The main line of the Aire & Calder Navigation runs from Leeds (where it joins the Leeds & Liverpool Canal) to Goole (where it joins the Yorkshire Ouse). The Wakefield Branch of the Navigation runs from Fall Ing Lock at Wakefield (where it joins the Calder & Hebble Navigation) to join the Aire & Calder Navigation at Castleford Junction. The former Barnsley Canal (restoration proposed) joins the Wakefield Branch just downstream of Fall Ing Lock. The New Junction Canal (part of the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation) joins the Navigation at Southfield Junction, 2 miles (3.2 km) downstream of Pollington. The (navigable) river Aire leaves the Navigation at Bank Dole Junction and joins the Selby Canal at Haddlesey. Downstream of Haddlesey Old Lock (which is derelict), the river Aire is tidal and not normally used for navigation.
The main line is 34.0 miles (54.4 km) long and has 11 locks. The Wakefield Branch is 7.5 miles (12 km) long and has 4 locks. The navigable river Aire to Haddlesey is 6.5 miles (10.4 km) long and has 2 locks.
The maximum boat size that can navigate the full main line is
length: 200' 2" (61.0 metres) - Castleford Lock
beam: 18' 1" (5.5 metres) - Leeds Lock
height: 11' 10" (3.6 metres) - Heck Road Bridge
draught: 8' 9" (2.68 metres) - cill of Leeds Lock
The maximum boat size that can navigate the Wakefield Branch is
length: 141' 0" (42.9 metres)
beam: 18' 3" (5.55 metres) - Broadreach Lock
height: 11' 10" (3.6 metres)
draught: 8' 10" (2.7 metres) - cill of Broadreach Lock
Most locks on the main line have periods when they are manned but many also have facility for user operation (the times when locks are manned are decreasing). All have traffic lights to indicate the status of the lock (much the same as the Trent locks). Most locks on the main line require a Sanitary Station key for self-operation.
Where user operation is provided, each gate, and its paddles, is controlled from its adjacent console. They are powered-up by inserting a Sanitary Station key. An 'interlock' prevents mis-operation. Detailed instructions are displayed at each console. It is advised to rope up your boat for the duration of filling or emptying the lock. Leisure boaters are advised to keep clear when large vessels are leaving or entering a lock. Where provided, use the shorter leisure boat landings.