Basic equipment you will need 

Three or four good quality ropes of sufficient length (15 metres) to reach the bottom of the lock chamber 

Adequate fenders to protect your topsides – 3 or 4 per side should suffice. 

In addition, a good tip is to lace a canvas sheet between the hull and fenders to avoid scuff marks. 

If you have a fender plank, use it. 

Life jackets should be available for, and preferably worn by all crew. Children and non-swimmers should wear them at all times. 

Ensure that there is sufficient fuel on board, and that engine controls are working correctly. Refuelling is not permitted in lock chambers.


Locking upwards

  • Make sure that the top gates and sluices are closed. 
  • If the lock is full, empty it by raising the bottom sluices, first checking to see if a boat is approaching the lock in a downward direction, and if so please wait until it has locked through.
  • Open the bottom gates by leaning on the swing bar. The gate will only open once the water levels have equalised so apply steady pressure until you feel the gate move. Once the gates are open the craft may enter the lock, and if on its own in the lock, should stay as far back as possible to minimise the effect of turbulence.
Locking upwards 1
  • Secure the craft by both bow and stern lines to the bollards provided. Always use a bowline to secure your lines, do not use a running line back to the boat which could jam causing injury or damage. It is not advisable for the shore crew to hold the warp, since loads can be considerable.
  • Close the bottom gates and sluices.
  • Only when you are satisfied that all craft are secure should you commence to flood the lock by raising the top sluices. Only open the sluices about 2” (5cm) at a time to keep turbulence in the lock to a minimum, starting with the sluice on the same side as a single moored craft, or the smallest craft. Continue to raise the sluices a little at a time as the water rises, but if the turbulence is too great lower the sluice a little. When the lock is full ensure the sluices are fully open, to make it easier to open the top gates.
  • Open the lock gates and exit.
  • Please leave a crew member to close the gates and sluices. This important part of the operation ensures that the lock chambers are ready for the next customer, though you may leave gates open for craft which are approaching in the opposite direction if they are near at hand.
Locking upwards 2

Locking downwards

  • Ensure that the bottom gates and sluices are closed. If the lock is empty, fill it by opening the top sluices. (If there is craft approaching which will use the lock in an upward direction, allow it to do so). 
  • When the lock chamber is full, open the gates by leaning on the swing bar. The gate will only move once the water pressure has equalised so, leaving the sluices open, apply a steady pressure until you feel the gate move. 
  • The craft may now enter the lock. 
  • Secure the craft by both bow and stern warps using the bollards provided. Always use a bowline to secure your lines, do not use a running line back to the boat which could jam and cause injury or damage. 
  • Close the top gates and lower the sluices. 
  • Open the bottom sluices only after you are sure the boats are secure and crews ready. The sluices should be raised slowly to maximum, keeping an eye on the boats in the lock. If you are experiencing any difficulties, close the sluices. 
  • Open the bottom gates and exit the lock. 
  • Please remember to close all gates and sluices after the craft leave the lock.

Skippers: Note when locking down

The downward locking is much less turbulent that the upward, however, it is vital to have crew positioned bow and stern to pay off the warps as the craft descends. Failure to do so could result in the boat being hung up by its warps. If this does occur you must tell the shore crew to quickly shut the sluices, and seek the assistance of a lock keeper

Locking down

Caledonian Canal

Although the Caledonian Canal locks are large there is no need to be nervous about using them, as they are mechanised and operated by experienced canal staff who know the local conditions. 

Follow the Lock Keeper’s instructions, and do not hesitate to ask him or her for help. 

Be prepared to share the lock chamber with other craft - this reduces the work load and saves water. 

When approaching each lock, berth at the nearest transit jetty and put a crew member ashore to take your lines in the lock.

Ropes should be tended from on board, not from the shore, and should be led to a cleat or winch to aid control. However, at main lock flights ropes of small craft should be tended from shore, by an adult, to permit vessels to be “walked” from lock to lock on the flight. This avoids the need to start & stop engines and throw lines ashore at each lock. 

To avoid a build up of fumes in the lock chamber please switch off engines once your ropes are secured ashore.


Locking tips

Those on board will need to control the craft during the locking process. This is not difficult if a few rules are observed: 

  1. Approach the lock slowly and steadily, if the lock is not ready berth at a transit jetty while the gates are opened. Please do not ‘hover’ outside the lock. Call the Lock Keeper on VHF Ch74 and follow their instructions.
  2. On single locks have a crew member positioned at bow and stern to manage ropes. On lock flights crew from small vessels should manage ropes on shore as directed by Lock Keepers. 
  3. Ensure ropes are clear from obstruction and can run cleanly through fairleads or stemhead roller.

Cill markers

To avoid possible contact with the lock cill please ensure that your vessel keeps clear of the Cill Marker on the lock wall, and remains clear of lock gangways (area A–B on diagram). If you are in any doubt please ask a Lock Keeper for advice