Proposed Water Safety Zones on the River Lea


Lea Rowing Club welcomes the initiative by the Canal and Rivers Trust to designate two areas of the River Lea as ‘Water Safety Zones’.


There have been rowing clubs operating on the lower Lea for over 150 years. During that time the rowing clubs have happily co-existed alongside other canal users with minimal issues.


However, over the past 10 years there has been a rapid and unprecedented increase in canal boat numbers moored on the River Lea in Hackney.


This has led to a corresponding decrease in water space available for all users. This restriction and congestion has, despite our own best efforts, resulted in an increase in the number of incidents between rowing craft and canal boats. In places, moorings have halved the usable width of the river.


Collisions with a canal boat can be extremely dangerous for the occupants of small, light rowing boats – indeed for any unpowered craft on the river such as a canoe, kayak, dinghy or paddleboard. In April this year, an experienced rower had their boat literally smashed in half by an oncoming barge. They were lucky to escape with their life.


We are very concerned that without decisive action from the navigation authority (The Canals and Rivers Trust) the River Lea navigation could, after over 150 years continual use, become unviable as a recreational sports asset. All the current opportunities for physical and mental wellbeing, enjoyment and social amenity that are currently available to local children and adults could be permanently lost. In today’s environment these opportunities are more important than ever.


In the Water Safety Zones proposed by the navigation authority, mooring would become more organised and structured. This new structure would continue to allow hundreds of people to remain living on their boats, while protecting the river as a valuable public asset and keeping it available for sport and recreation by local children and adults


We call upon the Canal and Rivers Trust to act in the best interests of all local residents and water users and to implement the proposed Water Safety Zones immediately.


Background

  • There have been rowing clubs operating on the river between Tottenham Lock and Old Ford Lock on the River Lea for over 150 years. The first recorded rowing race on the Lea was for the ‘Championship of the Lea’ in 1848.

  • Lea Rowing Club is an amateur rowing club, formed 40 years ago, out of an amalgamation of a number of the oldest rowing clubs on the Lea, socially diverse and historically “East End”. It is a registered charity.

  • The average number of canal boats moored on this section of the Lea increased from 55 in 2011 to around 400 in 2021. Some of these boats are over 70 feet long and 12 feet wide.

  • The Canal and Rivers Trust has responded to Frequently Asked Questions about the Water Safety Zones along Lea Navigation here.

How have we responded to the congestion?


Lea Rowing Club has responded to these changed circumstances by introducing a range of safety measures. These include:

  • With funding support from Sport England, the Mayor’s Fund and other funding partners, we have increased the size of our gym and transferred as much of the physical conditioning training indoors as we are able, using for instance, indoor rowing machines.

  • We have completely changed our training approach. For instance, we no longer do ‘run throughs’ in single sculls from Tottenham Lock to Old Ford Lock. This had, for decades, formed the backbone of our Saturday morning training.

  • Due to the number of moored boats, we no longer row flat out for 2000m between Eton Mission Rowing Club and approximately 200m short of Lea Bridge Road, the distance of most rowing races.

  • Training times are staggered in order to control the number of boats on the water at any one time. Each squad has their own allocated time slot.

  • Each squad coach agrees which part of the river they will be using for a particular training session in order to keep congestion to a minimum.

  • We have removed an entire boat class from the river (fast coxless fours). This had been one of our most successful boat classes in competition. We were national club champions in 2018 so this is a considerable sacrifice.

  • We have introduced a club rule requiring a bank rider to accompany coxless pairs on the water in order to sight for oncoming traffic and navigational hazards.

  • Side by side training over a race distance being no longer possible, we now travel with our equipment, incurring considerable expense and time commitments, to other venues to undertake this sort of training

  • Single scullers and the person sitting in the bows of crew boats all must wear ‘hi visibility’ clothing.

  • No coxless boats are allowed out after dark.

  • As part of our regular ‘Learn to Row’ programmes that we run for both adults and children we teach everyone boat handling skills (manoeuvring, emergency stops, turning, reversing) and rules of the river.

  • Lastly, we have, for many years run two regattas on the Lea in Hackney, one in the spring and one in the autumn. These are now under threat due to the river congestion. These regattas have been fixtures in the grassroots rowing world, particularly amongst children and veterans. Small clubs from across the South East, such places as Erith, Fairlop Waters, University of Hertfordshire, Poplar, and Rochester would come and race. A very young Steve Redgrave raced on the Lea (and lost). Losing these grassroots sports events shows the wider impact that congestion on the river has across the community.