This article deals with the facilities available to yachtsmen and motorboaters in the stretch of the River Thames from the Thames Barrier up to Tower Bridge.
Once past the Thames Barrier (the details of handling this are dealt with in the Thames 1 article), you will really begin to feel that you are in the city. The Millennium Dome, the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich, the skyscrapers of the Canary Wharf, and finally the unmistakable skyline of the City of London with its "gherkin" building all heave into view one after another.
Progress is then blocked for masted vessels at Tower Bridge.
There is considerable River traffic, including heavy barge trains and fast tripper boats. A sharp eye needs to be kept also for drifting debris which could foul a prop, or even bend the shaft.
There are three marinas that can cope with visitors, all of them entered via locks. They can get busy and full therefore it is best to book your berth in advance...
If planning a club rally to London with six or more boats it is also possible to arrange a berth within the docks, where there is untold room. The details are provided later.
Once settled in any of the marinas you have an ideal base with which to explore the rest of London. Public transport is excellent (maybe outside of the rush hours), and you could easily spend a couple of weeks exploring.
It is possible to get your boat lifted within this area should the need arise, and all day to day provisioning can be obtained (more easily in some places than others). In general though the place is not particularly set up for the needs of the visiting yachtsman in the same way as say, Southampton.
Anyone planning to keep their boat in this area longer-term will find prices are considerably lower than the South Coast...... the big problem is the amount of time it will take to get to sea. Despite this as a place to visit it is well worthwhile making the effort.
To be berthed on board your own boat in the heart of London, one of the greatest capital cities of the world, is an experience that shouldn't be missed.
The trailer boater will also find good opportunities for launching and recovery, and without speed restrictions can cover a lot of ground, although there are speed restrictions further upstream.
The area described is approached by passing through the Thames Barrier, as covered elsewhere.
It is worth noting that this can sometimes be closed totally for testing so therefore it would be worth checking with them when planning your journey inwards or outwards.
Details of closures are normally broadcast on VHF channel 14, or you could telephone them on 020 8855 0315. The Port of London authority issues notices to Mariners concerning this also. The following link covers Thames Barrier closures for the summer of 2015:
And another link is provided to the section of their website dealing with rules and regulations for leisure boaters:
In the area dealt with here, they operates on VHF channel 14 which should be monitored.
The trip up river to Tower Bridge and the facilities on the way are described in the next section.
This section deals with the mooring possibilities for visiting yachtsman or motorboater...
...including South Dock Marina, Limehouse Basin and St. Katherine's Yacht Haven. The PLA has a Google map on its website showing all facilities on the banks of the Thames and can be accessed at:
http://www.boatingonthethames.co.uk If you scroll down this page there is a useful chartlet of the whole of the facilities on the Thames but you will have to select from the box on the right hand side or you will be inundated with info!
Once through the Thames Barrier and heading up River within a mile you will come to the Greenwich Yacht Club on your port side. They have new premises including the club room built on a pier, and the conspicuous slipway. They also have many moorings and maintain one for visitors. There is a pontoon in front of the club with all tide access, and they can lift boats up to 12 tons and 40ft. The club is open Tuesday evenings plus all weekends, offering all the usual clubhouse facilities.
By arranging with them in advance, it may be possible to use one of their moorings and their facilities.... even possibly being able to use that all tide pontoon overnight. They will charge you £25 per night (irrespective of length) but be aware that with the increase in clipper traffic it may be bumpy on their pontoon (need plenty of fenders) There are plans here to lay three visitors buoys capable of taking several boats at once. Telephone them on 0208 858 7339, or check the link to their website below:
Pushing on up Bugsby Reach there is an addition to the skyline in the form of a cable car across the river (the air draft is vast so of no worry to you in your yacht); it'll be full of tourists so make sure you smile for the camera!! On past the Millennium Dome, you may notice the control boards for the Thames Barrier.... these give instructions to those heading down River about traversing the barrier. Strangely it also has the ability to boom instructions at you, as the control staff are watching you via CCTV.
After the Dome, the River turns southwards into Blackwall Reach, and you may notice on your starboard side the entrance to the West India docks. There are no visitors moorings in here as such, the lock ( one hour either side of high water), and the bridges will be opened in unison for pre-booked parties (minimum 6) of yachts. There is a vast expanse of water in here, and mooring is to the dockside. Check the directory for the contact details.
