What are the rules of the river?

Henley Boating | Summer 2021

With the weather warming up and restrictions easing, we’re excited to be offering cruises and self-drive boats again! As we come back to boating on the river Thames, we wanted to share a few important tips and rules to follow on the river. Read on for some river trivia and useful information that will keep you safe and help you understand how to navigate the waters.

10 rules for boating on the river Thames:

  1. Stay on the right side of the river
  2. Be aware of what is behind you, as well as in front of you
  3. Stick to channels where there is clear marking
  4. Stray away from weirs and be mindful of warning signs
  5. The boat coming downstream always has right of way
  6. Motor boats should always give way to sailing boats, rowing boats and larger passenger vessels which may have difficulty manoeuvring
  7. The speed limit on the non-tidal parts of the River Thames has a limit of 8kmh (5mph)
  8. Always slow down when you are approaching bridges, locks, bends or junctions, and when you pass boats or anglers
  9. When you moor in a lock you must turn off your engine
  10. Follow the signs when there is a side channel or you need to go around and island in the river
Chartered Vs. Self-Drive Boats.

River Rules | What dare the procedures at locks?

Most locks in the UK have lay-bys where vessels can form an orderly que and wait for their turn to enter. It is important to follow the order of the que as jumping ahead of others is not only rude but can also cause delays and confusion. When boats approach a lock, they should moor as close as possible to the lock so others can moor behind them.

If you find yourself in front of closed lock gates, it’s considered very rude to hoot your horn to get the attention of the lock keeper. In most cases they follow specific procedures and will give you instructions when the time is right. Once they have done so and you’re in the lock, all vessels need to turn their engine off and adjust their mooring lines to accommodate for the rising and dropping water levels in the lock.

Traditionally, lock keepers on the river Thames don’t accept tips, but gratitude and a can of cold refreshment are always welcomed on busy summer days.

River Rules | What do channel markers mean on the river?

In some stretches of the river you will see channel markers – usually, they will be marked by buoys of red cans and green cones. These serve a specific purpose and help vessels navigate tricky parts of the river both upstream and downstream. If a boat is heading downstream, the red cans should be to its right and the green cones to its left. If the boat is going upstream, the red markers should be on its left and the green on its right.

River Rules | A quick lesson in sound signals on the river

1 blast = going to the right

2 blasts = going to the left

3 blasts = I’m trying to stop or go backwards

4 blasts – pause – 1 blast = turning round to the right

4 blasts – pause – 2 blasts = turning round to the left

1 extra long blast = warning at tunnels, blind bends and junctions


Chartered Vs. Self-Drive Boats.

Important note: Keep away from weirs on the river 

Anyone on the river should be mindful of staying on the channel. Straying away can be dangerous, especially if you end up close to a weir. Keep an eye out for any weir warning signs along the river and make sure you don’t go anywhere close.


Excited to put your new knowledge to practice?

Come join us for a cruise on the river on one of our boat charters! Henley Boating offers 1-hour, half-day and 1-day cruises on board the MV Olympic, a 1968 Metropolitan Police Launch made by Watercraft of Shoreham. As well as that, we offer a range of self-drive boats that can be booked by the hour for a lovely day out on the river Thames. 

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