From the busy tidal estuary in Kent and Essex to the buzzing fun of Central London or the quieter reaches of the Upper Thames above Teddington Lock, a River Thames yacht charter is as different in terms of boating from end to end.
London itself has been a port of sorts since the dawn of civilsation. The Romans overwhelmed the Britons who often fought back with Queen Boudicca famously burning the city to the ground. Castles and Palaces line the river from the Tower of London to the seat of power Westminster Palace, Greenwich Palace (on the East/West Greenwich Meridian) and then further upriver, Hampton Court Palace and Royal Family's residence at Windsor Castle.
Beyond Britain's faded glory of old, the Thames is still one of the UK's most important waterways. Dozens of river and canals feed into it from the River Lea in the east to the Grand Union canal in the City that combined give it waterborne links to much of the South East and even the West Midlands. It is even possible to take a narrowboat all the way from the city to the Bristol Channel and the mighty River Severn in the west of England via the Kennet and Avon Canal that joins at Reading.
From partying into the night to hair raising speedboat rides, to a night or two on a Thames barge or just pottering through the quiet countryside in rural Oxfordshire, a River Thames yacht charter could mean any number of things. Let's explore these below.
There are three effective zones on the Thames where you can explore the breadth and depth of Britain's most important river.
From the Thames Barrier to Teddington Lock, Central London is a boat charter zone where it is best to leave the sailing itself to a pro. That means you can enjoy a sightseeing cruise with the views and sounds of one of the world's greatest capitals that has been around since the dawn of civilisation without having to worry which arch you should be passing under and dealing with the rebounding boats' and ships' washes from the embankment in what can be tricky tidal currents!
Perhaps on a party boat with champagne flowing or on a luxury yacht charter in Central London you can concentrate on the fun to be had and enjoy the sights and sounds of one of the world's greatest capitals, embarking and disembarking on one of the Port of London's main pier embarkation and disembarkation points.
Teddington Lock to Reading can still be done in luxury and comfort, perhaps having your wedding reception afloat as you pass Windsor Castle and Hampton Court Palace, taking in relics of Britain's great past.
This section, past Marlow, Henley and on up to Oxford and the West of England may be considered the Upper Thames. From Teddington west the waterway depth is protected by the lock and this means that the amateur boatman or sailor can more competently take a bareboat cruiser charter upriver.
On lower stretches of the Upper Thames you can sail on a luxury yacht charter Thames barge for many miles of the Thames river. These are old wide beam cargo ships that take passengers and are comfortably fitted out throughout and offer very good hospitality. There are many opprtunities to hire a crewed boat or luxury yacht as a venue for a Christmas party or wedding reception - or just a post-lockdown disco cruise with your friends! Like the Central Londonparty boat charters we discussed above you can have 60 guests with you for an event that will remain in memory for a long time to come.
The third zone is the upper reaches of the Thames as well as the Kennet and Avon Canal where you can potter along the waterways on a narrowboat or luxury boat for a day or a week's boating holiday in a far less frenetic environment.
One of the longest rivers in the UK, the Thames runs past some of the most important road, rail and air links in the country.
Tube: For a Central London party boat or dining cruise you can access a pier for the start of the cruise in locations including the Embankment and Pool of London. These are a short walk from the Tube.
The West London boroughs of Richmond and Teddington are both on the District Line of the Tube, with an Overground train station also at Richmond.
Rail: London's major railway stations connect to destinations all over the UK and via St Pancras to Europe via the Eurotunnel.
Road: Much of the Upper Thames lies on the M4 corridor with good road links to Reading, Windsor, Oxford, Marlowand Henley.
As Britain's second longest river, the Thames has a large number of marinas, piers and docks that cater to everything from narrowboat, to motor yacht and even luxury yacht and party boat for everything from a private charter boatingholiday to a night of hedonism and fun.
Here are some highlights.
West London's Shepperton Marina has 400 berths catering to all sizes of yacht in four basins and provides easy access to the non-tidal river above Teddington Lock. From here you can start your boating holiday leaving London afloat instead of by other more traditional modes of transport.