Blackwall Reach gives way to Greenwich Reach as it swings to the West, and on the southern banks you will see the Old Royal Naval College, followed by Greenwich Pier and the historic Cutty Sark tallship, now stranded in its own drydock. On your starboard side is the Isle of Dogs, once an industrial area with many timber wharfs and awful transport links. Nowadays the whole area is mainly given over to fancy offices for banks, brokers and other city types, with transport by the DLR and Jubilee Line opening up the area.
South Dock Marina.
Once through Greenwich Reach the River swings northwards and you will see on your port side the entrance to Deptford Creek, followed by Convoy Wharf, which is the now disused Ro Ro terminal.
There is limited space here for visitors but,if you have arranged a berth in South Dock Marina, now is the time to give them a call on VHF channel M1 (37) so they can advise you of the depths at the sill, and prepare the lock. They are on telephone 0207 252 2244, and a link to their website is provided below:
Half a mile past the Ro-Ro terminal you will see Greenland Pier on your port side. This is used by large fast tripper boats so beware. The lock entrance to the Marina is just downstream of this pier, the glass fronted lock office immediately above the lock.
When approaching the lock entrance beware of strong cross tides until you are inside the knuckles. Once inside the lock widens out and there are hanging lines on both sides of the lock. Locking in and out is normally available for 1.5 to 2 hours either side of HW (for craft drawing 1.5m). If there is not enough water to enter boats can wait on the inside of Greenland Pier, and boats must not be left unattended here because of problems with wash. Good fendering will be needed and note this is not on the outside of the pier itself which is in heavy use.
South Dock Marina is probably the largest London Marina, (not counting West India Docks for club rallies) and is run by Southwark Council. Prices here (2021) work out at £5.36 per metre per night with a minimum charge for 8metres; they are hoping to hold that for a couple of years
Water and electricity(included in the mooring fee) are available and their new amenities block includes toilets, showers and a laundrette. Boats of up to 20 tonnes can be lifted and repairs can be handled locally.
They do have Wifi but you need a password from the Office to access and may have to locate yourself at the office to get a connection..
Transport to the rest of London is via Canada Wharf tube station, and the River Bus can whisk you to central London very quickly (takes about 25 minutes to London Bridge and is every 20 minutes)
Pushing northwards up Limehouse Reach the next mooring opportunity comes up after you have passed Canary Wharf on your starboard side, and the River swings round to the West again. Here on your starboard side you will find the lock entrance to Limehouse Basin. (This can be seen in the photo gallery).
Limehouse Basin is now run by a firm called Aquavista and now has berths available for visitors from the River Thames. You would be wise to book ahead by phone or on their website. They are charging (2021) £7.00 per meter, per night
Boats licensed (long-term or temporary) with the Canal & River Trust can moor for 24 hours free, masts standing, on the signed pontoon which is to starboard when inbound from the lock. Canal moorings nearby in Limehouse Cut or Grand Union Canal (past low bridges, shallow draught) allow 14 days' free mooring.
Note: Limehouse Marina staff must be contacted in advance to arrange locking in or out:
020 7308 9930 / VHF Channel 80
If continuing up River towards St Katherine's Yacht Haven follow the River through Lower Pool, and onwards past Wapping on your starboard side. The entrance to St Katherine's is just below Tower Bridge which blocks further progress for masted vessels.
600 yards downstream from Tower Bridge, just before you get to the fuel barge on your starboard side at Wapping you will find a mooring facility actually in the river,
Hermitage Community Moorings (HCM),
This is a co-operative outfit which owns and operates a mooring on the Thames at Hermitage Wharf, Wapping. The moorings provide long term berths for residential live-aboard barges, plus they have 2 visitor berths, each of pontoon length 20m (up to 40m boats, overhanging). The long term berths are focused on historic ex- commercial river & coastal barges, so you're bound to find interesting company here, but the visitor berths are open to all vessels.
The outer arms of the mooring is 160m long with the two visitor berths at the downstream end. The rest is long term berth-holders. Casual visitors can often be accommodated, the price for boats 15m or less is £35 for an overnight stop, plus £4 shore power, £4 water, £4 pump out. Vessels over 15m the prices are £45, £6, £6, £6 respectively. These prices are a recent increase now (2021) and they do expect them to be increased again soon. Shower in pier house, but beware - it is not available if pier house being used for a gathering (it has the only wc too). Advann'tce bookings preferable, especially in summer months. Best to email on [email protected] or call on 020 74812122, 9-6 weekdays or leave a message. They aren't on radio and there's no one on the end of the phone at the weekends but even then you'll find someone around. Check the bookings board in the office window. There's a key safe with instruction & booking forms at the berths; if needs be you will find any resident members should be able to help.
