A TEAM of officials toured the River Thames to hand out vital safety advice to boaters.

Russell Robson, an Environment Agency team leader, took members of the Oxford Water Safety Group for a trip on the river yesterday to give out the safety tips.

Council staff joined Mr Robson, firefighters and police to pass on advice for boaters on how to stay safe.

They spoke to boat owners about rotten gangplanks, damaged ropes and the dangers of fires starting on board.

And they handed out floating key rings and high visibility mooring spike covers to make life safer on the waterways.

Chris Bell, of the city council, who leads the water safety group, warned that rickety gangplanks, combined with too much alcohol, could be a lethal combination.

He added: “A boater died at Iffley Lock a few years ago after falling into the river.

“You don’t always find out the precise reason for the incidents so we are reminding boaters how they can keep themselves safe.”

Station commander Darran Hookway, of Oxfordshire Fire Service, told boaters that they should have smoke alarms and ensure they could disembark safely, while PC Amanda Kerman told them how to keep their boats and belongings secure.

The safety group members travelled to Folly Bridge and Donnington Bridge and left one advice leaflet with a boater near Port Meadow whose gangplank was unstable.

Former engineer Andy Millhouse, 71, who lives on a 66ft Dutch barge with wife Lynne, 66, welcomed the safety visit.

He added: “We have lived on this boat for about 10 years and there’s a good boating community in Oxford.

“Thankfully we have never had a fire but I welcome the advice.

“The best advice I can give boaters is don’t drink too much - have a glass of wine before you go to bed and then you will be ready to cruise in the morning.”

Judith Heathcoat, the county council’s cabinet member for safety, said: “Safety is everyone’s responsibility.

“Smoke alarms are inexpensive and will give everyone valuable time to escape safely.

“Rotten gangplanks can collapse, resulting in anyone standing on them tumbling into the water.

“Boats might drift out of control if mooring ropes snap, striking and damaging other boats and structures before sinking. And boating under the influence of alcohol is another accident risk.”

Russell Robson, from the Environment Agency, said: “There’s a large boating community in Oxford and I think some people on the Thames are quite vulnerable.”