Sunday, October 1, 2017

Lock Labor

The first segment of this narrowboat trip was all about spectacular aqueducts, with a few
In the lock
tunnels thrown in for good measure. The second part where we went from Whitchurch into Chester was all about locks. We did a couple of single locks where our 70 foot boat just fits in, but a lot of the locks were double ones where two boats could fit in together. Most are made of stone and brick, but one was made entirely of Iron. All of the locks have unique features, making each one a little different. You never know what to expect until you get there, but enough us have worked enough locks that we have had no problems.

With six people on the boat we have become pretty efficient at working the locks. Here is a explanation of what is involved. Although all locks have a spot where you can pull over to let someone off to work the locks, we usually let someone off at the bridge before the lock and get them to go on ahead to get everything ready for the boat to go through.

Coming out
First you have to check if there is another boat which can use the lock first to take advantage of the water in the lock. If you are going down, and the lock is empty it is good to allow another boat coming up enter the lock and come up as you fill it. This time of year there are not as many boats on the canals, so only once have we had to do this and it was to our advantage. I arrived at a lock just as another boater was going to empty the lock to allow his boat to come up. I asked him to wait for our boat coming down and he happily did this. That way we slipped into the already full lock, emptied it, lowering our boat and then he came in to go up.

Normally you come to a lock and determine if it has to be filled or emptied. Each lock has
Another lock right ahead
doors on either end. The upper door is sometimes a single door as there is less water to go through at this end. The bottom doors are usually double. At each end there are paddles that allow the water in or out. If you need to fill the lock, you open the paddles at the upper end. If the lock has to be emptied the paddles at the lower end perform the task. These paddles are operated with a ratcheting gears drive that you operate with a special crank or “Windlass” which the crew always take off the boat with them. Some of the mechanisms are over 100 years old and sometimes a bit cranky. Our smallest crew member had to literally jump up to get enough leverage to move the windless.

Not getting much help here . . . .
Once the water level in the lock is equalized with the outside canal the doors can be opened. This is done via a foot square hardwood lever which is moved with sheer force. You lean back into it and slowly push it open by walking backwards on a short curved brick walkway. The doors will not move until the water is equalized and inexperienced or impatient lock workers can be seen trying in vain to push on the doors levers before they are ready. Once the boat leaves the lock, you close the doors, ensure all the paddles are closed and move on to the next lock.
Sharing with a swan

If the locks are not to far apart, the lock crew will usually just walk along the towpath to the next lock. With our six person crew, we often can send one person on to the next lock while someone stays behind to complete the lock labor on the lock the boat just left.

And then on to the next lock . . . .


  1. Sounds like this Blog Post has been well titled.
    Intensive Labour may have been a more accurate name though.

  2. Forgot to Thank You for the "lock lesson". I found it really interesting and especially liked that you included pics with the explanation. Iwe have been reading your posts but too busy to make comment until this lazy Sundayvmirning. Wanted to let ya know that we do enjoy following your adventures. Hugs to you both.

  3. Don't know why my. Moments are publishing???