These berths are actually on the river, so good fendering and long stretchy ropes will be needed for smaller boats. The huge advantage is that you won't be tied by locking in or out. Check them out here:
St. Katherine's Dock.
This Marina has got to be one of the most centrally and superbly located city marinas in the world. Literally just under Tower Bridge, with the historic Tower of London a very short walk away. Set somewhat apart from the hustle and bustle of the traffic and city offices nearby, it's a little oasis of calm that is popular with tourists as well as office wallahs at lunchtime and after work.
In 2016 it was taken over by Camper and Nicholsons making it " the latest to join their elite collection of luxury marinas across the globe" They intend carrying out a careful restoration and refurbishment of the marina so we suspect that the already very expensive marina to tie up for the night could become even more so (they have already put up their minimum mooring fee for 2017)
The visitor may be surprised if they take a wander northwards from the Marina at the weekends.... once away from the tourists at the Tower of London the city area is completely closed and dead. Once the workers depart on Friday night there is very little incentive for the shops and pubs to remain open, until Monday that is when it all starts again. Even on weekday evenings the whole city area north of the Marina may seem strangely deserted.
Be assured that the rest of London is not like this, and a short journey on the tube will take you to Covent Garden, Soho and the West End where you will find any kind of entertainment until the small hours....
If you wish to make use of the facilities at St Katherine's yacht haven during the summer, you are advised to book up at least a week in advance (the earlier the better as they can be fully booked well in advance). They can be contacted on 0207 264 5312 and a link to their website is provided below:
The charges here (2021) work out at £8.00 per metre per night (for up to 9.99m) but with a vast reduction to £40.00 per metre per week. A full 10m boat costs £8.50 per metre. This includes VAT but shore power is an extra charge.
The entry to this harbour is via a lock that can be accessed about two hours before high water, to 1.5 hours after high water. (Watch the cross set in the approach). The lock is large, at around 30' x 100', with a floating pontoon on the starboard side as you lock in. It operates between 6 AM and 8:30 PM in the summer and between 8 AM and 6 PM in winter (This means that if the evening HW is after 2030 you will have to wait until the morning HW next day for entry) It leads into the central basin, and there are two further basins which are accessed underneath small lifting bridges. Visitors are normally berthed in the central basin but they are slowly shifting this to the West basin so don't be surprised later in the summer if this happens to you.
If you have already booked your berth you can use VHF channel 80 (callsign St Katherine's) to contact the lock control on arrival. If you need to wait for the tide there are six yellow mooring buoys laid for this purpose, whilst inside of St. Katherine's Pier can be used by shallow draft craft awaiting entry. Do not use the outside of this as it is much in use by ferries and tripper boats.
Inside the Marina water and electricity (metered and charged on slipping and proceeding) is available on the pontoons, with toilets and showers available ashore, as well as laundry facilities (Coin Op).
There is a supermarket nearby, and within the developments around the Marina you will find no shortage of places to eat and drink too.
Underground connections from Tower Hill will open up the rest of London to you, and necessary it is too as everything in the immediate walkable area is geared up for 9-to-5 city office workers.....
If you do a wander around The City and you are a taxpayer you may want to inspect some of the banking institutions that you are now an unwilling owner of... RBS, Nat West, Halifax, Lloyds, TSB, etc etc...
Diesel is available from a barge moored 400 m downstream of St Katherine's lock, and they operate on VHF channel 14 callsign "Heiko" telephone 0203 793 9924, hours 6.30 to 14.30. This is closed at weekends unfortunately. This is now run by Thames Marine Services who advise ring well ahead.
This just about covers your mooring opportunities in this area covered.
Updated April 2021
The individual facilities available in and around the marinas have already been touched on. It must be remembered that perhaps apart from St Katherine's all the others are in what were once none too salubrious docklands areas. The area is now much more "salubrious" in that all the warehousing and bomb sites have been replaced by modern blocks of flats which are more pleasing on the eye if a little devoid of humanity - you'd be wise to ask the marina reception for directions before sallying out for your morning paper or a pint of milk as there are only a few widely scattered "corner" shops.
Fortunately excellent public transport has been developed through these areas now, and it is very easy to dive into the underground system and get just about anywhere in London very quickly.
