Until the middle of the nineteenth century the Sovereign regularly travelled on the river Thames, either on State occasions or between the Royal Palaces of Windsor, Westminster, Hampton Court, Greenwich and the Tower of London.
The men who rowed the Royal Barges up and down the river Thames were known as Royal Watermen. The Sovereign today still retains 24 Royal Watermen under the command of The Queen's Bargemaster, thereby continuing one of the most ancient appointments in the Royal Household. The original number of 48 was halved by King Edward VII.
There are no State Barges still afloat today. However, the Royal Nore, which is owned and maintained by the Port of London Authority, is the official motor launch used whenever a member of the Royal Family travels on the river Thames for an official engagement.
Royal Watermen are chosen from the ranks of the Thames Watermen whose business today is manning tugs, lighters and launches, therefore earning their employment on the River. Upon their appointment, each Waterman is given a Warrant of Appointment and paid a small honorary sum per year.
Their uniform is a skirted scarlet tunic with a silver gilt Royal Cypher (plastrum) on the front and back of the jacket, breeches, navy/black cap, scarlet stockings, white shirt and black buckled shoes.
The duties of the Royal Watermen are now purely ceremonial. On the water, the Watermen escort members of the Royal Family on board the Royal Nore on the river Thames, and visiting Heads of State who arrive in London on the river, such as The King and Queen of Norway on the Royal Yacht NORGE in 2005. The Royal Watermen participated in the Silver Jubilee river progress in 1977.
On-shore duties consist of acting as boxmen on Royal carriages during State Visits, Royal weddings and Jubilees, and walking behind The King or Queen's Bargemaster at Coronations. At the State Opening of Parliament, The Queen's Bargemaster and Watermen travel on the carriages guarding the regalia when it is conveyed from Buckingham Palace to Westminster and back as a reminder of the days when it was brought by boat from the Tower of London.