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River Thames Safety Guide



Boating on the Thames is a fantastic way to relax and spend time with family and friends but it is also very important that you make you and your guests aware of the dangers that comes with this environment.

Our marinas are open seven days a week and our staff carry out rounds every day and we are always out and about to ensure the pontoons are clean and safe for customers and of course, they also check on your boats too.

We at MDL Marinas will always encourage you to attend a boating introductory course such as The Inland Waterways Helmsman Course, which is run by the RYA. Particularly if you are new to boating, please make yourself aware of the following basic marina and river safety guide so that you can enjoy using your boat in the safest way possible.

What can you do to help?

As a berth holder, you should familiarise yourself with the location of all the safety equipment on the pontoon relative to your mooring and around the site. By doing so, should you or one of your guests need any emergency equipment, you will know where to find it.

How do I know it is safe to go out on the river?

Before you head out on the river, it is always a good idea to check the weather the night before and if we have had a lot of rain recently, the river might be running faster than usual, particularly in the winter, which isn’t ideal boating conditions. You can check the river conditions by visiting the Environment Agency website and we also display them on our main entrances, either by a flag, or a notice board.

  • No flag/board – there are no warnings and the river isn’t flowing particularly fast.
  • Yellow flag/board – the river is flowing and extra precautions should be taken, and you may want to consider not taking the boat out.
  • Red flag/board – the river is flowing very fast and may be in flood so boaters should not be out on the river. Most insurance companies will not insure boaters who are out when the river is on red boards.

What do the navigation markers mean?

When travelling upstream keep red obstruction marker buoys on your left, and green buoys on your right. When travelling downstream, keep red buoys on your right, and green buoys on your left.
Single yellow marker buoys can be passed on either side.

In all cases, pass well clear of marker buoys, and take care. You should also be careful in the margins of the river, and around bends, where river and weather conditions have resulted in tree debris collecting and some shallows forming.

What does the emergency equipment look like?

  • On each pontoon we have several safety ladders. These are usually bright yellow ladders that hang off the side of the pontoon and can be used in an emergency to get out of the water.
  • The fire extinguishers are kept in red cabinets and there is at least one located on every pontoon. Should you have to use one of these, please let the marina office know immediately so we can investigate the incident and replace the extinguisher.
  • Life rings are located on every pontoon and in various other locations around the marina.

What do I do if I see someone fall into the water?

In this instance, go to your closest life ring location, un-hook it and take it with you to the person in the water. Throw the life ring next to where they are (not directly at them), ask them to grab hold of it and gently pull them to the bank/pontoon. For easy access out of the water, use an emergency ladder located at several points on every pontoon. There are also portable emergency ladders located around the marina. Please always contact the Marina office in the event of an emergency so we can assist.

What do I do if I discover a fire?

In the event of a fire, alert everyone by shouting Fire, Fire, Fire and evacuate everyone away from the area as quickly and safely as possible. Only attempt to fight the fire if it is safe to do so. Fire extinguishers are located on every pontoon and by the facility buildings. Call 999 and ask for the fire brigade. Call the Marina office so they can assist and escort the fire brigade to the location of the fire. There are instructions on what to do in the event of a fire on every pontoon bridge head next to the fire bell.

What do I do if I have a medical emergency?

If you or one of your guests suffer an injury or are in need of emergency medical assistance, you should telephone 999. Once you have reported the emergency, you should call the Marina office so they can assist you and direct the ambulance to your location. Any non-emergency injuries must be reported to the Marina office straight away.

*If there are any emergencies outside of office hours, you should contact our night security on 07713 374726.

Are the pontoons cleaned regularly?

Members of staff walk every pontoon, every morning, seven days a week to ensure the pontoons are clean and safe. We also have an annual pontoon cleaning program including a deep pressure clean of every pontoon and pontoon finger to remove any grime which could cause them to be slippery. This is usually carried out every winter. Should you discover an area of the pontoon that is in need of attention, please let a member of staff know as soon as possible.

Cruising and flood conditions

In the following video, Chris Manners from TBS Boats explains the cruising and flood conditions of the River Thames, such as why navigation is suspended to all pleasure boaters when red boards are on display.

Chris also explains how to access and leave locks on the river, especially when it's self service and there isn't a lock-keeper present.


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