Operating locks can be part of the fun on your canal boating holiday once you get the hang of it. It can be daunting first time round but once you learn the concept of how they work you’ll be confident in no time!
Some locks have gates located at each end, which means they can be used in either direction. Once you’re inside the lock and the gates are closed, water will either empty or fill up the chamber, in order for your narrowboat to get lifted or lowered to match the water level on the next section of the waterway.
On board you should make sure that you have a lock handle or windlass which is a tool that you will need to open and close every lock you pass through.
For more information on how to use a lock on the inland waterways – watch this detailed video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iopNqKNfJBg
Single locks usually have three gates: two at the higher end of the lock, which close together in the centre, and one at the lower end which closes across the full width of the canal. They are normally just large enough to accommodate a standard canal narrowboat which is 6 ft 10 in wide and 72 ft long.
Locks are filled and emptied by using a windlass or lock key to wind ‘paddles’, which open and close sluices, allowing water to drain into the lock from above, or out of the lock to the canal below, when all the gates are closed.
Often called double locks, are usually twice the width of a standard single lock, and can accommodate two narrowboats side-by-side, or a single ‘widebeam’ canal boat.
Or Paired Locks, are normally single locks, built side by side on the canal. They are linked underground by an additional paddle operated sluice. Hence when one lock is full (carrying a boat travelling downhill) and the other empty (carrying a boat going uphill), water can be drained from the full lock to the empty lock, raising one boat and lowering the other at the same time. In this way, moving two boats through two locks is done using only one lockful of water. Water conservation is of vital importance in canal management.
Were built by the various companies owning and managing the canal system, to mark the beginning or end of their stretch of canal. The company’s responsibility for water management ended at the stop lock at the lower end of their designated waterway. Stop locks were also a way of temporarily halting boats owned by a rival company, so that a toll could be charged for their use of the canal.
Frequency of locks is determined by the gradient of the canal, and at its ultimate, the locks follow immediately one after the other. The bottom gates of one lock become the top gates of the next, forming a “staircase”. When navigating a staircase, the flow of water through the entire staircase must be considered, not just entry and exit to and from each lock. On some double width staircases it is possible to see two narrowboats pass each other in opposite directions!
Remember that when operating canal locks, ensure that any personal possessions that you are carrying, are in a secure, zipped pocket, or similar, as if these are lost or damaged, they may not be covered under your policy.
For more Narrowboat advice, take a look at our other articles: https://www.collidgeandpartners.co.uk/blog/