A lifeboat pilot has told how he nearly risked his life jumping into the freezing Thames as a young man, in a bid to warn students and drinkers of the dangers of the river.

His warning comes after law student Niall Pawsey, 20, drowned swimming out from the Kingston Mill where he had been drinking the day before the royal wedding.

In the wake of his death, Andrew Butterfield 36, helmsman of the RNLI lifeboat at Teddington, is trying to raise awareness of the dangers of drunkenly swimming in the Thames, which even on a hot day can be close to freezing and cripple healthy swimmers through hypothermia.

He said: “When I was 18, I was drinking in Richmond and was tempted to jump off Kingston Bridge as it was a nice day, but a woman asked me not to. Now I get called out to similar cases regularly.”

He has asked riverside pubs and restaurants to put up signs and buy rescue devices and as offered training for staff.

Meanwhile a boat company owner criticised the police and fire brigade for searching 'the wrong section' of river when it was looking for Mr Pawsey on Thursday, April 28.

Richard Turk, of Turks Launches, said officers searched upstream from Kingston Mill, instead downstream where his body was found.

But he emphasised there was no suggestion emergency services could have saved Mr Pawsey’s life if they had searched downstream earlier as he believed Mr Pawsey could have drowned before.

A London Fire Brigade spokesman said: "London Fire Brigade assisted the London Coastguard, the RNLI and Met Police at this incident.

"Our fire boat and fire rescue unit staff, who assisted in the search, are highly trained, experienced and competent at dealing with water rescue incidents.

We received guidance from the RNLI who directed us to the area of the river in which to carry out our search for the missing man.

We had a large number of staff at the scene who thoroughly searched all around the area where the man went missing.

Staff were sent up and downstream to prevent other boats from getting in the way of the search operation.

Our staff did absolutely everything they could to search for the missing man and continued searching for several hours.”

A Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) spokesman said: “This was a complex search involving the RNLI, London Coastguard, the MPS helicopter and London Fire Brigade.”

“Information from a local boatman was fed into the search and rescue operation.

"Subsequently the MPS dive team were deployed to recover the body.

"Tragically the body was recovered in the area that police were searching."

Meanwhile Mr Pawsey’s girlfriend Sinead Holland added her tribute to him saying: “Niall meant more to me than anyone else ever has. I will miss him deeply. I loved him and I always will.”

Friends in his home town of Wyman’s Brook, near Cheltenham held a minute’s applause while holding up his old number 23 Cleevillians shirt at a hockey tournament on Sunday, May 8.

Police have successfully rescued swimmers with the help of boat owners, most recently in February when they rescued a 6ft 7in man who was floating face first in the water.

A man clutching a bag was rescued by a Turks Launch cruise boat in August last year after jumping off Kingston Bridge.

Last February, a police officer with a fear of water rescued a drowning woman from the Thames by climbing on to a houseboat launch.

In October 2009, McClusky’s nightclub staff rescued a man whose friends were holding his clothes and laughing.

Budding musician and Gazebo barman Jamie Spencer, 21, died in June 2009 when he was seen jumping off a houseboat by Kingston Bridge shortly after a fight. His death was ruled an accident, at his inquest.