Sup on the Tideway
Safety on the Thames
The Thames in London – right up to Teddington is tidal with on of the biggest tidal ranges in the world. There are strong currents and risks to manage. It is also a busy stretch of river with commercial traffic, pleasure boats and rowers.
The following FAQ covers most of the things we are asked throughout the year by our customers and others planning their own Thames adventures. We strongly advise that everyone intending to paddle the Tideway unguided downloads and reads the Tideway Code which you can find on LINK
Q. Where does the Thames Stop being tidal ?
It’s tidal all the way from the sea at Southend up to Teddington Lock. Tides above Richmond Lock are mostly weaker but still strong enough to be dangerous to the unprepared and inexperienced.
Q Do I need a licence to paddle ?
No licence is required for individual paddlers on the Tideway but above Teddington Lock you require an Environment Agency Licence or British Canoeing (BC) membership.
Q. Which organisation regulates the Tideway ?
The Port of London Authority www.pla.co.uk
Q. Are there any restrictions on SUP ?
There are few restrictions on Stand up Paddleboarding during the daytime above Putney. Night SUP is restricted and you need to be TSK1 (Thames Skills and Knowledge 1) trained to paddle at night. Downriver of Putney Pier you need to be TSK1 trained and paddle in groups or be TSK2 trained. You should read the Tideway Code (PLA Website) if you intend to paddle below Putney Pier so that you can become familiar with the restrictions. Active runs TS courses throughout the year with theory parts on Zoom and practical parts on the river.
Q. What are the main hazards ?
Anything which can pin (hold) a paddler in the tidal current can be a hazard. This includes trees, pontoons, moored boats, jetties and bridge piers. Also river traffic of all types from rowers to large tugs towing barges
Q. Can I stand up paddle right through central London ?
This is possible with PLA permission which will be given if you have sufficient training and experience or if you have some relevant experience and are guided by an LKE (Local Knowledge Endorsement) qualified river guide. We can put you in touch with LKE guides if you are planning this.
Q Can I stand up paddle the Thames at night ?
Yes, above Putney if you have taken TSK1 training (refer to the Tideway Code) or down to Chelsea Bridge if you are part of an organised and TSK trained group.
Q. Is it feasible to paddle the Thames from source to sea or from sea to source ?
Thames Source to Sea his is a big undertaking and takes careful planning and resources. They will require a detailed Passage Plan which gives timings and risks you expect to encounter on each stretch of river through London and on to the sea. Generally South is regarded as open sea but it would be reasonable for a Source to Sea to finish at various points below this e.g Gravesend, Greenwich, Putney, Kew Bridge or even Teddington (the start of the Tideway). By deciding to finish at an earlier point on the river you will greatly reduce your costs, risk and hassle while still completing a substantial achievement. Unless you are a very experienced SUP paddler you should be thinking or an earlier finish point. Downriver of Putney you will generally need to be guided by an LKE (Local Knowledge Endorsement) qualified kayaker or safety boat pilot. We can suggest a few who may be willing to do this and costs are likely to be £250 per day upward.
Sea to Source
Paddling far against the tides is not really feasible so you will need to use 3-4 flood tides to get from the sea to Teddington and to get to Putney you will generally need to be guided by an LKE (Local Knowledge Endorsement) qualified kayaker or safety boat pilot. After Teddington you will be heading upriver against the constant fluvial flow of the river which for long distances in only feasible in low flow conditions (generally summer).
Q Is it safe to paddle alone on the Tideway ?
Yes of course if you are experienced and understand the risks and how to manage them. The Tideway is generally not a safe environment for inexperienced or unskilled paddlers because of its strong tidal currents and many moored boats, pontoons and jetties. It’s also a busy stretch of river
You will need to get your passage through London to the sea agreed by the Thames Harbourmasters and you can contact them via the PLA recreation team on Recreation@pla.co.uk. The PLA website also has useful information and you can find the Tideway Code there. This Code of practice is referred to and discussed in numerous parts of our Thames Skills and Knowledge courses.
Q Can Active360 help with Source To Sea paddles or similar long distance paddles ?
We can help with advice, passage planning, seeking permission from authorities and other aspects. We can do this online via Zoom meetings which we charge for in advance. This is all subject to our time availability as we have many requests.
Q Can I use a leg leash ?
