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Rowing and Navigating the River Lea

Lea Rowing Club rows on the River Lea between Old Ford Lock and Tottenham Lock. This stretch of the Lea Navigation, where rowing clubs have been in operation since the 1820’s, is the only stretch of canal in London still regularly used by rowers.


Rowing and coaching activity on the River Lea includes both junior and adult beginners and novices through to performance squads training for National and International events. Lea R.C. has produced five Olympic oarsmen and women, junior and senior GB team selections as well as Henley winners. Maddy Badcott, who trained at Lea R.C. as a junior, went on to row in the winning Women’s Oxford crew at The Boat Race in 2015 – the first year the women’s crews competed on the same day and same Championship Course as the men.


As well as rowing, this stretch of the River Lea is shared by many others including live-aboard boaters, kayakers, canoers and paddle boarders. It is a busy navigation, and narrow stretches and bends in the river can at times prove challenging for both powered and unpowered craft. It is important that all can use and enjoy the river in safety.

Rowers navigate a narrow section of River Lea

Safe Navigation

  • Keep to the right: All craft should navigate on the right hand side of the river, in the direction of travel. At times this isn’t always possible, for example, where there is overhanging vegetation or for boaters trying to avoid getting propellers jammed with weed during summer months. Keep a good look out for oncoming craft in these situations.

  • Don’t cut corners: Avoid cutting the corner around bends, where line of sight is restricted. Some bends are sharp; others can be quite deceptive and easily misjudged. All boats should approach bends with caution. It is helpful if powered craft sound their horns when approaching bends.

  • Overtaking: Care should be taken when overtaking slower moving craft. Overtake to port side (to middle of the river) ensuring the river is clear ahead before preceding to overtake, and give plenty of room when overtaking. Rowing boats are wider than they may seem – up to 7 metres including oar span (see diagram below).

  • Turning boats: Rowing crews should only turn at designated turning points (Nagivation Maps can downloaded from the link below) and not turn on bends. Avoid turning across the bows of oncoming craft. It is safer to tuck in towards the bank and wait for oncoming craft to pass if you don’t think you have time to make the turn safely.

  • Mooring: Canal boats should only moor on permitted areas and should not moor on corners or under bridges. Double mooring on or near corners significantly reduces visibility and has been responsible for several incidents and near-misses for rowers.

  • Be vigilant: Keep a good look out at all times. Coxless rowing crews should look over each shoulder at least every five strokes, more often when approaching bends or narrow points of the river; coxes should enlist the help of their bowperson if their view is at all restricted. Boaters should keep in mind that the low down and narrow profile of rowing crews can make them tricky to spot from a distance or when approaching bends. Rowing boats can travel quite a bit faster than narrowboats but we are quite vulnerable, either from impact in the event of a collision, or cold-water shock in the event of a capsize.

  • Communication: Make other river users aware of your presence if you think they may not have seen you. Rowers and other unpowered craft should call-out; boaters please sound your horns – the sound of an engine can be deceptive as it is not always clear if it is from a moving or moored boat.

  • Navigating at night: All boats must have white lights attached to bow and stern.

diagram of rowing boat and narrow boat dimensions
boat dimensions

Navigating Tricky Hazards

  • Pinch points: Some stretches of the river and bridge holes are narrow. (Nagivation Maps can be downloaded from the link below.) Double (sometimes triple) mooring, or mooring on both sides of the river, in these places as well as mooring under or too close to bridges, can mean it is not possible for two boats to safely pass each other. A minimum of 20 metres is recommended for two boats to pass safely. There should be clearance of 2 metres between boats (to oar tip in the case of rowing boats), as well as 2 metres between each boat and the bank or moored boats (see diagram above).

  • Mooring: Sudden or unexpected changes in the line of moored boats, for example, double moored wide beams or boats moored at an angle, can catch rowers out. Losing the balance that their oars provide – either by retracting an oar to avoid any clash, or an oar dragged parallel to the boat – can easily result in a rowing crew capsizing. This is particularly so for those in smaller boats (single and double sculls, and pairs).

  • Blind bends: Be vigilant when approaching bends and keep to the right side of the river. Mooring too close to bends restricts line of sight and makes steering safely around the bend more difficult.

  • Manoeuvrability: Both rowing boats and narrowboats can take time to alter course due to their length.

  • Tenders: Poorly secured tenders or kayaks that protrude beyond the line of moored boats can catch rowers unawares. Securing tenders or kayaks with two lines reduces this risk.

  • Weed growth and floating debris: This presents an increased capsize risk for rowers – even more so for those rowing in singles, pairs or doubles – as well as damage to boats. It may also necessitate both rowers and narrowboats navigating around such obstacles or closer to the middle of the river in order to mitigate risk, in which case keep a good look out for other boats.

  • Faster boats: If a boat on your side of the river is travelling faster than you are, tuck in towards the bank to allow it to pass, and make them away of your presence if it appears they need to correct their course.

a single scull and quad on the River Lea

Peak Rowing Times and Locations

  • Weekends: Saturday and Sunday, 8am–2pm, are the busiest training times for Lea R.C. with at least 30 rowing and sculling boats on the river between Tottenham Lock and Old Ford lock. These are typically senior and junior racing crews in training and can be moving quite fast. Look out for crews turning at Tottenham Lock, the ‘Forks’ just south of Tottenham, Springfield Marina, Lathams (the footbridge before Lea Bridge Road) and Old Ford Lock.

  • Evenings: On Tuesday and Thursday evenings from Spring to Autumn expect a number of crews training on the river. As the evenings draw in during the Autumn boats must have bow and stern lights, and only coxed boats are allowed on the water.

  • Novice rowers: Both children and adult novice rowers are often under instruction from coaches between Springhill Marina and Tottenham Lock. New beginners are usually taught on the 600m straight between the boathouse and the ‘Novice’ bend by Markfield Park. These groups may have difficulty moving quickly out of the way of other boats – your awareness and patience will be much appreciated.

  • Weekdays: These are much less busy rowing times. The Recreational Squad are on the river on Wednesday and Friday mornings. There are schools and student sessions on most other days. At other times there will likely be one or two boats on the river throughout the day.

Safer Neighbourhoods Team

Useful Safety Contacts

British Rowing

British Rowing: Incidents that cause harm or damage, however trivial, should be reported through the British Rowing incident reporting system here as well as those where an injury, health issue or damage has occurred. Near-misses should also be reported as these can provide useful information that may help someone to avoid a serious incident in the future and help to identify trends.

Canal & River Trust

The Canal and River Trust is responsible for maintaining and ensuring the safety of canals and riverways.


Information about safe sharing of the rivers, canals and towpaths is available here.


Concerns about safety and environmental issues can be raised via their website here.


Any incident you encounter on the footpath, big or small, get to a safe position and call the Police. Call 999 in an emergency, otherwise it’s 101 or use online reporting.


PC Perdi Blinkhorn is our local officer in the Springfield Safer Neighbourhoods Team. Please note, they are not a 24/7 team so email is preferable: Other contacts below:


Telephone (Springfield Ward): 020 8721 2925


Twitter: @MPSSpring


Always call 999 when it’s an emergency

navigation dowloads

Navigation maps and safety information can be downloaded from our Resources pages

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