2002: Lifeboats on the Thames

RNLI lifeboats have been operating on the River Thames since 2 January 2002 from our lifeboat stations at Chiswick, Gravesend, Teddington and Tower.

RNLI lifeboats have been operating on the River Thames since 2 January 2002 from our lifeboat stations at Chiswick, Gravesend, Teddington and Tower.

They were the first lifeboat stations to specifically cover a river rather than estuarial waters or the sea.

The decision for a permanent lifeboat service on the Thames followed the tragedy of the Marchioness disaster on 20 August 1989 when the party boat Marchioness collided with the dredger Bowbelle and sank, resulting in the loss of 51 lives.

Tower's E class lifeboat, Hurley Burley, heading along the Thames towards Tower Bridge

Photo: Chris Walker

Tower’s E-class lifeboat, Hurley Burly, heading along the Thames towards Tower Bridge

Every second counts

The river’s cold temperature, rapid pace and changing tides make it incredibly dangerous. Speed is of the utmost importance and anyone in the water must be reached within minutes, especially given the constant heavy traffic from passing watercraft of every kind.

That’s why at Tower, Chiswick and Gravesend a crew is always on duty, 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. If there’s an emergency on the river, they have to launch within 90 seconds of the Coastguard’s request.

In fact, our Tower lifeboat crew are the busiest in the UK and Ireland with the highest number of launches each year, closely followed by Chiswick.

It takes a certain kind of lifeboat to meet the demands of the River Thames. Our E class inshore lifeboat was specially designed for our two busiest Thames lifeboat stations.

The Mk2 E class can comfortably reach top speeds of 40 knots, making it the fastest in our lifeboat fleet. Waterjets make the lifeboat easier and quicker to manoeuvre in the fast-flowing water. And the lifeboat is kept afloat for the quickest response possible.