Canal Cruising Skills - How to work a Canal Lock
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Fri Sep 7, 2012 at 11:26am

After having some staff training on going through a canal lock got me thinking about how a canal lock works.  They can be difficult to get the hang of and they are certainly require a lot of physical effort too!

What is a canal lock?

A canal lock is a device for raising and lowering narrow boats, canal boats, widebeams (many different boats) between stretches of water of different levels of the river or canal. A lock on a canal or river is also specifically called a pound lock. A 'pound lock' has gates at both ends of that control the level of water in the pound (see the picture below, which shows a series of canal locks all in one go).


Some locks you can fit two boats in next to each other.  This can mean that you have help going through the lock from other people.  Other canals such as the shropshire union canal (specifically the middlewich branch) outside of Venetian Marina in cheshire the pound lock is not large enough to fit two boats through and also you cannot fit widebeam boats through these locks.

So what do you need to open a canal lock?

  • A windlass (preferably a spare few of these, and a long handled windlass for beginners as it is easier to open the locks with a longer handle on it).   You can buy these from places like Midland Chadlers and Aquafax
  • At least two people as it makes opening and closing the locks much easier.  One to steer the boat and the other one to open and close the locks!  It is possible to do this on your own but it can be challenging sometimes!  Especially if you are going up or down Heart Break Hill on the Trent and Mersey Canal (the locks are very close together and there are lots of them one after the other!!!).
  • A centre rope so it is easy to secure your boat when you are waiting to go into the lock

What Do We Have To Do To Work Through A Lock?

To work your boat through a lock you need to wind paddles up and down and push gates open and shut. The top paddles let water from above the lock in to fill the lock.  The diagram below by British Waterways (now known as the Canal and River Trust).


Make sure that you keep safe when going through a canal lock

1. When you wind up or down a paddle don't leave the windlass on the paddle.  The saftey catch on the paddle gear could slip off and cause the windlass to rapidly spin around and flying off causing it to fall in to the lock or cause someone a lot of pain! 

2. Watch your narrow boat at all times to make sure it is not being violently thrown around by the sudden influx of water. If at any time there is concern, immediately close the paddles. 

3. Keep the boat clear of the cill (see diagram above).  The cill area is marked out in the lock.  See the latest Tilligraph magazine (Septembers edition p8) for what not to do!

4. Put all side fenders onboard before entering the canal lock as there is only a limited amount of space when you enter the lock.

5. Close all hopper and porthole windows in your narrowboat to avoid ingress of water.

For further information please see other sources such as:

Our blog is for information purposes only and Venetian Marina cannot accept any liability. We advise that all novices have some kind of training on how to operate a narrowboat.

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