Ridetheducksofseattle is reader-supported. When you buy through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

What Can You Do to Avoid Dangerous Situations When Using a Lock

Written by Anthony Roberts / Fact checked by Jonathan Larson

what can you do to avoid dangerous situations when using a lock

While traveling on rivers, there are chances for boaters to encounter a lock, especially in areas that are located near canals. New boat operators may find this difficult, thus navigating through a river lock will cause you into some dangerous situations unless it has proceeded carefully.

Hence, those concerns lead us to the question, “What can you do to avoid dangerous situations when using a lock?”. Understanding answers for this question can help you commute through a river lock or canal more safely and ensure the safety of people on board.

Therefore, in this post, we will provide many useful information about things you should do to prevent encountering dangerous scenarios while using a river lock.

Moreover, more suggestions and further notices about using a lock or river canal for new boaters will also be highlighted throughout the post, so remember to follow till the end.

Continue reading to learn more!

Tips for Vessel Operators While Commuting Through Locks and Canals


For years, locks and canals had been built to mainly serve business vessels and cargo ships transporting goods or passengers. However, it doesn’t mean that personal watercraft cannot use these waterway features. You may improve your cruising ability and prolong your experiences by mastering how to utilize the locks.

As mentioned above, while canal networks were designed for commercial traffic, they are now frequently used by leisure boaters. Canal systems also include nearly any form of canal suitable for boating, ranging from small rivers to large lakes. On canals with locks, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Keep track of the river levels on the locks you’ll be cruising. Over a few months of a year, water levels might fluctuate considerably. You may not even be able to cruise on certain canal networks during some periods of the year if your vessel includes a deep draft.
  • In lock networks, be wary of drifting debris. These objects accumulate around the locks since the water level or flow is Rubbish in the locks might get stuck between your craft and the wall, creating serious damages.
  • As you travel upstream near a dam, keep an eye on the currents. Once the lock gates are opened, the currents might be quite powerful.
  • The command for vessels to enter a lock is tightly enforced. You will have to accept that recreational watercraft has the lowest priority for accessing a lock.
  • Military boats will have the preference to enter the lock first. After them, other vessels like commercial passenger crafts, business tows or fishing ships will be allowed to access respectively. Even though you arrive first, boats with greater priority will be permitted to enter the lock ahead of you.
  • All passengers on board, except the captain (if the operator is also not a line handler), should wear a life jacket. If you’re connected to a boat’s raft, install bumpers on both sides nearest to the wall. Vehicle tires aren’t permitted in locks, therefore refrain from using them as fenders.

Steps to Enter and Exit a River Lock Safely


As you have understood some basic rules while commuting through a river lock. It’s time for you to pay more attention to prevent dangerous situations from occurring during the process. Following these steps below and travel in a canal’s lock safely:

Step 1: Inform about the boat’s entrance

Before entering, notify the lock. Additionally, you may use VHF marine radio to communicate with the lock’s gatekeeper. It is critical to interact with those who manage the lock and to carefully follow directions, since failing to do so might result in trouble for you and other boaters.

Step 2: Enter/Approach the lock slowly and carefully

When utilizing a lock, keep in mind that you should constantly be aware of your surroundings. Also, you should keep an eye out for other vessels and the flow of the wind. Before accessing the lock, wait until the green traffic light is turned on.

We also have the red traffic light, which indicates that you should steer away from the lock to enable other vessels to pass, or the amber light, which signifies that you should approach slowly and in complete control of your boat.

Step 3: Move the boat firmly

Use both bow & stern cables to anchor the boat within the lock. The line should be looped but not tied. In order to hold the boat into position when the water level varies, the rope must be adjusted.

Follow the lock’s processor instructions to tie off or toss ropes to the lock tenders. Because the water level will fluctuate during the lockage, do not attach your vessel to any other permanent place. You might also be requested to tie up to another craft in a congested lock chamber.

Step 4: Exit the lock

Before leaving, wait for the locks to fully open. It’s also crucial to wait until the water level is steady and still before operating the motor. Always double-check that all routes are clear before exiting the lock at a constant pace to maintain the boat’s stability.

The lockmaster has complete control over the placement of boats in the lock and its entrances for safety purposes. Failing to observe the lockmaster’s instructions will not only cause the process to be delayed, but it might also be dangerous.

During the procedure, turn off your engines and ensure that all passengers are seated and using a pfd. Before loosening mooring ropes to exit the lock, listen to the lockmaster’s notification.

For more details, please check out this video:


Traveling through a lock will be such an interesting activity to both boaters and their passengers, as river locks are often located in areas with beautiful sceneries. Still, it is crucial to ensure the safety of everyone onboard, and following the above instructions may be a wise idea to guarantee the excitement of your boating experience.

We hope that the above information will be helpful during your boating trips. Did you enjoy the article on what can you do to avoid dangerous situations when using a lock? Do you want to add anything else? Please let us know and leave a comment below.

5/5 - (3 votes)