – this tends to give you better reception and significantly better transmission strength especially when attempting to contact London VTS from awkward areas and the upper reaches of the tideway (ie above around Vauxhall Bridge). However, the fixed set needs to be accessible, which is where hand-held sets are sometimes more convenient. Make sure it is waterproof! The editors have fixed Icom sets and a hand held as a spare.

Do I need to go on a VHF Course?

Yes do, it is worth it.

Do I need a pilot?

No – it is not a requirement to have a pilot. However, many boaters find it useful to have a pilot, instructor or experienced boater on board the first time they cruise the tideway eg two of the editors went up for the first time with an instructor from Bisham Abbey. Going on a cruise organised by the St Pancras Cruising Club is always a good way to learn. There are a number of people who live in London and who are happy to come along as experienced crew and/or radio operator

What is expected of my crew?

That will depend on you! In safety terms though, crew is generally expected to:

  • follow the skipper’s instructions promptly
  • wear a life-jacket or buoyancy aid
  • dress appropriately – the tideway is often cold
  • be aware of their own safety and that of others e.g. by standing within the profile of the boat, not walking along the roof or gunwales, avoiding the front deck in choppy conditions, making others aware of any potential problems
  • be able to deal with an emergency if the skipper is incapacitated (or needs to answer a call of nature)
  • Be part of the 360 degree lookout watch

Duties involving the making of bacon sarnies, coffee and being official photographer for the cruise are entirely at the discretion of the skipper!

Do I need special permission to cruise the tideway?

No, but do make sure that you have talked to the relevant lock-keepers and have informed London VTS when you are entering and leaving the tideway. You will need an Environment Agency licence above Teddington and a CaRT licence above Brentford or Limehouse

Can I moor on the tideway?

There are places to moor along the tideway but they are by prior arrangement only – it is more usual for narrowboats, in particular, to transit from Teddington then moor off the river at Brentford and Limehouse. However there are marinas at Chelsea and St Katherine’s Dock; there are also public mooring pontoons at Chiswick pier, there are probably many more. Mooring fees will be applicable. Make sure that you organise your destination mooring before you enter the tideway.

What do I do if I get pulled over by the police?

The police regularly patrol the tideway, particularly in the vicinity of Westminster. River security was a particular concern during the London Olympics. If you are approached by the police, maintain a steady speed and course – follow their instructions if they wish to come alongside. If they wish to board your boat, then allow them to complete the manoeuvre – do not attempt to help, they are the experts.

Do I need to book passage through the locks on or off the tideway?

It depends on the lock – if in doubt, ring the lock-keepers and find out – do this 24 hours before you cruise! Lock opening times may vary during the Christmas and New Year holidays – if you’re cruising at this time then check at least a week in advance.

Here’s the booking information for the main locks – booking is essential for the locks downstream of Limehouse e.g. West India Dock and for the locks along the Bow Creek, the Lee Navigation and Barking Creek.

Lock Manned Booking Details
Thames Lock, BrentfordCanal and River Trust Prior booking required. You must make a booking. Please see this link for more information. If the tide is a particularly high one you may wish to consider if there is sufficient headroom underneath the road bridge (A315 – High Street, Brentford) just downstream of the Gauging Lock.

Is there enough headroom under this bridge ?

Thames Lock No 101 Grand Union

TeddingtonEnvironment Agency 24-hours Booking not necessary but the lock-keepers are a useful source of information.Telephone: +44 (0) 20 8940 8723, Postcode: TW11 9NG

Teddington Lock (Environment Agency)

Richmond LockPort of London Authority Lock foreman available 24 hours – lock must be used when half-tide barrier is closed Ring in advance to check the opening time of the Richmond half-tide barrier.Telephone: +44 (0) 20 8940 8723, Postcode TW10 7AQ (link to Richmond Lock information). You should be able to easily time your trip to arrive at Richmond in order that you don’t need to use the lock.  The current price (November-2012) is £5:00 per boat.

Richmond ‘Half Tide’ Lock (PLA)

Limehouse Lock Canal and River Trust /BWML
During ‘normal’ working hours Prior booking advised. Their telephone number is + 44 (0) 20 7308 9930, VHF Channel 80 – NOT channel 80A – they’ll hear you but you won’t hear them. Post Code E14 8EG

Limehouse Lock (CaRT)

Do boats sink?

We only know of one narrowboat that has sunk on the tideway. They went from South Dock to Limehouse without life jackets, with no working bilge pump, and air vents set too low to the waterline. The PLA have written a report about this here

Do boats get into trouble?

Well yes same as happens anywhere on the system. The problems that we hear about most frequently are breakdowns caused by too much water or diesel bug in the fuel lines and boats overheating due to inadequate skin tanks or problems in the cooling system (this is odd as most boats find normal cruising revs are fine). At a rehearsal for the Lord Mayor’s parade in 2010 three boats broke down due to diesel bug problems, one just as it approached a bridge

Are there any organised trips

Yes – look at the St Pancras Cruising Club site, they are incredibly generous with their time, welcoming all on their cruises and have an unrivalled pool of tideway talent. This site draws heavily from what we have learnt on their cruises but we have tried to avoid repeating any of Andrew Phasey’s famous jokes.

What size anchor should I have?

The IWA published a guide to the Tideway in 2003 and they recommended the following anchor sizes:

40′ narrowboat: 11kg CQR Anchor or 16kg Fisherman Anchor with 8mm chain and 14mm nylon warp

52′ narrowboat: 16kg CQR Anchor or 18kg Fisherman Anchor with 10.5mm chain and 18mm nylon warp

70′ narrowboat: 18.5kg CQR Anchor or 24kg Fisherman Anchor with 10.5mm chain and 20mm nylon warp

Our top tip is make sure that you have an anchor of a weight that can be lifted safely by whoever has to deploy it.  We talked to the excellent Tradline in Braunston and got a slightly lighter anchor but with 12mm chain

What chain and warp do I need?

Ok this is scary. Your chain and warp should be at least 3 to 5 times the depth of water. Google this and you will see a wide variety of opinions eg click here. The PLA and SPCC recommendation is that you have 15m of chain and 35m of nylon warp.

Some notes on the tide

This set of notes was posted recently on the ybw Thames forum and is quite handy:



Can I contribute to this site

Please get in touch via a comment

Can I give you some money?

Plain brown envelopes always accepted but if you find this site useful please give a few pounds to either:

Canal and River Trust


National Trust


or if you have a particular charity that you prefer to support then give them £5

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>