River Rules

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These rules apply to paddling on the tidal Thames.

Requirements for paddlers

To paddle on the Thames, you must have a BCU Three Star award, or have passed THCC’s “Introduction to Paddling on the River Thames” course (“Qualified Paddler”).

A paddler who has a BCU Two Star award may join a group of Qualified Paddlers on a one to one buddy system, provided that there are at least three Qualified Paddlers.

A paddler joining THCC for regular paddling on the Thames with significant relevant experience but without the above qualifications or an equivalent BCU recognised foreign qualification may be granted Qualified Paddler status subject to he/she demonstrating his/her skills in a brief basin assessment. In addition, he/she should join the “Introduction to Paddling on the River Thames” course, when it is run.

A visiting paddler (i.e. a non THCC member not intending to paddle regularly on the Thames) may be permitted to join a Thames group by the Qualified Paddlers of that group, subject to equipment availability and capacity constraints. THCC is not obliged to accommodate the request of any visiting paddler. The visiting paddler must satisfy the requirements of a Qualified Paddler before being allowed to participate on a river paddle.


River rules

Nominate a trip co-ordinator

Each group should nominate one of their number to be its co-ordinator. Each member of the group is responsible for his/her own safety, and must also take all reasonable measures to ensure the safety of the group generally. As THCC is a not for profit activity club and as the co-ordinator is an unpaid volunteer, the coordinator assumes no legal responsibility for the safety of the group. One of his/her roles is to co-ordinate, with the support and assistance of the rest of the group, the recovery of a capsize, the management of an accident or other safety issue.

Buddy up

A one to one buddy system should be organised so that paddlers are monitoring each other, particularly at tricky parts of the Thames.

Notify London VTS

Inform London VTS by VHF on Channel 14 (alternatively by phone on 020 8855 0315) of group size and direction prior to departure, and inform them of the group’s safe return.

Have at least three Qualified Paddlers

Paddlers must paddle in a group consisting of at least three Qualified Paddlers. Where possible and sensible, a group should not exceed ten paddlers.

Keep the group within 50 metres

Paddlers within a group must paddle together within a distance (not to exceed 50 metres, from the paddler at the front to the one at the back) that allows for easy communication between all group members and to allow each member to be able to respond on a timely basis to incidents.

Show required lights

If paddling after sunset, each paddler must have at least one non flashing white light switched on, on his/her boat/person. Each group should also have at least one all round white light switched on. Paddlers must be aware of dangers from behind and the group should ensure that 50% of the lights are facing backwards.

Carry required safety equipment

Each group should carry a safety pack containing:

  • VHF radio (or mobile phone)
  • Two-person emergency shelter
  • At least one towline
  • Set of splits
  • Pump

These packs will be stored in the club cupboard/office.

Stay out of the Fairway

You should avoid paddling in the main fairway of the Thames whenever possible. The main fairway is used for shipping. Canoeists who paddle in the fairway for navigational reasons must be aware of Rule 9 of the Collision Regulations of the International Regulations for the Prevention of Accidents at Sea, which “requires vessels to keep as near as possible to the outer limit of the channel lying on their starboard side as is practicable” (i.e. powered vessels are obliged to be as close as possible to the river bank – this means a canoeist also has to be as close as possible to the river bank, especially when a powered vessel passes by).

Cross at right angles

Cross the Thames at right angles. The strength of the tide may require you to paddle a diagonal course using a ferry glide. Wait until the Thames is clear of traffic and ensure the group stays together when crossing.

Log participants

Before going on the Thames, each paddler must write his/her name on the whiteboard in their paddling groups. Group co-ordinator should be highlighted on the board.

For large club events such as the Christmas paddle, appropriate safety arrangements will be made for that individual event, following the above rules as closely as possible.


Co-ordinator’s role

  1. Ensure that London VTS is informed of the group size and direction of travel before the group leaves, and is notified when the group returns.
  2. Ensure that the appropriate safety kit is carried by the group.
  3. Agree with the rest of the group, the course, distance, resting places, crossing points and general safety for that trip. Where the group is unable to agree any of these topics, the co-ordinator’s decision is final.
  4. See #Nominate a trip co-ordinator above.


Each paddler’s role

  1. Comply with the River rules above.
  2. Assist the co-ordinator.
  3. In addition to meeting THCC criteria for paddling on the Thames, satisfy him/herself that he/she has the necessary skills and experience for paddling on the Thames in the conditions prevailing at the time.
  4. Ensure that he/she uses appropriate footwear, buoyancy aid and light(s).