The persistent heavy rain in southern England is causing very strong and fast flows in the Thames west of the capital. The abnormally high volumes of water flowing off the land has resulted in flows on the tidal Thames between Teddington and central London many times greater than normal.
This very strong ‘fluvial flow’ – up to four times stronger than normal - has led to a number of accidents involving man-powered vessels. In January there were 20 rescues of which four were capsized rowing boats. So far fifteen rowers have been pulled from the water.
In these incidents, river users have been caught by the severe strength of flow and swept onto moorings and piers. In one case, nine rowers had to be rescued when they were swept under moorings and their boat broken by the strength of the River. In another incident the coaching launch also foundered.
The Port of London Authority (PLA) which oversees safety on the tidal Thames has issued formal safety warnings to all recreational craft users and has also written directly to schools, colleges and universities. A particular concern is over young and novice crews attempting to row during these fast river flows.
The PLA has also introduced a new web-based safety indicator system. The ‘Ebb Tide Flag Warning’ system alerts rowers, canoeists, and other small recreational vessels of conditions on the river. This system is mainly for when the ebb tide and fluvial flows combine to make river conditions very perilous.
PLA chief harbour master David Phillips explained:
“The recent prolonged rain is resulting in immensely powerful flows on the tidal Thames in west London many times greater than normal. This makes it extremely challenging for even the most experienced rower or canoeist.
“We have therefore introduced a simple ‘Flag Warning’ system on our website which recreational users can check before they head out. If a red flag is showing – man-powered vessels are advised not go out. If a yellow flag is showing - young people and those that do not regularly use the tidal Thames are advised not go out.”
“The Thames in west London is a centre for rowing and paddling activities by all age groups. We have highlighted the current hazards to novices and young people - as these conditions are challenging enough for experienced adults. We want first experiences of the Thames to be in safer conditions.”
Martin Humphrys, chairman of the Thames Regional Rowing Council (TRRC) said:
“The tidal Thames is flowing at an unprecedented rate: even oarsmen who have been on the river 50 years man and boy have never experienced such conditions. I cannot emphasise too strongly the potential hazards to rowers at this time.”
Kevin East from Canoe England said:
“The high flows being experienced on many waterways including the tidal Thames are significantly faster and creating more turbulence than normal. Canoe England strongly advises canoeists to recognise the possible dangers from these extraordinary conditions.”
The PLA expects the strong river flow to continue for some weeks, even if the weather improves.
British Rowing has been advised that the RNLI Lifeboat station at Chiswick is having its busiest January ever with around 20 incidents so far, resulting in 16 people being rescued from the Tideway.
Coaches should note that a quad and an octuple have been among the four rowing capsizes included in these incidents.
The Regional Council were delighted to see that Her Majesty the Queen has made Mrs Di Ellis CBE (former Chairman of British Rowing) a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the birthday honours. Martin Humphrys Chairman of the region stated – I know of no-one who deserves this honour more than Di – she has worked tirelessly for our sport, over a period in excess of fifty years. We in the Thames Region, more than most, owe her a great debt of gratitude for all she has done. Her efforts to place rowing at the forefront of British sport succeeded with our many Olympic successes and now we are delighted to see she has herself gained the "Gold" she deserves - this certainly puts a seal on all of the sport's achievement over the past year.
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