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Do enough boating and, sooner or later, you’re bound to encounter a lock. Like an elevator, these box-like structures raise or lower boats between differing water levels — usually created by dams — and like anything unfamiliar, they can be intimidating for the uninitiated. But not to worry! By following these steps, you’ll be locking through like a pro in no time.

1.  When approaching a lock, make sure to stay between the buoys that mark the navigable channel.

2.  Use your VHF radio to hail the lockmaster on channel 16 then switch to the working channel he or she indicates and listen for instructions. If you don’t have a VHF, signal the lockmaster by blowing one long blast on your horn (four to six seconds) or by using the small-craft signal cord located near the end of the upper or lower lock walls.

3.  Hold your position outside the lock (at least 400 feet back from the gates is recommended, in case large craft need to exit) and wait for the lockmaster to signal that you may enter.

4.  Signal lights and horns guide traffic at most locks:

•   Flashing red – Stand clear, do not enter
•  Flashing amber – Lock is being made ready
•  Flashing green or white – Enter lock

•  One or two long blasts – Enter lock
•  One short blast – Exit lock

5.  Pull slowly into the lock and use a long mooring line (you should bring at least 50 feet with you) to tie off your craft. Most locks have ties or mooring posts to make this easy and safe. Do not tie off to ladders along the wall. In a crowded lock, you may be asked to tie off to another boat. Use fenders to prevent damage to boats and the lock walls.

6.  Shut down your engine. Use a mooring ring or similar device to tie off your mooring line then stand by to pay out or take in line as the water level rises or falls.

7.  Turbulent water can be created during the lockage, so passengers should remain seated and should be wearing personal flotation devices.

8.  Remain moored until the lockage is complete, the gate is fully opened and the lockmaster signals you to exit the lock.

9.  Exit the lock at a no-wake speed and be careful to stay within the navigation buoys as you continue on your way.

For more information on Dam Safety review our Upstream and Downstream Tips.

United Marine Underwriters is more than just boat insurance. Browse our Boats For Sale at Boat Browser or our Lake Resource Guide at Lake Browser or share your fishing stories and photos at True Fish Tales – the ones that did not get away.

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2 Responses to Locking Through

  1. Randy Troutman says:

    Thanks Captain JP for the additional information.

  2. Captain JP says:

    Great article Randy! I just wanted to mention that in some areas, such as parts of the Northeast, the lockmaster only monitors VHF channel 13.

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