Top Tips on Canal Lock Safety

inland waterways lock uk

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!

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.

Lock Safety Tips

  • When approaching a lock, take your time to look out for any boats already inside or leaving the lock.
  • Take it slow when entering and leaving to prevent any knocks or bangs that could cause any damage to your narrowboat.
  • Be sure to have at least one experienced crew member on the boat at all times when in the lock.
  • Tie up your narrowboat in the centre to keep away from the gates and cills.
  • Be vigilant when entering and leaving the lock as the water flow is very strong and can cause boats to knock together – it may be worth using fenders as they will protect the outside of your boat.
  • Watch out for slippery surfaces when trying to use the locks.
  • Communication is important between you and your crew to make sure you know when to open and close the lock.
  • Lastly, don’t forget to communicate with other boaters that are already inside the lock to make sure it is safe for you to start using the lock.

For more information on how to use a lock on the inland waterways – watch this detailed video:

Different Types of Locks

Single locks

Single locks have one gate and is definitely the easiest lock to use.

Broad locks

Broad locks are double in width meaning that you can have two narrowboats either side one another or for one wider boat.

Double locks

Double locks are very convenient as you can have more than one boat passing through at a time.

Stop locks

Stop locks are used to stop the flow of water in order to prevent taking large amounts of water from another canal.

Guillotine locks

Guillotine locks have vertical gates which require less space than a normal lock as they do not need to push out into the waterway.

Staircase locks

Staircase locks were produced for steep gradients, where there are two or more locks - the lower gates of the higher lock are also the higher gates of the lower one.

Need Narrowboat Insurance?

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:

Contact us

Get in touch with the team here at Collidge & Partners, we’d be happy to discuss through your specific insurance requirements. Call us on 01303 290872 or drop us an email on

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