These should never be used on tidal rivers (or in our opinion any rivers) or estuaries because of the risk of entanglement and drowning. Use a quick release (QR) leash (waist)belt or QR buoyancy aid attachment. In a slow moving, weak current lead leashes are not really dangerous and may add to safety but river currents can speed up quickly with heavy rainfall upriver so only very experienced river paddlers are able to assess the risks constantly. Leg leashes are of course safe on open sea and in lakes and generally they can be the best option for open water paddling without obstructions as there are very few circumstances in open water where you would need to release from your board in a hurry and of course, accidental release could increase risks.
Q Do I need special protective clothing for Tideway SUP ?
It’s always best to be dressed to take account of possible immersion . In summer light thermal are generally best and in winter a wetsuit or drysuit is often best. A light long John wetsuit (no sleeves) is often ideal except in summer temperatures over 15c
Q Why do you recommend buoyancy aids for the Tideway ?
They protect you from cold water shock and hypothermia and if its necessary to separate from your board or if this happens accidentally you will still be buoyant even in strong currents so survival is likely.
Q What is London VTS ?
VTS is a Vessel Tracking System designed to improve safety for all Thames Tideway users. You can read about the service and how to use it on the PLA website
SUP is relatively easy to pick up and learn the basics. People of almost all fitness levels and ages can try and enjoy SUP safely. Certain levels of flexibility and balance are needed – if you are able to stand up from a kneeling position on the floor you should be fine on a SUP. We aim to get everyone standing on their first session. Although it is not a requirement, we will encourage you to try. Staying in kneeling position on a SUP for a prolong period of time can be tiring and puts a strain on your knees. We do not practice ‘sit down paddleboarding’ – SUP is not a kayak and paddling on a SUP in a sitting down position is very ineffective and slow.
We advise checking the weather forecast before your session and dressing appropriately based on the weather conditions on the day – taking wind and rain factor into account.
Shoes you will wear on a SUP (depending on the time of year – read below)
Spare clothes and a towel (in case you fall in and need to shower)
Sun protection (sunscreen and sun hat)
Retainer for your glasses
Refillable water bottle (you can top up at the arches)
Dry bag if you are planning to take things with you on water including waterproof phone case for your phone. We have some dry bags and phone cases for sale on site.
Quick drying sportswear/gymwear – short or long sleeve tops, leggings, shorts, quick drying trousers (avoid denim and heavy cotton – it can get heavy when wet and holds moisture making you chill down quickly).
Footwear – neoprene water shoes are best. Inexpensive neoprene shoes are now widely available to buy. However, if you don’t have these, don’t worry. On your first few sessions you will be fine wearing a pair of flat sole trainers/converse/ hiking sandals with a heel strap – anything that will stay on your feet, footwear with a sturdy flat sole that you don’t mind getting wet and possibly muddy. Avoid flip- flops as hey will fall off your feet, you can trip over and injure yourself! There are sharp stones on the river banks and in wetter weather some river mud so wearing flip-flops can be dangerous. We avoid barefoot paddling because of the risks of injury and infection (falling over, cutting your feet on sharp stones, getting infected etc). You may wish to purchase a pair of neoprene socks which we sell at very competitive prices (£15-£20) and layer them up with your trainers. We also sell light weight neoprene shoes and have some more technical neoprene boots but not all sizes.
Light windproof/waterproof jacket or a spare top if you think you will get chilly.
Spare jumper/throw on top you may wish to put on after exercising to warm up and stay cosy.
Windproof/waterpoof light jacket.
In colder weather we strongly advise wearing light thermals and wetsuits and a wooly hat (we lose lots of heat through the head!) We have a selection of wetsuits that can be borrowed on our sessions. You may wish to wear a bigger wetsuit with tight fitting layer under – a baselayer and a pair of leggings.
Footwear in colder weather is very important – your feet will get cold! We recommend neoprene shoes and boots and in very cold weather neoprene socks as well.
We have some neoprene shoes to borrow free of charge but not all sizes are available and depending on how busy we are we are likely to run out of shoes. You may wish to purchase a pair of neoprene socks which we sell at very competitive prices (£15-£20) and layer them up with your trainers. We also sell light weight neoprene shoes and have some more technical neoprene boots but not all sizes.
During the winter months we also have neoprene mitts available for use if required.
Spare clothes, warm jumper/throw on cosy top are essential in winter to keep you warm after exercise.
