Working Locks

Locks offer some of the best opportunities for contact with other boaters. Some of your most memorable and useful conversations will be with others using the lock.Proper and efficient operation helps everyone.

Leave space - At busy times be aware there might be a queue to use the locks and actively enquire rather than pass others who may be queuing. Leave plenty of space (at least 70’) behind you for the next arrivals at lock landings to moor safely.

Waiting to use a lock - Whilst waiting to use a lock after someone else, why not have a couple of your crew go to help at the lock. It makes for a friendly few minutes, it shares out the work and they will enjoy the company - they may even learn something! Offering to help a (slow) solo boater will usually be appreciated and will help you along too! If you are helping someone, try not to take over the entire job and make sure you are not just passing on bad habits!

Open top paddles slowly - Beware those who say ‘we’re in no hurry’ or ‘I’ve all the time in the world’. They’ll probably want you out as fast as possible and work the paddles like demented demons (do you do it yourself, perhaps?)!

Sharing - Always try to share wide locks between two (or even more!) narrow beam boats - it makes less work for a start! If one crew seems to be less proficient, use the opportunity to share your experience productively. There are no rules about who goes in first - you can’t close the gates until you are both in! Some thoughts are - full length boat first and get behind gate, boat with bow thrusters first - it may have more control over bows whilst the second boat comes in; longest boat first; steel boat before fibreglass etc. Discuss your options with each other and have a plan, especially for a flight of locks. Then you’ll be efficient, safe and have fun! Don’t force on people the idea of travelling through a broad flight roped together side by side (‘breasted’ ) - hire craft are not insured for it - and it can look like showing off! It is not much quicker, and anyway, who’s in a hurry?

Resetting locks - If a flight is busy in your direction, resist the temptation to re-set the lock for your boat to use if there is an oncoming boat a couple of locks away. You will only waste water and probably get into a queue in the next pounds where you’ll get in the way of other traffic. On some flights, you could even flood or drain the pound.

Oncoming boats - If you see a boat coming, leave the gates open for them - it is a courtesy and less work for you! Better still, actively look for a boat coming, even to the extent of going to a nearby bend to look. It is no fun having a lock gate slammed in your face when it was ready for you! Always let an oncoming boat use your next lock if it is set for them, even if they are a couple of locks or several hundred yards away.

Flights of locks - If you can, travel a flight of locks with at least one crew member working ahead so approaching boats will know you are coming - this saves water and can avoid accusations of stealing locks where in fact the other boaters did not know you were there. Do not work more than one lock ahead to avoid delaying an oncoming boat unnecessarily, unless the next couple of locks are already in your favour. Where intervening pounds are short, ensure the lock below is filling as the upper one is emptying, it saves water. Normally you should close paddles and gates, unless there are specific instructions not to do so. Keep the boat well forward of the top cill going down and be aware of the danger of the front fender fouling beams or handrails of gates as the water rises or falls. Do not push open any gates with the boat; wait until water levels are the same on both sides of the gate. Except at signed moorings, don’t moor in between locks on recognised lock flights; it can lead to wastage of water. On a narrow lock flight this creates an obstruction to navigating a butty (unpowered boat normally towed by a motor boat) which is usually pulled by a long rope from lock to lock in the traditional way. If you have no option, please be considerate to such craft and keep your roof adornments (especially aerials) down during daylight hours.

Rack and pinion mechanisms - On rack and pinion mechanisms, set the safety catch before starting to wind a paddle.

Windlasses - Never leave windlasses on paddle gear if you are not winding the paddle - they can fly off and damage limbs and heads (bystanders as well as yours).

Don't jump - Never jump down on to a boat from a lock side - if you slip you could be squashed.

Be aware of cills and gates - Always have at least one person attending the boat to ensure it does not get caught on cills etc. Avoid contact with either set of gates. An unwatched boat is usually the one where an accident could ensue. The steerer should stay in control of the boat

Other Information

See also: How to operate a lock