Chapter 6: Navigation Aids

Navigating Locks and Dams Safely

Locks allow boats to pass up and down through dams, almost like a set of stairs. These devices are necessary and are the only reason some rivers are even navigable.

Certain watercraft get priority while waiting in the lock queue and are granted passage ahead of others. The priority list is a military craft, followed by mail boats, then commercial passenger craft, commercial tows, commercial fisherman and lastly pleasure boats.

A lockmaster controls the traffic, in and out of a lock. They signal when it is safe and clear to enter. When one approaches a lock, one needs to operate at idle speed. One must stop at least a hundred yards from the entrance. Signal the lockmaster with one long blast followed by one short blast on an air horn. One may also use channel 13 on the marine radio or use a signal device on the lock wall.

After signaling the lockmaster, stay clear of the entrance until signaled to enter. In the meantime, have the fenders and at least 75 feet of mooring lines prepared. Once the lockmaster indicates that it is time to enter, proceed with caution. Steer clear of vessels that are entering or exiting the lock and pay additional attention to any large barges and the currents these large vessels create while passing.

Once inside the lock chamber, adjust the lock lines to the water levels. Do not tie the boat to the lock wall tightly, as the boat needs to be able to move up and down, in tandem, with the rising and falling of the lock. Wait for the lockmaster's signal once ready to exit the lock. Operate at idle speed and stay on the lookout for other vessels near the lock's exit.

Always wear your PFD, when using a lock, and remain seated.