Paddler safety at Richmond canoe club

As a part of the canoe club’s ongoing commitment to paddler safety, we have put together some useful information to help you stay safe and enjoy your canoeing at Richmond.


Tides At Richmond

The Thames at Richmond canoe club ‘floods’ four times every day. The tidal river flow ranges from approximately 80 cubic metres of water per second up to 140 cubic metres per second.
If you are inexperienced, it is very important you know when the tides are flowing at Richmond, so go out another time.

Richmond half lock
This is a lock and wier that keeps the water levels above the lock at a consistent height. When the tide comes in, the locks are raised so water can flood in and when the tide goes out, the lock gates close and only lets river flow through. As a result of the lock gates closing, the river maintains a constant height behind the lock when there is no tidal flow.

– You will only see a tidal effect either roughly 2 hours before and after high tide when above Richmond lock (four hours total)
– If the high tide at Richmond lock is more than 5 metres, the tide will go above the river footpath at the canoe club
– The higher the tide, the stronger the flow. Above 5 m : strong flow.

Link: 7 day tide tables at Richmond Lock


Interactive map showing river dangers, access points and shallow water

This is a detailed map of all the main dangers, access points and shallow water in low tide from Isleworth up to Royal canoe club near Kingston upon Thames.
If you are a beginner at Richmond canoe club and you are unfamiliar with the river, you should take some time and read through this map.

Important! The map shows danger areas and how you should avoid them. The main danger for beginners is where they get too close to boats or trees when there is flow on the river. The map shows you the danger zones you should avoid.

Direct link to map here


Thames River conditions

The environment agency have a river safety warning system. For example if the river is in severe flood it would be designated as ‘red boards’.

Link to River conditions page


River flow rate at Kingston

Link to River Flow at Kingston

Since the Thames ‘floods’ four times each day (tide in/out), the river flow rate needs to be taken from the nearest non tidal measuring point i.e. Kingston.

General guidelines on flow:
Cubic metres per second = m3/s

0 – 30 m3/s = minimal flow   (Green boards)
0 – 31 – 60 m3/s = moderate flow, waves and swirls   (Green boards)
0 – 61 – 100 m3/s = fairly powerful flow, standing waves, swirls   (Yellow boards)
0 – 101 – 140 m3/s = powerful flow, aggressive swirls/eddies  (Red boards)
0 – 141 – 200 m3/s = very powerful flow, dangerous swirls/eddies (Red boards)
0 – 201+ m3/s = extremely powerful flow, very dangerous swirls/eddies (Red boards)


Port of London Authority Tideway Paddler Guidelines

This is an important set of guidelines you should read if you are planning on canoeing on the Tideway. The Tideway begins below Richmond half lock (about 600 m beyond Richmond Bridge going towards London)

Link to Port of London Authority Paddler  Tideway Guidelines 



If you are paddling at night time, you should read and follow these safety guidelines.

– Disorientation
– Lack of usual visual keys

– fog
– cold
– ice
– wind

River state
– tides (& draw off)
– Red boards
– other markers eg the buoy

Kit & equipment:
– availability of stable boats

– windproof top & hat
– layers
– spare kit
– buoyancy aid

– glowstick
– moveable torch
– boat lights
– tape

Hazards & Behaviour to avoid:

Bankside HAZARDS
– cyclists / pedestrians, occasionally cars
– theft (locking club doors)
– slipping, especially on pontoon & during draw-off

Be aware of cyclists & pedestrians, occasionally even cars
Locking club doors is the responsibility of all, before and after.

Safety briefing before get on water

No getting onto the water without being instructed to do so by the Coach.

A Coach will be on the water first or ready to jump into boat.
Hazards & Behaviour to avoid: (cont.)

