Enjoy thrills (but hopefully not spills) on the Thamesjet

The Thamesjet boat is the only jet-powered boat on the Thames, promising tourists the tightest twists and turns on the river. Jane Duru takes a ride on the wild side.

As my stomach lurches up and into my throat, I utter a quiet word of thanks that I skipped breakfast. I’m speeding down the river Thames like a stone skimming water, except this pebble is actually the first jet-powered boat on the Thames, and it’s going at 64kph (40mph) (that’s 35 knots for the nautically minded). Only police and military boats are allowed to go faster. Every time I relax my grip of the metal railing in front of me, we do another mid-air twist or another sudden stop and the lurching starts all over again. I’m vaguely aware that the other passengers (a father with two children, and a group of girlfriends) and I, are screeching and whooping like overexcited fools on a loopy rollercoaster, but ours are giddy screams of surprise rather than fear. We’re having far too much fun to be truly scared.

My journey starts 30 minutes earlier at Westminster pier, where I’m kitted out with a waterproof jacket and life jacket. There’s a short safety briefing from a friendly staff member who tells me with more than a hint of pride that she’s been on the boat ride five times already. It doesn’t seem like the kind of vessel to inspire such proselytising; with capacity for only 12 people, the boat, named Blue Thunder, looks relatively ordinary to my landlubberly eyes, not the kind of boat that could have your innards doing cartwheels.

The first 20 minutes seem to confirm my suspicions. Due to local byelaws, the rib is restricted to a speed limit of 22kph (14mph) so we start with a leisurely tour of the river, heading west towards the palace of Westminster before turning back around and past Southbank, towards Tower Bridge. A cockney voiceover points out the sights and pub quiz facts – did you know the London Eye’s 32 capsules represent each of the boroughs of London? Me neither. As a Londoner, it’s interesting to see the city from a river’s eye view but if I were a tourist, the tour’s superficiality might leave me feeling a bit dissatisfied.

Thamesjet Thames barrierThe 70 min ride will take you down to the Thames Barrier

As soon as we get past Tower Bridge, without warning, the jet-powered engine roars into action, and the rib suddenly accelerates to 64kph (40mph). It may not sound fast, but low down, on the water, it definitely feels that way. Any faster and we’d be flying through the air rather than skimming the water, apparently. Having a jet engine allows faster acceleration than propeller-driven boats, and the ability to do tighter turns at angles where the propellers would start to cut into the side of the boat. The passengers on a large white barge beside us give us bemused waves as we tear off into the distance.

I’m now an agent of the state, giving chase to a rogue boat. The cheesy voiceover has been replaced by classic spy tunes – the unmistakeable horns of the Bond theme tune, the Mission Impossible riff, and erm, P Diddy classic Come With Me. It’s music to get the heart racing, which doesn’t take much when you’re careening and swerving about as if you’re the toy passenger in a child’s game of airplane.

We pull off a series of sharp twists and outrageous stops, all the way past Canary Wharf before slaloming back. It’s a thrilling ride, made all the more so by the fact that each turn means tilting at 45° into the river (tip: don’t sit at the back if you don’t want to get wet). The light drizzle of the morning has turned into spiteful little pellets of water that smack my face with unintentional ferocity, whilst the wind keeps whipping the hood off my hair, but despite the rain and wind, I’m thoroughly enjoying my action-packed journey. Never has the sight of Tower Bridge (where we must slow down) been so disappointing.

This is perfect for families both young and old, but note, under-fives are not permitted. The boat runs in all weathers (unless it’s too foggy to see river traffic) but this’ll be far more fun in summer than winter.

At £35 for adults and £21 for children, for the 50 minutes from Westminster to Canary Wharf journey, there’s no doubt this is an expensive day out. It’s even more expensive if you go for the longer 75 minutes journey down to the Thames Barrier. But it stacks up against the other operators on the river who charge similar prices and use propeller-powered ribs.

When it comes to thrillseeking on the river, you can't get much better than this. But don't expect in-depth historical insight from the tour part. The cockney voiceover is a humorous introduction to London but it only skims the surface.

Wear waterproof clothing, sturdy shoes and gloves, especially if it's going to be a rainy day.


Starting Point: Westminster Pier.
Times: Daily, with tours running every hour. Tours take place all year round.
Price: From £35 for adults, £21 for children.

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