We're the Port of London Authority. We look after safety and navigation on 95 miles of the tidal River Thames.
The PLA is the harbour and navigational authority for the tidal Thames below Teddington through to the Thames Estuary. The PLA’s primary role is the management of navigation and promoting the safe use of the tidal Thames. It also maintains and operates the half-tide lock at Richmond.
Although we oversee the running of Britain’s second largest port and the busiest inland waterway in the UK, we also take pride in a river that’s a centre of excellence for rowing, a home to around 70 leisure craft clubs, facilities and marinas, an iconic destination for visiting boats, and host to at least 80 sporting events every year.
The PLA believes passionately in a river that’s accessible for all responsible river users and we work closely with commercial, recreational, community and amenity groups to make this happen. The river is a precious asset and we want you to enjoy it to the full – and safely.
In order to support the safe use of the river we make a great deal of information available to recreational users, including guides, charts, navigational advice, tidal information and videos, as well as details of our local rules and regulations. All told, a substantial amount of information, guidance and advice is available both in hard copy and on this and our main website (www.pla.co.uk).
Need quick help?
Urgent navigational or environmental issues (incidents such as collisions, contact, grounding, pollution/sheen, animal in distress, sunk/abandoned vessels) that require an immediate response: Please phone our 24-hour VTS duty officer on:
- Thames Barrier Navigation Control, for matters between Teddington to Crossness: +44 (0)203 260 7711.
- Port Control Centre, for matters East of Crossness to the Outer Limits: +44 (0)1474 560311.
Life-threatening emergencies on the river: Call 999 and ask for the Coastguard. Be prepared to give your name, location and the nature of the emergency.
Should you witness, or be involved in, an incident on the tidal Thames, please contact one of our 24-hour control rooms on the following numbers, so that action may be taken as quickly as possible:
- Port Control Centre, Gravesend: +44 (0)1474 560311
- Thames Barrier Navigation Control, Woolwich: +44 (0)203 260 7711
Houseboat wash complaints are handled by our harbour master team and should be reported using this report form.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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 us for guidance. We encourage all recreational and leisure boat users to sign-up to the Tidal Thames Navigators Club.
This is free of charge and provides:
- PLA Notices to Mariners and e-Newsletters
- PLA Recreational User Guide and Tide Tables booklet
- Access to recreational briefings and discounts on PLA Charts and publications
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. Detailed advice on lifejackets is available here.
Guidance about the location of short term visitor moorings and who the operator is can be viewed on our Boating on the Thames website, which also has information about pump out, fuel facilities and other services. Please note: You must ensure you have contacted mooring providers in advance of your journey.
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 one 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 your use.
There are hazards on the foreshore: it should not be regarded 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.
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. 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.
Anyone searching the tidal Thames foreshore from Teddington to the Thames Barrier – in any way for any reason – must hold a current foreshore permit from the Port of London Authority. This includes all searching, metal detecting, ‘beachcombing’, scraping and digging. Click here for more information and to apply for a permit.
No. Personal Water Craft (PWC) / jet skis are not 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 can be found here.
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.
Swimming in the tidal Thames is not an activity which the Port of London Authority encourages. The tidal Thames is a fast-flowing waterway and the busiest inland waterway in the UK accommodating over 20,000 ship movements and hosting over 400 events each year. It is for these reasons the PLA restricts swimming throughout the majority of its jurisdiction for the safety of swimmers and river users.
The PLA allows swimming to take place upriver of Putney Bridge through to Teddington. It is permitted in this area only but be reminded that it is still a busy section of the tidal Thames for leisure and recreational activities. Swimming across the river is not permitted anywhere. Additional guidance and information about locating suitable swimming venues can be found here.
All events or race ideas need to be discussed with the PLA at the earliest stage, however at least four 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.