The world’s only rotating boat lift gets an MOT

The Falkirk Wheel is set to be drained of water as annual maintenance works get underway to ensure the world’s only rotating boat lift keeps on turning in 2019.

The works, which will run from January 7th until March 22nd, will see Scottish Canals’ engineering team carry out a programme of inspections, maintenance and replacements covering everything from the structure’s mechanical and electrical systems to its surrounding infrastructure.

“The Falkirk Wheel is an incredible and unique feat of engineering as well as one of Scotland’s top tourism attractions and it’s essential we carry out regular maintenance to ensure it continues to operate safely for many years to come.

“Throughout February, our team will be inspecting, repairing and replacing many of the thousands of individual components that make up this amazing fusion of art and engineering, from the tiny nuts and bolts of its electric motors to the gates of its gigantic gondolas. It’s an epic undertaking that will ensure the world’s only rotating boat lift is ready to offer a revolutionary experience to visitors from all over the world come March.”

Richard Millar, Director of Infrastructure at Scottish Canals

The project will involve The Wheel being drained of water in order to replace the major mechanical and hydraulic parts within the gates of its gondolas. The basin and aqueduct will also be drained to allow further inspection of the supporting infrastructure, such as the pumps and sluices, and dredging along their length. Boat trips will recommence at The Falkirk Wheel on Saturday March 23rd.

Transforming the contaminated site of a former tar works, The Falkirk Wheel opened in 2002 and replaced a flight of 11 locks that once stepped the Union Canal down to the level of the Forth & Clyde, more than 100 feet below. Whereas weary travellers once had a day’s heavy work opening and closing 44 lock gates to complete the journey between the two canals, The Falkirk Wheel allows vessels to transit between the two waterways in just a few minutes.

Now one of Scotland’s busiest tourist attractions, The Falkirk Wheel attracts around 500,000 visitors each year. The Wheel has transformed Falkirk into a key tourism destination, with visitors traveling from all over the world to marvel at the working sculpture which combines modern engineering and technology with ancient principles set out by Archimedes more than 2000 years ago.

When one of the structure’s gondolas is lowered, the opposite one rises, keeping the vast, 1800 tonne boat lift in perfect balance as it carries canal barges 35 metres into the air in a matter of minutes. Incredibly, the structure uses just 1.5kWh – the same power as it would take to boil eight domestic kettles – for each rotation.

For more information on the maintenance and winter opening hours, see visit

Take a look at some of the images from last years’ maintenance

Notes to Editors

About The Falkirk Wheel

  • The Falkirk Wheel is a complex, elegant engineering solution, combining the principles set out by Archimedes in 300BC with 20th century electronic and electrical systems
  • When one gondola is lowered, the opposite one rises. The vast, 1800 tonne boat lift moves boats 35 metres into the air in a matter of minutes
  • The prime mechanism is a series of ten hydraulic motors which rotate the axle and a series of interconnected cogs
  • The real secret of the boatlift’s smooth and economic operation is to ensure that both loaded gondolas are in perfect balance. The Wheel can only turn safely and successfully when there is an equal weight of boats and water in each gondola. The weight in the gondolas adheres to Archimedes’ Principle of Displacement
  • A sophisticated network of water level sensors and water control systems monitor any variables which might affect this delicate balance, such as the water levels in the aqueduct or at the locks at the entry points to the Wheel
  • Remarkably, because of the design and application of balance and weight, it takes just 1.5kWh – the same power as it would to boil eight domestic kettles – for each rotation

About Scottish Canals

  • Scottish Canals is responsible to the Scottish Government for the management and development of five Scottish canals as well as the surrounding estate and The Falkirk Wheel.
  • As well as the waterways themselves, Scottish Canals care for bridges, buildings, locks, The Falkirk Wheel, The Kelpies and 19 water supply reservoirs in locations across Scotland. The reservoirs cover an area equivalent to 7,494 football pitches and supply the canals with the 332 million litres of water which flow through them each day.
  • The Forth & Clyde, Union and Monkland canals in the Lowlands, the Crinan Canal in Argyll and the Caledonian Canal in the Highlands, together extend over 137 miles from coast to coast, across country and into the cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness.
  • Built two hundred years ago to fire the Industrial Revolution, today the canals contribute to the Scottish Government agenda of developing a Greener; Healthier; Smarter; Safer and Stronger; and Wealthier and Fairer Scotland by acting as a catalyst for sustainable economic development, regeneration and tourism; contributing to education, biodiversity, heritage and promoting active living and healthier lifestyles.
  • The Forth & Clyde, Union, Monkland, Caledonian and Crinan canals are recognised as Scheduled Monuments and attract 22 million visits per year. See for more information.

For further information, please contact:

Chris McDonald at Scottish Canals on 07917217608 or email

Nicola Sturgeon at Scottish Canals on 07767383557 or email

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