A couple of miles from the M3/M25 interchange and close to Staines-on-Thames Penton Hook Marina is Britain's largest inland marina with 525 berths. For those looking for an inland waterway boating holiday that begins close to Central London, this is an ideal starting off point.
Further upriver you can start your Thames boat charter out of the 175 berth Windsor Marina that has all the facilities you need for to begin a perfect boat holiday.
Henley-on-Thames has Hambleden Marina and Henley Marina while Reading's Thames and Kennet Marina has narrowboat and even luxury boat holidays on which you can explore routes through Oxfordshire and even Wiltshire.
The Thames river was for many years both the gateway to the British Empire and an inland waterway link to cities as far afield as Bristol and even Worcester! What do you want from a River Thames yacht charter? Here we suggest a good option for a private boat hire on the Upper Thames but there are any number of other opportunities from a speedboat ride through Central London to a Christmas party or even getting married afloat with your wedding receptionaboard too.
Windsor - Reading - 7 Days: From the historic town of Windsor you can take your private charter or family charterboat up past the tows of Maidenhead and Marlow to the twee town of Henley-on-Thames, home of the famous rowing boat regatta. Reading at the mid-point of the cruise is a buzzing commuter town with a variety of top restaurants and excellent nightlife. For the next three days you return downriver.
The boating season runs from late April to mid September on the UK inland waterways, though you will see hardier types afloat throughout the year. Unlike the Solent, it never gets frantic on the water Upper Thames or Kennet & Avon Canal though it is a popular place for boat owners to keep their craft. A canal or riverboat charter can be done at any time through the year and you can expect a place to eat at a pub and a mooring without having to book too early or plan too far ahead.
April and May: Westerlies prevail but you will often find warm days with brisk sailing conditions of a F4-5. Gales will come through earlier in the year. This is Britain - expect rain!
June-August: In June there will be southerly and westerly gales at times but these tend to die out in July and August with the Azores High moving north and providing settled conditions and light easterlies. Expect temperatures in the high 20s C range with the odd few days at 30C plus. As ever, keep your oilies to hand as even in the height of summer things can change.
September-October: Grey skies and gales start to return. While often in the high teens Celsius in September with some great sailing conditions, the westerly procession of lows start coming up the English Channel and things can get a little uncomfortable by early October.
The main points to consider are what is your budget, have you got the necessary sailing experience and qualifications to manage the boat if it's not going to have a skipper, whom you are taking sailing, where exactly you wish to go and what will the weather be like on the proposed dates of your trip.
There are dozens of marinas on the River Thames from Kent to Oxfordshire. Just outside of the M25 and near Staines-on-Thames is the largest inland marina in the UK, Penton Hook Marina with over 500 berths. Inside the M25 in West London is Shepperton Marina with 400 berths - both cater to everything from narrowboat to motor yacht to luxuryyacht private boat hire.
May to August is best for sailing, though it can get very busy. If you take a River Thames boat charter outside of these times it won't be as busy, though at the end of June and the first week of July the Royal Henley Regatta can be at least as busy as Cowes on the Solent at Cowes Week - another important high society event!
You will typically pay 50% up front on booking the yacht hire and the balance on arrival. You will either pay a security deposit with your credit card on departure or can get insurance covering damage in advance. In some cases (such as the recent Covid situation) charter companies may be more flexible but this depends on the individual charter companies themselves.
If you are at sea and in danger, call MAYDAY on VHF Ch16 or ring the coast guard on your phone if you have reception. If you have a mechanical fault and can make it to or are on a mooring you will be able to phone a help line number given by the boat charter company.
Unless you are experienced on the lower reaches of the River Thames around Central London it is wise to avoid sailingon the tidal reaches below Teddington Lock. This even applies to experienced sailors London is a busy port that has bylaws that are in addition to the Collision Regulations. On the Upper Thames navigation is a lot quieter and simpler - you only need basic training to sail safely.
If you want to sail on the lower Thames without a skipper then you will need relevant qualifications like RYA Day Skipper/International Certificate of Competence (ICC)/ASA 104 Bareboat certificate or the US Sailing Certificate. On the upper Thames, for small 'day boats' or if you choose to have a skippered on board your yacht charter you typically don't require licences.