How To Go Through A Lock
Updated: Jan 16, 2019
When we went through our first lock, we were a little intimidated about how to do it safely. Luckily, it is actually quite easy! In this post, we will break down the steps of ‘locking through’ based on our experiences with three of them. These are all in the USA and on or near the ICW so procedures may be different elsewhere. Also, we are a two person crew so single-handed sailors may have a more difficult time tending lines.
Step 1: Arrive at the lock entrance preferably 10 minutes before the lock is due to open. This allows you to get your bearings.
Step 2: Tune your radio to the correct station for the lock. In our experience, it was the same as the frequency for the bridge tenders in that state (channel 13 or channel 9). The tender will make announcements for you on this channel, before you enter the lock system. This information should include: when you can enter the lock, which side you will be tying up on, what length your lines should be, as well as any other applicable safety information (such as whether PFDs are required).
Step 3: Prepare your boat based on the details given above so you are prepared when you enter the lock. This includes being sure you have fenders in place, lines (of the appropriate length) ready on the correct side, and PFDs on if required.
Step 4: When the tender gives the signal, usually over the radio as well as turning on a green light, you should slowly enter the lock and proceed to the side indicated previously. The tender will either come and grab your lines by extending a boat hook, or you will reach the cleat yourself. DO NOT TIE THE LINES. You will hook your line around the cleat to make a ‘bite’ and hold on to the loose end.
Step 5: Once you are in place, shut off the engine. This step is not mandatory, but take it from us; it is so much safer to shut it down! We didn’t when we went through the Deep Creek Lock and the raw water system sucked up a bunch of duck weed which caused major issues later on.
Step 6: The tender will give further details about the process of the lock. This should include approximate time it will take for the water level to change, as well as the height of change. If you’re lucky, you will also get a short history about the given lock system.
Step 7: The lock gates will close and the water will begin entering/escaping. Keep a close eye on your lines so you can let out/take in slack as the water level changes.
Step 8: Once the appropriate water level has been reached, the tender will give the go ahead for vessels to begin exiting the lock. Turn your engine back on, and proceed slowly out the gates, being sure to give a nice wave and thank you to the lock operator.
That’s it! Easy peasy!