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Top tips to prepare your Canal boat for the Thames

Pre-season narrowboat prep for the Tideway

As cruising season approaches, the Port of London Authority (PLA) is helping narrowboaters prepare to make the challenging journey between canals and waterways along the tidal Thames.

Canal Boats often travel along the Thames as they transfer between waterways including the Grand Union Canal, The River Lee, and the non tidal Thames to Oxford and beyond, but can struggle with the demands of the powerful river.

When the weather is calm and the tides are right, a journey down the tideway can be calm and boaters can even ride the tidal current to reduce fuel use. Conversely, traveling on the tideway against the current can be demanding on the boats with tidal flows of 4 knots (approx. 4 mi/hr) and waves up to 1.2 metres.

PLA assistant harbour master Darren Knight said:

“The tidal Thames can catch some narrowboaters off guard after traveling on the calm waters of the canals. It is best to have your narrowboat in tiptop condition when traveling on the tidal Thames as it is a demanding waterway.”

“We have a few simple tips that will help make a narrowboat journey safer and hopefully allow for a more straightforward trip.”


Engines – The engine will be working harder than normal so make sure that filters, hoses, and wiring are in good condition and that fuel and oil have been checked.

Safety Equipment – Safety equipment is important should any thing go wrong during the journey. Check that your navigation lights work, for traveling during low light conditions, your lifejackets or buoyance aids are in working order and that you have a VHF radio tuned to London Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) on Channel 14 and or have saved the VTS phone number (02088550315) in your mobile.

Water ingress protection – while the canals tend to have calm waters, the tideway can have large waves so check that that water cannot easily enter through any openings in the engine room vents, cabin doors and weed hatches.

Have the right information to hand – Before you set off check the tide times, mooring locations, and Thames navigation restrictions in the PLA Notice to Mariners and the PLA Online Events Calendar. This helpful information is available through the PLA Tidal Thames App and www.boatingonthethames.co.uk. Regular Thames boaters should consider becoming a member of the Tidal Thames Navigators Club.



• The PLA works to ensure navigational safety along the tidal Thames, sharing its marine, environmental, planning and other expertise to promote use of the river and safeguard its unique marine environment.
• The tidal Thames is one of the UK’s busiest waterspaces and is home to the country’s second biggest port by tonnage of goods handled.