On the water HAZARDS:
– other traffic
– flow & static objects (trees & moored boats or pontoons)
– fishermen
– each other

Stick to the right-hand side of the river

Everyone responsible for looking out for other traffic, especially when stopping (look behind)
– when crossing / turning. Avoid getting too close to moored boats, especially in heavy flow. You will find yourself drawn in.
– Give wide berth when turning upstream of fixed objects & when approaching fixed objects with the flow.
– Keep an eye out for fishermen, if tangle with line the hazard is the hook at the end. Try to keep the line away from your face, hands etc.
– Each other: no wash hanging or getting too close unless the other boat is comfortable with your actions, it doesn’t matter if you’re happy


SHOUT!!!! Coaches need to be aware there has been a capsize.

Stay with your boat
Flip boat
Paddles in boat
Go to the end of the boat
Look out for your paddling partner & communicate with them
Do not swim close to fixed objects if there is flow
Do not swim directly to the side if there is flow

Listen to the Coach for instructions & follow them

Build your awareness of good ‘get-out’ points, especially at high water

Effects of very cold water
– immediate ‘locked lung’ (exhale, SHOUT!!!)
– hyperventilation
– short period of time when you can usefully do things (5 mins)
– buoyancy aid will protect you against hypothermia for up to 30mins

Signs of hypothermia
– hard to see visual signs in the dark, but look for behavioural – silence, lack of focus/concentration, physical malco-ordination

If someone else in the group capsizes
– make sure coach is aware (you may be close to the capsize, they may not)
– make sure you are safe
– help to make sure the rest of the group is safe – usually the best thing
is to group up together by the bank ie out of the way of traffic, in
earshot of the coach but not getting in their way. Keep an eye out for
other river traffic or anyone else getting into difficulties
– listen out for coach instructions & follow them
– do not try to assist with the rescue unless the coach asks

Dry drowning/Secondary drowning
– Trouble breathing 1-24hrs after getting out of the water
– Dry – small amount of water causes the airways to spasm, closing them up
Secondary – water gets into lungs causing irritation & stopping oxygen absorption
– Look out for coughing, increased work to breathe, sleepiness (lack of oxygen), vomiting


ULTIMATELY the Coaches decision is FINAL

Coaches decide whether you can paddle and what boat you paddle. Yes
Coaches will assess conditions and if the Coach says the Group cannot paddle, or an individual cannot paddle, on a given occasion, there is no argument.
Coaches can cancel a session at any time.
If you do not listen to the Coaches and follow their instructions you may be barred from night paddling.
(We are currently working to book the paddle machines / gym at the club if you cannot go on the water & we suggest you always pack kit that you can use indoors just in case).


RCC SENIOR NOVICE SESSIONS 1, 2 & 3 (Sat afternoons) Safety procedures

Senior Novice Course and Novice 2 & 3 sessions:

– All groups must be led by a qualified or experienced coach from the list below. Final decisions about safety will be made by this Lead Coach.
– Novice 1 & 2 sessions must have a minimum of two coaches
– Novice 3 sessions should ideally be run by two coaches, but can be run by a single coach if there are 6 or fewer paddlers and the coach is aware of (and happy with) their level of paddling competence for the conditions
– There should be a ratio of no lower than 1 coach to 6 paddlers in ‘normal’ conditions
– Additional coaches or ‘helpers’ should be used when conditions are considered more challenging (ie at high water, in fast flow, strong wind, extreme cold). These helpers must be experienced, stable paddlers, with knowledge of the river at Richmond, and must be briefed by the Lead Coach on safety before the session
– The Lead Coach can, at any time (before or during the session) make the decision that it is unsafe for individual paddlers, or for the group as a whole, to paddle. They can take advice from fellow coaches & senior members of the club, but should not feel under pressure to take a group out if they do not feel it is safe.

Before getting on the water
– All Novice 1, 2 or 3 participants must confirm that they can swim 50m fully clothed before their first session on the water (course participants will be asked to sign a statement to this effect, newcomers to Novice 2 or 3 should be asked by the Lead Coach)
– All Course participants will be asked, in their booking form, whether they have any medical or health-related issues that the coach should know about (ie that may affect them on the water). Newcomers to Novice 2 or 3 should be asked this by the Lead Coach.
– All Course participants are asked to provide an emergency contact name and telephone number. These numbers are provided to the Lead Coach for the course before the first week (they are also held by Jemima.) Newcomers to Novice 2 or 3 must be asked to provide an emergency contact name and tel. number before they go out on the water.

