Rules for Tidal Thames

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Home Waters: Rules for the Tidal Thames

Port of London Authority Compliance

The Tidal Thames is a navigable river under the control of the Port of London Authority (PLA). All paddling must be in compliance with all rules and directives issued by the PLA. All paddlers on the Tidal Thames should familiarise themselves with the most recent PLA paddling guidance found at

Paddlers must be aware of any current notices to mariners issued by the PLA at

An exceptional group of more than 30 paddlers (e.g. Christmas paddle) is classified as an event and requires advance notice to the PLA.

Requirements for Paddlers

To paddle on the Tidal Thames other than as part of a coached or led group, a paddler must meet both of the following conditions:

  • Hold the BC 3* Star award / BC Sea Kayak award and
  • Have completed the Club’s “Introduction to Paddling on the River Thames” course

A visiting paddler (not intending to paddle regularly with the Club) who does not hold the relevant formal UK qualification must be assessed to the level of a “Thames Qualified Paddler” before being allowed to paddle on the Thames. A Thames Qualified Paddler is a Club-specific designation and applies to a paddler who has:

  • been assessed by both an L2 Coach holding Moderate Water Endorsement and a 4* Sea Kayak award holder / Moderate Water Sea Leader
  • demonstrated sufficient awareness of the hazards and protocols
  • demonstrated an adequate ability to handle themselves in a safe manner on the Tidal Thames home waters

Broadly speaking a Thames Qualified Paddler would be expected to demonstrate minimum skills and awareness comparable to those of the 3* Sea award.

The Club will maintain a list of Thames Qualified Paddlers.

A Thames Qualified Paddler may be permitted to join a Thames group, subject to equipment availability and capacity constraints. The Club is not obliged to accommodate the request of any visiting paddler.

Group Composition and Co-ordination

Each group must either a leader or a co-ordinator. A group without a leader must appoint one of its number to act as co-ordinator. Where possible and sensible, a group should not exceed ten paddlers.

Role of the co-ordinator

The co-ordinator should

  • Agree with the group the direction of travel and any resting points, taking into account the predicted tide at the time of paddle
  • Were the group is unable to agree any of these topics, the co-ordinator’s decision is final.
  • Ensure the group is familiar with the PLA rules and current PLA notices
  • Ensure the group meets the minimum experience to paddle on the Thames
  • Ensure the group has the necessary safety and lighting equipment with them
  • Ensure a trip briefing is held before departure
  • Ensure London VTS is notified of the group size and direction of travel before the group leaves, and is notified when the group returns.
  • Ensure all group members have signed the trip log and any incidents are recorded on the log

The co-ordinator is not responsible for leading the group.

Role of the leader

The same points as the co-ordinator, plus:

  • Leading the group on the water

Role of the individual paddler

Each paddler must:

  • Comply with these rules.
  • Assist the co-ordinator.
  • In addition to meeting the Club’s 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.
  • Ensure that he/she uses appropriate footwear, a buoyancy aid and, if required, lights.

Buddy system

  • A one-to-one buddy up system should operate
  • A buddy should paddle close enough to know where the other is
  • A buddy should summon help if the other gets into difficulty

Group Preparation

Log participants

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

Carry required safety equipment

Each group should carry a safety pack containing:

  • A VHF radio or mobile phone
  • At least 2 towlines
  • A set of splits
  • A pump
  • A first aid kit

Individual paddlers must have with them:

  • A buoyancy aid
  • When any part of the paddle occurs in the hours of darkness, paddlers must have adequate lights as specified by the PLA
  • PLA lights guidance can be found at

Individual paddlers should have with them:

  • A whistle
  • Appropriate clothing

Notifying London VTS

The group should inform London VTS (port authority) preferably by VHF Channel 14 to advise:

  • group size
  • paddle direction
  • departure time
  • safe return

It is best practice to inform London VTS when crossing over to the other bank. The group should monitor VHF Channel 14 for any broadcasts while under way.

Under Way

Paddle area

The group should paddle within an area that allows for easy communication between all group members and allows any member to respond to incidents on a timely basis. The formation should be appropriate to the immediate environment; e.g. long train through constricted hazards; in a tight group when crossing the fairway Paddlers should avoid paddling in the centre of the fairway

  • The main fairway is used for shipping.
  • Paddlers 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).

Paddlers should keep as safe as possible to the outer edge of the channel, on the right-hand side of the fairway in the direction of travel. Canoes and kayaks must keep well clear of vessels such as tugs and tows, passenger vessels and commuter craft.

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.

Crossing the fairway

Paddlers must

  • cross the fairway only when it is clear of other moving vessels

The group should:

  • cross as a tight group rather than a single file
  • cross the Thames at right angles

The strength of the tide may require the group 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. Paddle so as to minimise the time spent in the fairway during the crossing It is best practice to notify London VTS before crossing.

Special Events

Large club events such as the Christmas paddle, require appropriate safety arrangements, in consultation with the PLA, while following the above rules as closely as possible.

Group Size and Ratios

Environment Coached Session Uncoached Session 2019 BC Awards

under normal conditions

1 x L2 MWE : 4 x 1* students


For each 1 x 4* Sea : another 2 x 1* can go

Group must include 1 x VHF operator

Maximum group size: 8

1 x 4* Sea : 4 x paddlers 1* or 2*


For each additional 4* : 4 x 2* can go

For each additional 3* : 1 x 2* can go


3 x 3* Sea / Sea Kayak Award / Thames Qualified Paddler


For each additional 3* : 1 x 2* can go

Group must include 1 x Co-ordinator + 1 x VHF operator Recommended maximum group size: 10

Minimum Coach:

Sea Kayak Coach (Moderate Water)

Performance Coach Sea

Minimum Leader:

Sea Kayak Leader (Moderate Water)


White Water Leader + Coastal Sea Award + knowledge of Thames paddling

Minimum for Thames paddling:

Explore Award (enclosed kayak)


under normal conditions


under adverse conditions

No coached sessions in this environment 1 x 4* Sea : 4 x 2* paddlers


1 x 4* Sea + 1 x 3* Sea : 6 x 2* paddlers


For each additional 3*: 1 x 2* can go


3 x 3* Sea

Group must include 1 x Co-ordinator + 1 x VHF operator

Recommended maximum group size: 10

Minimum Leader:

Sea Kayak Leader

Minimum buddy:

Sea Kayak Award

Minimum for Thames paddling:

Explore Award (enclosed kayak)

Advanced water No club trips - private trips only