The shambles that is Thames administration

Published: Saturday, 16 October 2021

SUCH is the shambles of the administration of the Thames by the Environmental Agency that action is being taken in an attempt to address it.

Andy Soper has compiled a list of the inadequacies and problems affecting the navigation, which is supported by the National Boat Owners Association (NABO), it stating it is supporting Andy Soper of the *DBA in his concerns about the management of the Thames, adding:

"He has sent them a list of problems that could be improved without hitting their finances. He is especially concerned about poor management and a lack of expertise that affects all users of this historic river. Andy goes on to say that the team's reluctance to seek or take advice from experienced users who often have over 40 years knowledge of the Thames as a navigation is even more worrying."

In view of this narrowboatworld is also supporting Andy, so takes the opportunity to publish his list of issues that needs to be urgently addressed:


Operating Instructions—after a significant campaign by users instructions for upstream and downstream pedestals on Halcyon locks (most of them) were issued but are now nearly all missing / removed.

Halcyon software still fails if users press the buttons continuously or too often. This can easily be programmed out thus saving on call-out costs.

Self Service / Lock-keeper on duty signs. It has been suggested before that if the sign back-ground was Self Service, as it is Self Service for most of the 24 hours then a sign only needs to be displayed when a lock-keeper is present. Some locks have stopped displaying any boards eg Marlow and Boulters. They are often badly sited apparently positioned for the convenience of the Lock-keeper to change rather than positioned for visibility by boaters. Signs on lock gates are useless as if the lock gates are open then there is no visibility of the sign. Many signs are obscured by lock-cut growth.

Unmarked, unsigned, unavailable and hidden toilet facilities.

COVID Heras fencing still in place, long after the Government have lifted restrictions, giving the wrong message especially when adjacent to an open tea-room on EA land.

Short term moorings unavailable post COVID eg Hurley, Cookham.

Boats being allowed to transit locks, including Teddington, with no visible name or registration plate unchallenged by lock-keepers.

Many hand-written (and misspelled) signs such as ‘close lock gates’, no mooring, no rubish (sic) at this lock, no mooring between lock and bridge, keep these gates closed etc. If signs are necessary they should be in EA standard formats.

Lock manning

Failure to plan to meet Customer Charter aspirationslocks planned to be dual sited every weekend over the summerwhich got worse as more lock-keepers sought time off. (Dual-siting is when one lock-keeper is responsible for two locks. Current dual siting policy means that both locks are unmanned for most of the day and volunteer are not allowed to assist at either lock. Additionally some lock-keepers even walk between their two locks.)

Key revenue locks left unmanned or dual sited. Difficult locks dual sited eg Romney, Boulters, Marlow Both of these are results of an apparent lack of knowledge in the rota planning team.

Holiday managementIt is commonplace in service industries to limit holidays at peak periods. It would be appropriate for EA to limit holiday entitlement for full-time staff between Easter and October and insist on part of the entitlement to be taken during the winter months.

Lack of forward planning for lock-keeper holidays which were carried forward from COVID lock-down periods and doubled the holiday entitlement in the 2021 summer.

Acceptance of last minute booking of days off by lock-keepers and reliefs.

Failure to implement the use of experienced volunteers to man dual sited locks under the supervision of the dual-sited lock-keeper (Was an accepted protocol when volunteers introduced but apparently met Union / Staff opposition).

Acceptance of lock-keepers and their reliefs carrying out less essential work rather than assisted passage and leaving Volunteers to copeespecially noticeable at weekends.

Diverting lock-keepers from lock duties to moving stores and equipment by vancould be better done by patrol boat as part of the river patrols?


Closed camping sites.

OOA Pump-outsmany for months / years? Apparently the card readers are the weak pointSwitch to free vending and save on system maintenance and attempted abuse costs?

Water points with inadequate flow due to poor engineering of precautions needed to meet water regulationssome years after the requirement was introduced and implemented by marinas and other waterway authorities.


Lock cuts over grown and safety hazards to boat traffic, especially passenger boats, eg Cookham, Romney, Old Windsor, Sunbury.

Fairway obstructions marked but left for months eg Bell Weir lay-by, Benson.


The District Enforcement (DE) failed contract has been expensivetwo sets of signs and doubtless compensation for DE for loss of revenue?

Lock-keepers are not actively collecting mooring fees due.

Club Mooring Booking systems appears to be at lock-keepers’ discretion rather than published procedureno clarity for users.

No apparent oversight or management of designated moorings post DE.
No signage explaining Ts and Cs (or reference to web information) at moorings and some DE signage still in place confusing users.

On GOV.UKno details of Ts and Cs and no indication of charges due at any particular mooringnot even clear which moorings have a free 24 hour period before charging starts.

No list or details of ‘undesignated’ moorings on River Conditions or Gov.UK.

Unnecessary signage at some moorings eg Eghamno double banking (WHY?) (despite being used in an EA leaflet).

Continued confusion and an illogical policy for stream increasing, decreasing (Yellow Boards), and strong stream (Red Boards) rules as to whether mooring charges and time limits continue to apply.


Fragmented across channels:

River Conditions websiteslow to update and misses some significant issues.

Twitterlittle used by boaters but appears to be the channel of choice of EA Waterway Managers.

Facebookgood channel but only used sporadically.

Harbour master noticesshould be the gold standard (?) but not used consistently.

TNUF emailgood channel as that advises the user groups and RUG Chairs but not used consistently.

GOV.UK lock manning rotaexcellent new facility but not iphone or android phone friendlysimple design issue to resolve.


Until recently there has been a dedicated Waterways Manager (WM). There are now two managers sharing the roleboth from Operations Management. A better solution could have been appointment of a dedicated Waterways Manager supported by the other managing Operations for the entire river.

Little evidence or visibility of river supervision by Team Leaders or senior managers especially at weekends.

No clear policy for compliance or enforcementparticularly out of working hours.

Warranted lock-keepers no longer used for compliance as they will not work alone / on site. They could be supported by volunteers as witnesses?

Failure to use Mitchell patrol boats as floating offices for Team leaders / senior managers.

Failure to expand volunteer boatmen scheme to man patrol boats with a manager / enforcement team thus increasing patrols.

Failure to use managers / leaders to man, otherwise dual sited locks, with volunteer assistance to increase customer assisted passage at busy times.

For one season lock-keepers were supplemented by appropriately qualified Ops Staff but that source is no longer used to cover peak periods.

Winter Worksthese seem to be managed to benefit of the contractors and close the navigation below Oxford for the entire winter. It was policy in the past to take advantage of the construction industry shut down to open the river from Christmas Eve to the New Year. This is now being neglected with some closures for a full six months.

Drone footage (courtesy of HRR) showed that this years regatta had little private trafficindeed the EA patrol boats were often the only craft moving. The deployment of so many boats to an event who contribute nothing to EA Thames costs is a wanton waste of taxpayer funds. HRR should be required to provide their own craft for public safety as is usual at other town and club regattas.

*DBA. Andy Soper is the vice-chairman of The Barge Association. They have retained the acronym DBA.