The tidal Thames starts at Teddington, from where it is officially 109km (68 miles) to the sea. From Wandsworth Bridge there is no speed limit but causing damage by excessive wash can attract a fine of up to £2,500. All police boats have radar guns.  www.the-river-thames.co.uk

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River Thames

Thames Barges

There are only 30 or so left of the 2,000 or more sailing barges that used to transport cargoes around Britain and Europe. With red sails - traditionally dressed with fish oil, horse urine and red ochre - and a crew of two, a few can still be seen on the river or Thames Estuary.

St Katherine’s Dock E1W 1TW
Tube: Tower Bridge

Thames Barrier

At 520m wide, the world's second largest movable flood barrier took eight years to build. Oddly, the main risk to it is fire in the electric motors that operate it about four times a year. Its four shipping channels span the same width as Tower Bridge - there is no point in being any wider.

1 Unity Way SE18
Rail: Charlton


The Royal National Lifeboat Institute relies on public donations, with no UK Government funding. Its busiest station in the UK is the one on the Thames at Tower - one of four on the river. In 2007, it launched 265 times, rescuing 92 people.

Victoria Embankment WC2
Tel: +44 (0)20 7240 3978
Tube: Embankment

River Police

More than 50 people die in the Thames each year – mostly suicides – and the police recover the bodies. Patrolling from Dartford to Hampton Court, the Marine Support Unit of the Met Police is the oldest UK police force. Formed in 1798, it has been based at Wapping ever since.

Wapping High Street  E1
Tube: Wapping

Swan Upping

The Worshipful Company of Vintners and the Dyers share the duty of ‘swan marking’ on the Thames. Dating back 600 years, its original purpose was to claim the birds as a delicacy for nobility. Every year, in the third week of July, the newborn cygnets are tagged from boats in a colourful ceremony.

Garlick Hill EC4
Tube: Mansion House

Doggett’s Coat & Badge

Irish actor Thomas Doggett founded a Thames River race for Watermen - the taxis of their day - in 1715. The oldest rowing race in the world - and the sporting event with the longest continuous history - pits up to six single sculls in a 7.4km race from London Bridge to Chelsea for the prize of a coat and silver badge.