Down the river by foot!

By | Category: Travel rumblings

passenger craft steering

Steering by foot

Most people would imagine you steer a boat by the wheel. Take a look at the picture. This pleasure boat captain is using his foot. Is this sensible? Is he in full control? Should this happen? Does this happen often? Do other captains do it too?
Just a few days ago in London, I caught one of those pleasure craft that take you from Westminster Pier to Greenwich. The journey down was fine. There is a commentary in a slightly cockney voice to let you know what we were passing and the obligatory bucket for you to throw tips in when a member of the crew comes around. (Who is brave enough not to contribute?) It is at a leisurely pace, enjoyable and London from the river is a different sight for the visitor. Until you get into Docklands where it just looks like a giant housing estate.
It was the journey back that made me think. There is no commentary on the return journey so the captain (we’ll call him that since there seems to have been only two people on board and one was serving in the bar until we docked when he became a sailor again and tied us up) can concentrate on steering. Unlike the first trip, I sat where I could see the boat being steered. Hardly had we left the quay when the captain lit up a cigarette, opened the door from his cabin to the outside and puffed away. But in order to smoke he perched in such a way that he could place his foot on the wheel and steered with it. And that lasted for much of the journey including steering through quite a few bridges and some of the busier parts of the river. You can just make out the safety guide taped to to the glass. It says nothing about steering by foot and any problems that causes!
There were about twenty people that would have been able to see this driving technique but none seemed to notice. In all, there were probably about forty of us on the boat. Does steering like this give you confidence? Should people be allowed to steer a publicly used vessel like this? Does this contravene the rules of the river? Is this safe? Is there a part of the manual for sailing the Thames that deals with feet steering? Do you get tested annually to see if an athritic condition is affecting your control movements?
From a visitor point-of-view this doesn’t inspire confidence. It looks sloppy rather than professional. It doesn’t look as though he cared about his role and it certainly doesn’t inspire me to want to travel with him again. And what would it tell a visitor about how we manage our travel?
Here is a person in charge of a largish vessel carrying members of the public. Even if he was qualified to steer with his foot, he should look as though he was concentrating on his work rather than regarding it as an interruption to his smoking.

My apologies for the slightly blurred picture but I wanted it taken quickly without him noticing

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