Canal Boating Holidays - Guide to Canal Lock Operation
Canal Locks - How They Work
What Does A Canal Lock Do?
A Rough Guide to Lock Operation
locks are not difficult to operate, but they do require a degree of physical
fitness and manual dexterity and effort. You will soon become proficient in locking
with a little practice.
Do not let children operate lock mechanisms unless they
are physically able and then only under strict supervision.
If at any time you are not sure what to do, do not be afraid to ASK. Other
boaters are generally friendly and understand that you may not be practiced,
they will be pleased to help you. If necessary, moor up and watch other people
working the lock until you feel confident yourself.
Canal Lock Equipment
You will require a windlass for winding the canal lock paddle mechanism up
You may also require a Waterways Authority key or or anti-vandal key to unlock
the canal lock paddle mechanism.
Avoid Lock Accidents - Safety First is a Priority
You need to be aware at all times of the safety of your boat, yourself, your
crew, children, pets and bystanders.
Children and non-swimmers are recommended to wear life jackets and pets kept
under control around locks.
Ensure that you and your crew are wearing suitable footwear. Particularly
avoiding high heeled, open-toed shoes and flip-flops. A windlass dropped onto
bare toes can be extremely painful! Secure spectacles, loose hair or clothing,
scarves tucked in, avoid wearing anything around the neck, like long necklaces,
cameras, shoulder bags etc. which can catch on the windlass or in the paddle
Do not allow small children to touch the mechanisms around the locks.
How Do Lock Gates Work? - What Are Locks?
About Lock Construction
A lock is a construction for altering the level of water of the canal, enabling
boats to travel either up or down hill. Lock construction consist of the lock
chamber, which is a brick, stone or metal enclosure which holds the navigable
water; the gates are positioned at the top and bottom ends of the lock; the gates
have balance beams, which you push against to open and close the gates, the gates
allow the boat to enter and leave the locks; the paddles, which are raised and
lowered to control the water flow to alter the level; and the cill, which is
a large raised ledge at the top end of the lock against which the top gate shuts.
Locks are worked by water pressure and muscle power, there are no pumps or
electric motors, except some of the larger commercial traffic or guillotine locks.
Narrow Locks are wide enough for one boat. Wide locks generally hold two or
more boats side by side.
If a Lock keeper is on duty, always follow their instructions. You will usually
be expected to operate the locks yourself, but under instruction or supervision.
Some locks, particularly on rivers are always operated by Lock-keepers. Most
locks, however, are self-operated.
If the water is in your favour, you have right of way; if the water is against
you then a boat seen coming towards you has right of way, as they can make use
of the water. You may have to wait a few minutes for the oncoming boat to get
into a position to use the lock - please be patient.
Do not be tempted to use lock moorings for overnight stays or moor there for
longer than it takes to lock as you will be obstructing other users.
If a boat is coming towards you as you exit the lock, leave the gates open
Locks are a great place to meet other boaters, to exchange news and gossip,
and to learn tips and hints from more experienced crews.
If you are waiting in a queue, one of your crew should go forward with a windlasses
and offer to help the boats in front of you. Not only will this speed things
up, you will have the opportunity to chat, meet new people, and possibly learn
more about the canals.
Remember, if you do offer to help, always follow the instructions of the crew
whose boat is in the lock.
How a Canal Lock Works - Now its your turn......read on
Going Up In A Canal Lock
When you arrive at the lock, moor up and send at least one of your crew,
with their windlasses, forward to the lock. If another boat is already using
the lock, your crew can help them through, but always ask first!
If the lock is empty of boats and water, open the gates by pushing against
the balance beams. If the lock is full, or partly full, and no boats are approaching
the lock from above, use the windlass to wind up the paddles on the gates nearest
to your boat. The water will empty from the lock and may cause a wash that affects
your boat. When the lock is empty, open the gates and wind the paddles down with
Steer the boat into the lock, the crew shuts the gates behind it, making sure
the lower gate paddles are down. If practicable, reverse the boat up towards
the bottom gates and use the centre line with a turn or two (do not tie off)
to a lockside bollard if available and hold the end of the rope, to prevent the
boat lunging forward, or sideways in a wide lock. The crew then goes to the far
end of the lock and slowly opens the top, 'ground' paddles. These are situated
either side of the lock. Winding up the ground paddles, followed by any centre
lock paddles, if fitted, to fill the lock. Always wind slowly to avoid making
a tidal wave in the lock which will throw the boat backwards against the bottom
gates. Leave the pawl or safety catch in place whilst raising the paddles. Once
the paddles are up and you are happy with the flow and its effect on the boat,
remove the windlass from the mechanism.
If you find you need to control the movement of the boat, do it with gentle
bursts of throttle, forward if the boat is moving backwards, reverse if the boat
is moving forwards. Your crew must understand the importance of opening the paddles
slowly, to prevent the boat washing about in the lock.
When the lock is full, open the top gate and steer the boat out of the lock.
Meanwhile, the crew shuts the top paddles. They then shut the gate behind the
boat while you moor up for them to get back on board. If another boat is coming
towards you, your crew should leave the gate open for them.
Going Down In A Canal Lock
When you arrive at the lock, moor up and send your crew, with their windlasses,
forward to the lock. If another boat is already using the lock, your crew can
help them through, but always ask first!
If the lock is full, the crew opens the gate and you can steer the boat in.
If the lock is empty and no boat is approaching from below, or partly full, the
crew fills the lock by winding up the paddles nearest to your boat. When the
lock is full, the crew opens the gate and winds down the paddles.
Steer the boat into the lock, and the crew shuts the gate behind you. Position
the boat well forward of the white Cill Markers, which are painted on the lock
sides just inside the top gate. Avoid fouling your front fender on the bottom
The crew empties the lock by winding up the paddles nearest the front of the
boat. As the lock empties, continue to look behind you to check that the back
of the boat is clear of the cill markers. Use gentle bursts of throttle to keep
the boat steady. There is no need to tie off your boat in the lock.
When the lock is empty, the crew opens the gates and winds down the paddles.
Steer the boat out of the lock; the crew shuts the gates behind you unless another
boat is coming towards you, and re boards the boat.
Remember to shut all paddles when leaving a lock and gates too unless another
boat is coming towards you.
Avoiding Canal Lock Accidents Turning Into A Disaster
If at any time the boat adopts an unusual angle or things don't seem right,
stop all lock operations and find out why!
If you catch the back of the boat on the cill as the level drops - Shut the
paddles immediately, then slowly refill the lock to right the boat.
If you get the front fender caught in the bottom gates, Shut the paddles immediately
and refill the lock slowly, freeing the boat.
In any emergency in a lock failure to act quickly may result in the boat sinking
in the lock!
In the event of a lock being inoperable, contact your hire company or waterways
authority for advice.