Safety briefing
– All Novice 1/ Course participants will be given a safety briefing at their first session before getting on the water (see ‘Safety Briefing’ document). Any paddler missing the first session can be turned away from the course, but if allowed on they must be given the safety briefing before they get on the water for the first time.
– Anyone joining Novice 2 or Novice 3 without attending the course must also be given a safety briefing before being allowed to attend a session. It is the responsibility of the Lead Coach to check that they have been briefed.

Getting on and off the water
– All paddlers (and coaches/helpers) should be briefed before getting on the water on the plan for getting on the water (ie where to gather, when to get on).
– There should always be one coach or rescue-competent helper on the water before any novice paddlers launch from the pontoon.
– All paddlers (and coaches/helpers) should be gathered together before returning to the pontoon and briefed on the approach to be used (paddlers can be asked what approach they would pick – as part of the learning/coaching process, but the lead coach will make the final decision)
– No paddler should be allowed to return to the pontoon unaccompanied (ie out of sight of a coach or helper)

Rescue practice
– All Novice 1/Course participants will be required to capsize and rescue their boat as part of the course. No paddler will be allowed to join the club without having successfully self-rescued.
– Anyone joining Novice 2 or Novice 3 without attending the course must be required to do a capsize and rescue within their first session, unless they provide convincing proof to the Lead Coach that they have experience at self-rescuing from racing boats.
– Novice 2 sessions should include an opportunity to practice capsizing and rescuing a K2.

– All Novice 1, 2 and 3 paddlers must wear a buoyancy aid. Coaches and helpers must also wear a buoyancy aid (to set an example)
– All Novice 1 and 2 paddlers must wear footwear that will stay on their feet and protect them in the event of a capsize (ie not flip flops). Novice 3 paddlers are strongly advised to wear footwear that will stay on their feet. It is in the coach’s discretion to insist that a Novice 3 paddler wears shoes (if they are prone to capsizing or if the conditions/format for the session merits)
– Novice paddlers will be given advice on suitable clothing. Any paddler who turns up with unsuitable clothing for the conditions (eg no windproof layer on a cold and wet day) can be refused permission to go on the water (if no spare kit can be lent or found at the club.)

Paddler behaviour
– All Novice 1, 2 and 3 paddlers must listen to and obey instructions from their coaches. Anyone failing to follow instructions may be taken off the water.
– Any paddler in Novice 1, 2 or 3 who endangers themselves or others through their behaviour can be taken off the water by their coach.
– Anyone repeatedly failing to follow instructions, and warned of the consequences of this behaviour, can have their membership terminated

Paddling on Red Boards

For any session it is the Lead Coaches ultimate decision as to:
– Whether it is safe to run a water-based session
– Whether any given novice paddler will be allowed on the water in the particular conditions
– What type of boat any given novice can paddle for that session
– Where the launch point and return point will be

To guide lead coaches it is advised that when the river is on red boards, unless sufficient mitigating factors exist (see below):

For Novices 2s:
– Launch should be from River Lane, not from the club pontoon
– Paddling should be limited to the section of the river from Glovers Island to the bottom of Eel Pie island (usually remaining on the Surrey bank of the river)
– Return should be to River Lane or at low tide to either of the two sets of steps on Surrey bank by Petersham meadows (not the steps just upriver of the pontoon)

For Novice 3s:
– The coach should strongly consider launching from River Lane
– The coach should consider returning to River Lane

Additionally serious thought should be given to the size of the group in fast-flow conditions. The group should be kept to a maximum of 6 novices and paddlers should be reminded to keep a minimum of a boat-length apart when doing any down-flow exercises – more than that if turning is involved, to prevent one person’s mis-steering affecting a whole group.

Mitigating factors:
These include, though are not limited to:
– an incoming tide which counters the flow
– novices paddling in a k2 with an experienced paddler
– a very high ration of coaches/experienced helpers to novices and a very small group)