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New Thames Byelaws in force

The new Port of London Thames Byelaws 2012 will come into effect on Sunday 1 July 2012 after a five-year process of review and consultation with river users.

The last major revision of the byelaws was  in 1978 and they were published then as the Port of London River Byelaws.  The Port of London Authority (PLA) reviewed them as part of its work to secure high standards of navigational safety on the tidal Thames.  Byelaws have been removed if no longer relevant, simplified where possible, updated in the light of new technologies and methods of operation; and new byelaws introduced, where needed.

Those byelaws which have been revised or added cover areas including diving, local knowledge requirements, speed limits, carriage of Thames AIS (Automatic Identification Systems), swimming and protection of the foreshore.

PLA chief harbour master, David Phillips, explained:

“The River Thames is challenging to navigate safely, particularly through the busy and congested stretch through central London.  The updating and development of the longstanding byelaws is needed to ensure they remain relevant to the port usage, reflect the use of technology, and support the safe growth in river traffic.

“It’s important to remember just how much the River has changed in the 34 years since the byelaws were last changed.  We now have growing commercial activity in the estuary and sea reaches, with ships becoming bigger and bigger, London Gateway due to start up next year, busy commuter ferry services and increasing use of the river by leisure vessels, combined with the established use for moving freight through London.

“And if you want to get a feel for how much things have changed, just remember in 1978, commercial activity in the port was declining, there were no mobile phones, the Bee Gees were topping the charts and the Ford Cortina was the best selling car.”

The development of the new Thames Byelaws took several years, due to the extensive public consultation involved, and the associated legal procedures and requirements.  The process started in 2008 with an informal public consultation, followed in 2011 by a formal public consultation through the Department for Transport.  That second consultation raised a number of formal objections from individuals and operators, which the PLA then sought to resolve. 

The Department for Transport has now agreed the final form of the byelaws, which have been confirmed by the Secretary of State.
The new Thames Byelaws 2012 are available to view and download here.