Please arrive at least 15 minutes before your session’s start time to get changed and ready for the session. We cannot always accommodate latecomers especially on group sessions and if you arrive too late to get ready in time you may miss your session entirely.
Refunds/reschedules are not possible due to late arrivals. Please call us/email if you think you may be late. However, we do not have a call centre arrangement and while we try to pick up most calls, at busy times we can sometimes all be out on water. So it’s possible you will not be able to get through and your email will not be picked up in time. We may also not be able to reach the coach on site to let them know you are running late.
Private sessions have got a bit more flexibility but your session may be shortened and on the Thames you may miss a good stage of the tide.
Please, plan for travel disruptions. West London can be busy and heavily congested. Parking spaces are limited. Plan to arrive earlier and enjoy a coffee/drink/snack from one of the excellent local cafes and/or a stroll on the riverside. You will enjoy your session much more if you can avoid the stress of getting there just in time or late.
We recommend using public transport or cycling to get to all our locations. It’s better for the environment, doesn’t add to local pollution, journey times are more predictable and you are sparing yourself the headache of finding a parking space.
We provide boards, paddles and Buoyancy Aids (mandatory on all our sessions). We do not provide leashes on our sessions – you can read our policy on leashes here explaining the reasons behind it.
We do not provide dry bags.
The Thames is currently one of the cleanest urban rivers in the world, and recognised as a massive environmental success story. It is currently a home to 300+ species of wildlife in its tidal stretches (including: cormorants, herons, seals and number of fish including sea horses), some of which you’ll be sure to see on your trip. You’ll also find lots of people using the river for recreational activities including Kayaking and Rowing.
The brown colour of the Thames is caused by the clay substrate (river bed) which is constantly churned up by tidal movement and it is not an indicator of pollution.
The Grand Union and Regent’s Canal in the areas we paddle have good water quality and we often see large carp and other species of fish. In warmer months there is a lot of duck weed on the surface which can be a bit of a nuisance when paddling (it slows you down a bit and gets stuck on your fin) but is absolutely harmless and in fact it help to oxygenate the water so good for wildlife.
As a precaution for paddling in any open water, open cuts should be covered with plasters and tape, and you should wash your hands with soap / antibacterial gel before touching your mouth, eating any food etc. Take a shower if you fall in, if not immediately then soon after arrival home.
We occasionally cancel group trips with 24 hours’ notice if we do not have the minimum number of participants to run the session (this is rare between spring – autumn).
We will also cancel if we deem weather conditions to be unsuitable (e.g. very strong winds, fast fluvial flows, etc.), but we are not put off by a bit of rain. Late requests for reschedule when the weather on the day of your session does not quite match your hopes cannot be accepted. UK is a small island facing the Atlantic so the weather can be changeable. This doesn’t mean you will not enjoy paddling. Some of our most memorable sessions were run in inclement weather. You will see people out enjoying the river on most days in most weather conditions. But we will certainly cancel if we feel it is unsafe.
If your session is cancelled by us, you will have an option to reschedule or obtain a full refund.
If you’d like to rearrange your session you must inform us 72hrs beforehand. Admin fee applies.
You can read our cancellation policy here.
Yes, dogs are welcome by arrangement but not on group sessions.
You can bring a dog on a private session or you can take a dog when renting equipment. You must have a buoyancy aid for your dog, ideally with a top handle so you can pull your dog up if necessary.
You are putting your dog at risk by taking them on water without a buoyancy aid. Dogs fur gets very slippery when wet and it is almost impossible to pull a wet dog out (you should not under any circumstances be pulling your dog by a collar!)
Children can learn and enjoy SUP on private sessions with their families or on Kids’ Parties.
Children as young as 7 can try, learn and enjoy SUP safely paddling their own board. But all children grow in height, strength and stamina differently so there is no ‘one rule fits all’. Best to call us if you are unsure and we will be able to advise you. Swimming ability is required but is not an indicator of how well your child will handle a board as the strength required for SUP is completely different. Being confident in water is much more important than the technical ability to swim.
We take children below 11 only on the canal (Paddington and Brentford Lock).
Family session on the Thames with young children can be taken on a low tide only which we don’t indicate on our booking system. So if you are planning a family session on the river, please call us to discuss.
Check more info under Family & Kids section.
We can accommodate older teenagers around 16+ on group sessions but call us to discuss.
Get in touch by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call on: 0203 393 5360. We’d be happy to answer your questions.