Having said that though London is not overly endowed with shops or outlets connected with boats. It may well be a struggle to find chandlery...
For the Trailer Sailer there is a good launching and recovery site at the Johnson Drawdock, which is at the southern tip of the Isle of Dogs. It has been described as maybe the best access point in the lower Thames, and is available at all states of the tide.
The ramp is shared with a rowing club, and tides can run strong on the ebb. There are no charges.
St Katharine Docks took their name from the former hospital of St Katharine's by the Tower, built in the 12th century, which stood on the site. An intensely built-up 23 acre (9.5 hectares) site was earmarked for redevelopment by an Act of Parliament in 1825, with construction commencing in May 1827. Some 1250 houses were demolished, together with the medieval hospital of St. Katharine. 11,300 inhabitants, mostly port workers crammed into insanitary slums, lost their home. Only property owners received compensation though. The scheme was designed by engineer Thomas Telford, his only major project in London. To create as much quayside as possible, the docks were designed in the form of two linked basins (East and West), both accessed via an entrance lock from the Thames. Steam engines designed by James Watt and Matthew Boulton kept the water level in the basins about four feet above that of the tidal river.
Telford aimed to minimise the amount of quayside activity and specified that the docks' warehouses be built right on the quayside so that goods could be unloaded directly into the warehouses (designed by the architect Philip Hardwick).
The docks were officially opened on 25 October 1828. Although well used, they were not a great commercial success and were unable to accommodate large ships. They were amalgamated in 1864 with the neighbouring London Docks. In 1909, the Port of London Authority took over the management of almost all of the Thames docks, including the St Katharine.
The St Katharine Docks were badly damaged by German bombing during the Second World War and never fully recovered thereafter. Because of their very restricted capacity and inability to cope with large modern ships, they were among the first to be closed, in 1968, and were sold to the Greater London Council. Most of the original warehouses were demolished and mostly replaced by modern commercial buildings in the early 1970s, with the docks themselves becoming a marina. The development has often been cited as a model example of successful urban redevelopment.
South Dock is one of two surviving docks in the former Surrey Commercial Docks in Rotherhithe, London. It was built in 1807–1811 just south of the larger Greenland Dock, to which it is connected by a channel now known as Greenland Cut; it also has a lock giving access to the River Thames. Originally named the East Country Dock, it was renamed in 1850 when the Surrey Commercial Dock Company purchased and enlarged it.
The dock was seriously damaged by German attacks in World War II, when the area was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe. Due to bomb damage in Greenland Dock, South Dock became the only exit from that dock. It was emptied of shipping in 1944, drained and used for the construction of concrete sections for the Mulberry Harbours used on D-Day. After the war, it was repaired and the surrounding warehouses rebuilt.
The revival of the Surrey Docks proved short-lived with the advent of containerization from the 1960s onwards. The new container ships were much too big to be accommodated in the upstream London docks and, with a few exceptions, most of the river trade moved downriver to Tilbury and other more modern ports around the country. The Surrey Docks closed in December 1970 and were sold to the London Borough of Southwark in 1977.
Although most of the Surrey Docks were infilled and converted to residential, commercial or light industrial land, South Dock escaped this fate. The former warehouses were demolished and replaced with residential blocks, while the dock itself was refurbished. Residential development in the area received funding from the London Docklands Development Corporation, erecting unique buildings, such as Baltic Quay. In 1994, South Dock reopened as London's largest marina, with over 200 berths. It is now largely occupied by yachts and residential barges.
The Basin, built by the Regent's Canal Company, was formerly known as Regent's Canal Dock and was used by seagoing vessels and lighters to offload cargoes to canal barges, for onward transport along the Regent's Canal. Although initially a commercial failure following its opening in 1820, by the mid 19th century the dock (and the canal) were an enormous commercial success for the importance in the supply of coal to the numerous gasworks and latterly electricity generating stations along the canal, and for domestic and commercial use. At one point it was the principal entrance from the Thames to the entire national canal network. Its use declined with the growth of the railways, although the revival of canal traffic during World War I and World War II gave it a brief swansong.
The Docklands Light Railway is carried on a viaduct originally built for the London and Blackwall Railway above the original wharves along the north side of the basin. Beyond these, the Commercial Road Lock leads to the Regent's Canal.
