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Swimming in the Thames - the new arrangements

The new byelaw, which came into force on 1st July 2012, does not ban swimming in the Thames; it controls swimming in the busiest part of the Thames between Putney Bridge and Crossness (just below the Thames Barrier) by making it necessary to get the prior consent from the harbour master. 

This is a dangerous stretch of the River, with strong tides and eddies that can drag a person underwater without warning. It is also the busiest inland waterway in the UK.

The byelaw is part of a new set of byelaws which were confirmed by the Department for Transport, after extensive consultation. The reasons for the new swimming byelaw are:

  • to reinforce the strong advice of the PLA and other organisations on the river, including the RNLI, MCA and the Police, that attempting to swim in the River is dangerous and should not be undertaken.
  • in the interest of other river users, as a boat having to stop suddenly or swerve to avoid a swimmer could put the boat and/or its passengers at risk of injury.
  • to ensure that organisers of swimming events are fully aware of the risks and that the events would not  be disruptive to passenger boat and freight operations on the river. Passenger services are a growing part of the commuter and tourist travel network in London and freight services keep thousands of lorries off London's roads.

The new byelaw would not prevent a "David Walliams" type charity swim.

The PLA worked extensively with Sport Relief on this great swim which ended at Westminster and was carefully planned and managed with safety boats in attendance at all times. 

The new byelaw is designed to balance the interests of all river users in the use of our great River.

For more information, see our Swimming in the Thames - Questions and Answers page.