In a more civilised age?

A Cruising Guide to the Thames – H.S.Coleman

A few days ago I was listening to a friend despairing at the bad behaviour of a small group of river users, “People just don’t know how to behave any longer” he intoned. It led me to wonder whether things were any better in a previous age? So I dug out a guide to navigating the Thames, published around 60 years ago.

Turning the cover, instead of a frontispiece there is a list of early closing days from Kingston to Oxford – well that’s certainly different! The foreword described the book as providing an understanding of river conventions and conduct for the novice… and for the older hand who might like to refresh their skills.

The small soft-cover book offers practical advice on how to enjoy the river safely; terminology, boat handling, knots and so forth are all dealt with in a way that would be familiar to today’s boater. However, as you read there are the occasional glimpses of a frustration, not dissimilar to that which I was listening to the other night.

The problem is that nautical matters can never be emphatically defined as right or wrong, inevitably there is much left to the interpretation of the practitioner, each of whom may approach each question from quite a different viewpoint – fisherman, motor boat skipper, sailor, lock keeper, competitive rower…

The subtlety of this interpretation of the rules, is aptly illustrated in the drawings below – swamp those nicely behaved picnicking couples and you will be at fault, because you are to blame for being inconsiderate. Swamp the inattentive smoker, whose freeboard is far too low for his own safety and you will still be to blame, but it won’t be your fault!….

Meanwhile, our author switches his attention to swimmers, where clearly he has some ‘previous’.

“The complete imbecility of some of these bathers is incredible.” he writes, going on to describe swimmers crossing his bows, grabbing the stern above the propeller and as a result of these antics panicking as his boat looms over them. For some reason this causes them to lift their arms up and disappear under the water! Whilst that sounds very graceful, he advises us that this leads to an average of two or three drownings every year.

He goes on, “…a drowning would not be your fault, but it would be an unpleasant happening, the possibility of which you may want to avoid.” (!)

Nothing much changes it seems, except half-day closing seems to have gone!