To the east of the canal entrance, behind a viaduct arch is the octagonal tower of a hydraulic accumulator, 1869, replacing an earlier and pioneering structure dating from the 1850s by William George Armstrong, engineer and inventor. This regulated the hydraulic pressure of the extensive network of hydraulic mains around the basin supplying the coal-handling machinery. The associated steam raising plant and hydraulic pumps have been removed. The building was converted by Dransfield Owens de Silva for the London Docklands Development Corporation to function as a viewing platform. It (and the basin itself) is now owned by the British Waterways Board; and is a Grade II listed building, and is open every year during Open House Weekend, usually the third weekend in September.
The history of the connection of the Basin to the River Thames and the Limehouse Cut is complex, but in 1968, a short stretch of new canal was constructed to reconnect the Limehouse Cut to the Basin, replacing the Cut's old direct link with the Thames. It was closed to commercial traffic in 1969, with one quay at the Basin retained for the use of pleasure craft.
The redevelopment of the Basin started in 1983 as part of the London Docklands Development Corporation's overall masterplan for the Docklands area. However, it took many years for the scheme to come to fruition. The property boom and bust of the 1980s set back progress considerably, as did the construction of the Limehouse Link tunnel which was built under the north side of the basin in the early 1990s. By early 2004 the majority of the once derelict land surrounding the basin had been developed into luxury flats.
Many homes around the Basin were built by Bellway Homes. The developments formed various phases. One of the first phases was Limehouse West consisting of 262 apartments: Medland House (2 buildings - blocks A1/A2 and A3), Berglen Court (3 buildings - blocks B1, B2/B3 and B4/B5) and the Pinnacle (1 building - block B6). Need information on phase 2 and 3 - one is probably the Marina Heights development to the north east. Phase 4 consisted of three blocks of apartments and houses on the waterfront at the east end of the basin: Block D, a 12-storey apartment building (Pinnacle II); Block E, nine three-storey townhouses in two terraces of six and three houses; and Block F, a five-storey apartment building.
In addition to the various apartment blocks around the Limehouse Basin, a number of other facilities are available.
The Cruising Association has a purpose-built headquarters at Limehouse Basin, and the John Ding Academy Tai Chi centre (opened March 2005) is located in the retail unit of Berglen Court. Further afield Narrow Street offers many pubs including The Narrow (run by Gordon Ramsay), and The Grapes, a historic pub with an old-style feel.
Just off the basin to the south is the Mosaic development. This has several retail units including La Figa, an Italian restaurant, Verde an Italian delicatessen and cafe, and a dry cleaners.
If you've got as far as London on your own boat it really does make sense to do the town and not stay stuck around the immediate environs of your chosen Marina.
One day travelcards are not expensive and enable you to go wherever you want. Perhaps the best advice is to avoid travelling during the rush hours which are from about 8 AM to 10 AM, and 4 PM to 6 PM. If you are not used to the London Tube system do not fret, it is extremely well marked out and all you will need is a pocket Tube map.
With your boat safely tucked up and locked into a Marina you could make interesting forays and find something to do wherever your interests might lay, historical buildings, museums of all kinds... there are even plenty of ships you can get onto moored on the Thames, including HMS Belfast.
For those after a bit of nightlife you are probably in one of the best cities in the world... just remember the underground closes soon after midnight, and after that it will be down to the night bus, or a black cab.
It is way beyond the scope of this guide to fully cover what's on offer in London, but as a start a daytime trip to Covent Garden is worthwhile... you will find plenty of free entertainment on offer here from mime artists through to opera singing buskers and orchestras.
An evening spent prowling round Soho (Piccadilly Circus Underground) will show you the seedier side of London, but take a tip and do not be tempted in to any of the little underground bars where it is quite likely you will be ripped off badly.
Wherever you get off the tube system, don't worry too much about finding your way back..... entrances to the underground are clearly marked and pop up everywhere. Once back within the underground system it's easy enough to find your way anywhere else, so feel free to wander around.
Chinatown, also near to Piccadilly Circus offers an amazing choice of genuine Chinese cuisine quite unlike that served in out-of-town provincial restaurants.
A fantastic choice of theatres and cinemas will be found around the West End, and they truly are restaurants to suit every taste and pocket.
If you're not fed up with the River, there are a couple of interesting river trips you can make, one in a brightly coloured ancient amphibian vehicle that drives round the streets and then ploughs into the River. This can be picked up in the South Bank area. Another trip involves zooming around in a high-speed RIB.
Perhaps the best advice is to get a good travel guide book and go exploring.