But as the navigation authority for the non-tidal stretch of the river – from Cricklade in Wiltshire to Shepperton in south west London - the Environment Agency is asking parents and guardians to warn children and young people about the dangers of playing by its locks, weirs, bridges, and anywhere else in and around the Thames.
It has published the staying safe around water guide, and the overall message is clear: vigilance can save lives and water-related accidents can be avoided by knowing how to stay safe.
Experience shows that it is often young people who get into trouble whilst swimming in open water. Water can contain hazards, particularly in and around structures such as locks, weirs and bridges. Unexpected cold waters or strong currents can also catch bathers off guard.
Youngsters are often seen jumping off the many bridges along the Thames, while this may seem like great fun, there are hidden dangers in the water that can cause tragic consequences.
Russell Robson, Waterways Operations Team Leader for the Environment Agency said:
The summer is always a busy time on our rivers, and we expect the River Thames to be a focal point for a lot of people’s leisure time, whether out in a boat, taking a dip, or just hanging out by the riverside. But we are urging parents and guardians to supervise younger children closely in and around water. Teenagers and young adults should be warned of the dangers and to remember some basic safety points when out having fun.
We’d really like people to read and act upon our online water safety advice – it’s so important. There’s lots of other great advice available online too, produced by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the Canal and Rivers Trust and others.
One of the main risks is cold-water shock, which can have a dramatic effect on your body, such as causing you to breathe in water, make your muscles weaken, and can even cause your heart to go into abnormal rhythms, ultimately resulting in death. You also have no idea what’s beneath the surface of the water: there could be unseen currents and reeds, which could pull you under.
In an ideal world, no one would get on or in the river alone, so there would be someone around to help if they did get into any difficulties. And anyone out in any kind of boat should wear a lifejacket, just in case.
As for swimming in the Thames, we’d really rather people didn’t do it unless it’s part of an organised and supervised event. Swimming should be confined to swimming pools and lidos.
Notes to editors
The Environment Agency has provided some information to consider when planning your days out and holidays, whilst still having fun and being safe. The advice can be used for all waterbodies and not just the Thames. Read the staying safe around water guide.