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When things don't go according to plan

Last updated: 17-02-2019 @ 23:45

What do I do in the event of an emergency on the river?

  • We would always suggest travelling with a partner boat and know what you will do if one of you experiences an emergency situation
  • Whilst the first thing you must consider as soon as you realise you are in difficulty is secure the boat (drop anchor) but you may wish to consider if you should seek the assistance of the boat you are travelling with (if there is one) and call for help from the RNLI/London VTS. They can be there in minutes.
  • If your choice is to drop anchor then the second thing is to call London VTS either via VHF (Channel 14) or by phone on +44 (0) 20 3260 7711 or call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.  London VTS would much prefer your call to be a false alarm than the incident develops into a full scale incident. There is no need to repeat the call for assistance on Channel 16 (International distress) as London VTS will handle all responses and requests for assistance
  • Ideally dropping anchor and calling London VTS should be done at the same time – your crew will be helping you won’t they?
  • The ’emergencies’ page of this document lists the processes to be followed in case of an emergency
  • If you are travelling in a group then have an agreed method of communicating with each other, for example the St Pancras Cruising Club instruct people on their cruises to turn on lights, sound their horn and hold an arm aloft. Mobile phones can work well but are dependent on people having their phone somewhere that they can hear it ring and can get to it – a VHF radio is better – use channel 14 as London VTS will be able to hear what’s going on and can instigate help if required.  If the other boat can come alongside to help then it is for the boat in trouble to provide a stout towing line. Be mindful that you may get separated from other boats so you should still consider dropping your anchor
  • The decisions you make on the faster flowing, narrower (and invariably more congested) areas of the River may be different to those you make on the more seemingly benign and wider areas

There are four RNLI stations on the tidal river (TeddingtonChiswickWestminster and Gravesend).  London VTS will call out whatever ‘resources’ they decide are required. All but Teddington are staffed 24/7 and able to launch within 90 seconds. The Teddington crew are on pagers. What action you take (after calling London VTS) depends so much on the issues you are facing but all the briefings we have attended have stressed the need to get your anchor over the side (it was attached properly wasn’t it) and the boat secured.

It’s so important that your crew know exactly what is expected of them should an ’emergency’ arise – whilst you (as skipper) are making contact with London VTS ideally the crew should be putting the anchor over the side (you did attach it before leaving didn’t you?)

We have never had to drop our anchor so will be interested to hear from people that have. We know that one lock keeper’s barge got into trouble when he was punching the tide, he anchored and drifted backwards through a bridge arch as his anchor bit but the weight kept him straight, the anchor did bite and hold him secure whilst he sorted out the problem.

Emergencies are very rare but knowing what to do should anything out of the ordinary happen to you will be very valuable.

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