River Thames - Human Aspects - Navigation

Navigation

The Thames is maintained for navigation by powered craft from the estuary as far as Lechlade in Gloucestershire and for very small craft to Cricklade. Between the sea and Teddington Lock, the river forms part of the Port of London and navigation is administered by the Port of London Authority. From Teddington Lock to the head of navigation, the navigation authority is the Environment Agency. Both the tidal river through London and the non-tidal river upstream are intensively used for leisure navigation. All craft using the river Thames must be licensed.

The river is navigable to large ocean-going ships as far upstream as the Pool of London and London Bridge. Although London's upstream enclosed docks have closed and central London sees only the occasional visiting cruise ship or warship, the tidal river remains one of Britain's main ports. Around 60 active terminals cater for shipping of all types including ro-ro ferries, cruise liners and vessels carrying containers, vehicles, timber, grain, paper, crude oil, petroleum products, liquified petroleum gas, etc. There is a regular traffic of aggregate or refuse vessels, operating from wharves in the west of London. The tidal Thames links to the canal network at the River Lea Navigation, the Regent's Canal at Limehouse Basin, and the Grand Union Canal at Brentford.

There is no speed limit on the Tideway downstream of Wandsworth Bridge, although boats are not allowed to create undue wash. Upstream of Wandsworth Bridge a speed limit is in force for powered craft to protect the riverbank environment and to provide safe conditions for rowers and other river users. The speed limit of 8 knots (15 km/h) applies to powered craft on this tidal part and 4.3 knots (8 km/h) on the non-tidal Thames. The Environment Agency has patrol boats (named after tributaries of the Thames) and can enforce the limit strictly since river traffic usually has to pass through a lock at some stage. There are pairs of transit markers at various points along the non-tidal river that can be used to check speed – a boat travelling legally taking a minute or more to pass between the two markers.

The non-tidal River Thames is divided into reaches by the 44 locks. The locks are staffed for the greater part of the day, but can be operated by experienced users out of hours. This part of the Thames links to existing navigations at the River Wey Navigation, the River Kennet and the Oxford Canal.

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