Canal Locking Procedures


This information is for canals such as the Rideau Waterway and Trent-Severn Waterway. Read a sample of the Canal Regulations.

How a Lock Works: To allow boats to "lock up", canal staff open one or both of the two large wooden doors, by turning a crab, a large metal gear that is connected to each door. Two people can crank as there are handles on both sides. After boats enter the lock, staff close the lower doors, then close their underwater gates to keep water in the lock. Then staff walk to the upper doors, and open the underwater sluice gates to fill the lock with water. Once the water is at the same level as outside the doors, the doors are cranked opened and boats leave the lock. All operation is by human power and gravity, as it was in 1832 (except for one electric lockstation). The maximum size of boat that can normally use locks is 27.4m (90ft) long, 7.9m (26ft) wide, 6.7m (22ft) high, and 1.5m (5ft) deep.

Lock Cables:
On both sides of the lock's stone wall, there are thick cables for boaters to pass lines around. The cables are fastened top and bottom to the lock wall so that, as the water level changes in the lock chamber, your lines will slide up or down. If your boat is about 8 metres, you will be able to reach 2 cables, one at the bow and another at the stern. Smaller boats can use a single cable. Small single-handed boats can pass a single line around a cable amid-ships.

Prepare your Boat:
You should have lines and fenders rigged on both sides of your boat. One should be raised higher for resting against the vertical lock wall; the others may be lower for the filled lock, when it may be more like a dock. Here's what you need for a cruiser:

  1. Fenders (3 per side)
  2. Dock lines (2 per side)
  3. Lock pole (recommended)
  4. Horn
  5. Canal Regulations booklet
  6. Lock pass or fee
  7. Crew (1 or more)

Approaching a lockstation:
3 blasts on your horn will inform the lockmaster of your request to lock through. If you are driving a large vessel, then 4 blasts on your horn will let the lockmaster know that you request both gates to be opened - but it's his decision! Be sure to have your lines and fenders ready before approaching a lock. Wearing your PFD in the locks is not mandatory in the Heritage Canals, but it is recommended, especially for non-swimmers and children. Falling into the water in a lock will really spoil your day, and happens more often than you would think.

The "Blue Line"
The approach dock for a lockstation is painted with a blue stripe. This is where you tie up if you intend to lock through and the lock is not ready for you. If the blue line is full, you might stand off, if there is enough room. If the wait if long, you may be asked by another boat if you would like to "raft up" or tie up alongside his boat. In that case, you should raise your fenders to protect your neighbor's topsides, approach dead slow, stop alongside, and pass your lines (bow, stern and two spring lines) to the other boat's crew to be fastened. Be sure to thank the other boat's captain and crew for this very big favor. Many cruising friendships have begun in just this way.

Entering the Lock:
The lockmaster is in charge of all boat traffic into or out of a lock. You will be told when to enter the lock, and where to tie up and when to leave. When the lockmaster requests you enter the lock, proceed at slow speed. Stop the boat along the wall, then have your crew grab a cable (with a lock pole if you have one), and pass a bow line around the cable. Pass a second line around a cable at the stern. Turn off the engine and all other motors or flames. Be prepared to show your lock pass or have your money ready.

Rafting in the Lock
If the locks are very busy, the lockmaster may ask you to "raft" to another boat that is already fastened to a cable on the lock wall. In that case, you will need to be ready to adjust your fenders to protect your neighbor's topsides and you will have to fasten your lines to the other boat's cleats. Unless the lines to the other boat are fairly short, you might want to add a spring line or two so you don't surge when the water starts to move.

Lock Rules:
Respect the lock rules: As soon as you are fastened, turn your engine off, leaving your bilge blower on (or turn on the blower several minutes before starting your engine). No cigarettes, stoves, generators, or engines are allowed. Anyone who cannot swim should wear a PFD.

Keep an eye on your lines when the sluice gates are opened as the water can get quite turbulent at times. Never leave a line unattended. You may loop the end around one horn of a cleat, but do not be tempted to fasten it.

When the lock gates open, you exit in the reverse order that you entered in. Under no circumstances should you turn on a gasoline engine without running the bilge blower for several minutes.

Locking Tips:

  1. Keep a knife handy in case a line jams -- a boat dangling from a lock wall is rare, but guaranteed to spoil your day!
  2. It's not "cool" to turn the motor off while still moving in the lock, and expect the crew to stop the boat. In a tug of war, the lock cable always wins!
  3. Tie up Fido or kitty - a lock wall will tempt any pet.
  4. Watch for zebra mussels on lock walls and docks. They are very sharp and make nasty cuts.
  5. There are cameras at the approach to some locks, so tell your bathing beauties on the bow to cover up - or not!
  6. The water between locks in Merrickville have tricky eddies when the lock doors open. Better to wait a bit before proceeding.

There are washrooms and gargabe cans at all lockstations. Most have picnic tables and some have power available. Leash your dog and carry "poop'n'scoop" bags. If you have any questions, the lock staff can answer them.

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