This is by no means a complete, definitive, exhaustive treatise but a useful start. These are the sort of things I show new coxes and bow steers in the light of about 500 outings I have coxed on the Tideway's Championship Course, between 2001 and 2012.

Obviously in a Tour we emphasise the PLA steering rules and appropriate landmarks throughout.  This is best done normally on mid to lower half of ebb tide e.g. H + 4 hrs.

Safety context

I have been coxing on London's Tideway for about 8 years.  During that time there have been some 400,000 outings from over 20 clubs on the Tideway.  I have heard of about 90 sinkings in that time, half due to collision and half due to bad weather.  I have done over 500 outings myself in which I have damaged a boat badly on a rock once, run aground about 6 times, had one major collision, been worried about sinking 4 times and almost sunk once.  Thus, dangerous incidents are not very common but more likely than on, say, the Cam or Upper Thames. There is up to 20 ft tide and stream of up to six knots.

A major concern is "wind over tide".  If a strong wind opposes a strong tide, waves build up in parts of the river that can swamp a boat.  2006 Boat Race is an example, 2007 Men’s HoR another.  I always brief a crew in bad weather to alert me to water entering the boat, in case I have not seen it.  I consider where to beach and am prepared to ask people to jump out if necessary, then step carefully on the river bed lest they tread on a jagged rock or broken glass etc..  If landing with a swamped boat, do not try to lift it full.  Walk it out again into the river and turn it over first to empty it.  It willbe much easier!

In rough weather always be ready to abandon an outing, especially if not ideally equipped.  I was once nagged by a men's crew to cox them in a women's boat on a windy day and I refused. 20 minutes later the Fire Brigade boat came by at speed, almost swamping a passing four.  It would have sunk us and the chaps were duly apologetic.

Just a thought about big wash from launches or cruisers. Our captain recently demonstrated a textbook safety trick by asking all the crew on the side nearer the incoming wave to lift their blade handles, tipping the boat away to avoid being swamped.  If close inshore, be aware this may wash a boat towards grounding too.

Features in order from leaving Putney 

(Assumes going up river first on an ebb tide but first I insert a good point from a fellow Son, Jan Madakbas.  When turning between the line of boats and Putney Pier into or outof Putney, always aim for the up-tide side of the gap.  The stream is often strong and it can require some effort from a crew to pull away from the other side against the tide.  Sons being half way up the Championship Course, we don't go down to Putney so often.

Touring up past boathouses note spits on Surrey, especially near Beverley Brook and quite varied shoreline.  Note fairly frequent rocks.  Discuss red buoys and recognising high tide turning line of water on wall.  Tide turning zone from flood to ebb runs up river at about the speed of an outing, beware crews in wrong direction at these times.

Note that if water level is still on bricked walls, little danger of grounding etc., as the reinforced part is a steeper bank, but beware overhanging trees.  Once the tideline is on mud and shingle, generally there are few "small" hazards on Surrey until crossing point at Chiswick Steps but note the type of rocks and twigs etc. and be aware of how far down the shore is sloping at 15 degrees or so,  It flattens much lower down.  On Surrey it is possible to ground blades and hull together, harder on Middx up river from Dove Pier.

Note the very shallow water near Middx and Fulham Flats but do not think of beaching there at anything above moderate tide as one may not climb the wall. (Note usual right hand steering rule for all but race days below Putney Bridge.)

Just below Barn Elms ramp is a nasty few rocks on a shoal that could catch you at the wrong tide, easily grounding hull before blades.  Indeed on wider, straighter sections, there is more shoaling than on bends.

Up towards Hammersmith Bridge, note a separate rock just down below 2nd or 3rd set of steps from Bridge.   Note the "step" on the bridge parapets. 


 If the water is more than 6" below that, always take the middle arch, close to the parapet. If possible notice the rocks under Surrey arch, to see what must be avoided. 

Something I only experienced late 2007 was the eddy near the Hammersmith Bridge parapet.  Due to a bizarre circumstance of traffic and avoiding a veteran sculler I was nearly drawn into the bridge on the downstream side of the parapet.  I had to take strong avoiding action like full pressure one side and ghost pressure the other. 

The Surrey shore of the Tideway from the Bridge to St Paul's has lots of nasty jaggies and again, inside blades can ground after hull at low tide.  Look at these whenever possible and report removable ones to TRRC via the club safety officer.   There are two significant spits above St Paul's ramp at low tide and below Sons.If opportune, notice how to aim just behind downstream boats for crossing. 

Significantly something I have noticed more recently is that on Middx below Eyot, where we seldom go, and on Surrey below St Pauls, there are several places where the bank shoals upwards further out. I found this on Middx for 07 VHoR too at Fulham.

There is a nasty spit just up from Sons pontoon on Middx and several jaggies further out at very low tide.  I have cleaned foreshore from roughly a length above Sons pontoon to Latymer such that few big rocks still hazard landing. 

Note "popple" on water over shallows, especially over outfall just opposite Island and long spit opposite PLA driftwood barge moored below Chiswick Pier.   Blades can be clear of ground both sides and hull or fin can ground on it; I have done that twice.

Do not start to cross until above top barge above Pier then do so fairly quickly.  Steve Kerr of FSC has noted a very flat area on Surrey like the earlier spit noted above.  After crossing, do not wait at crossing point.  Along Middx, same point obtains about the bricked part of the bank being steep but also, on Middx from Chiswick Steps crossing to next crossing at Ship, there are few parts where ground slopes too gently.  If shoreward blades are grounding, the hull probably won't except at Emmanuel Spit, note also sideways current there, pushing bows into middle of river unless approaching this spit from wide offshore and turn in to parallel the bank by Tradesmen.

En route look also at Surrey shore at lowish tide.  Not too many rocks etc.  Crews marshal here for major heads but do not be too close in.  It would be a good place, however, to beach if swamped and too much traffic prevented landing at a club.  Above bridge, Middx bank is quite crooked but usually slopes steeply enough that grounding inside blades is a useful warning.  Note on Middx some shoring of bank.  Such wooden posts are no hazard there but occur up near Pink Palace and on Surrey too above Kew Wall, where they might be dodgy at certain tides. 

On Surrey just above bridge is drainage outfall, can cause deceptive swirls if travelling slowly down river.  Note about 100 yds above White Hart, nasty mooring post, hazard at high tide if marshalling on Surrey for HoR.

Recognise Ship Tavern as crossing point, look for gap in boats coming down and aim behind last one before the gap.  With a fast heavy men's crew beware the shallows on Surrey after crossing.  I often have to ignore the red buoy at even moderate tide.  Incidentally, re the red marker buoys.  I saw one almost submerged at Brentford recently.  Be aware of where they are and what they each indicate.  

Also there is one new rock further down than one might expect which snagged the Sons’ W4- late 06.  Note Univ Stone on Surrey and Post on Middx.  On Middx, note landing for Tideway Scullers.  They do not dredge this like I do at Sons and there are several nasty jaggies.  We waited there for 20 mins and, as the tide ebbed, I was in danger of scratching the brand new boat for which I'd have been slung out.

Through Chiswick bridge, shallow spit on Surrey past Putney Town club, known as "The Nose" and caused by a WW2 bomb crater, then sewage outfall from new block of flats.  Over on Middx, the muddy banks to Mortlake and Quintin can be very smelly because of this.  When landing there for regattas, take wellies and / or bottle of water for washing crew's feet. Note crooked bank again and a new flattish spits where hull can ground before blades. Be aware of where to beach if washed down or punctured in collision. 

Marshalling for major HoRR

Read marshalling instructions and comply with them!. You may have to wait for well over an hour.  When waiting, be ready to use a stroke from any member of the crew to adjust position, e.g. 7 will pull stern towards bowside whilst bow will pull bows to stroke side.  Stream near the bank can be very varied.  One crew might sit serenely while the next two are tapping a couple of blades every 30 seconds.  Beware snagging boat on other crew's riggers or numbers.  Catch numbers drifting by and return them if possible.  Tops off as late as we dare, half the crew at a time to maintain available propulsion and control.  Turn as late as possible too so as not to need to back down when out in stream.  By contrast, if starting just above the Bridge, turn when instructed by marshals.

Towards start, keep well up to crew in front but avoid overlap and stand by for marshal's instructions to slow down or stop.  3/4 pressure before Chiswick Bridge and line up according to instructions.  They often have different lanes for odd and even crew numbers Beware occasional visiting crews, often college, which exercises the right to stop and make a standing start - havoc for the procession behind.  Try to remember to start cox box timing; I usually forget. You should be broadly in the middle of the river for a downstream race.

At Putney, plough on a couple of strokes past finish to be sure, wind down but keep moving through both bridges. Turn as soon as possible after Wandsworth Railway Bridge as there is a shoal near Surrey on which we grounded in 04 4s’ HoR with boats passing on both sides while we stood in the river.  Though not grounding, the shoals were observed on Middx for 07 VHoR too.

Maybe even go under Putney Pier.  Don't do this at very high tide – a tall crew could bang heads.  NEVER cross line of boats at Putney.   I did once and was told how seven people have drowned before in various attempts. I saw one crew break in two trying this in VHoR 04. They told me that a marshal had told them to do so. Cox is in command no matter what a marshal says. Just opposite Putney Pier are steps in the Fulham Wall.  This is the official crossing point and may also be one more place to try to land in appalling weather on Middx.

I have seldom travelled down river from Wandsworth and would not recommend it without an escorting launch.  I found that at even moderate tides, the vertical walls reflect wash from cruisers, so it can be quite coastal. There is also nowhere to beach if swamped.

One thing I've never quite had to do is cope with actually sinking.  Some visitors to Sons from Devon, who row near the coast, have told me that it is possible to row slowly under water even when swamped up to the waist.  Rating is low and feathering very important. Squaring late is allowed as it is esential.  I hope I never need to prove that nor need anybody reading.  I doubt a crew could make much progress against a full Thames tide either.  If anyone has such experience, please advise us...