Locking Through

Entering Lock 3

Going through the locks was very much part of the New York Canal System experience.

The locks are often associated with dams that not only are used for generating hydroelectric power, their more important function is to control the water level below and above the locks. Without these dams, the canals would not function.

There is a dam next to each lock

Most locks have gates that open up-current like a double door. The water pressure upstream helps pin the gates closed during operation.

Typical Lock Doors

One lock had a guillotine gate that we actually had to go under as it dripped ominously onto our heads.

The Guillotine Lock, closing
Closed and draining.

The procedure to enter the lock was as follows:

1. When in sight, hail the lock master (several were women) on VHF Channel 13.

2. State your direction (east or west on the Erie, north or south on the Oswego) and request passage.

3. Wait for the lock master to set up the lock (fill or empty and open the gates). If you were heading up, you could see the water boiling in front of the locks as the locks emptied. Once lock master was done, a signal light turned green and it was safe to enter.

4. Proceed slowly into the lock, grab onto a vertical rope, cable or pipe attached to the side of the lock wall.

5. The lock operator then closes the gate and walks (usually slowly) to the other end.

6. Once at the other end, the operator opens the valves that control the water into or out of the lock. You can usually here a metallic sliding sound, followed by a very deep rumbling sound, and you start to move up or down.

7. The water swirls in the lock when going up, and the swirling action helps pin your boat against the side of the lock. The rumbling sound dies off as the lock fills or empties. When going down, there is no swirling, just a sinking feeling. But that’s the lock, not your boat!

Selkie and Tug Life on a draining Oswego Lock 2. Photo credit: the lock operator, Mr. Metz

8. When the water level reaches the appropriate level, the lock master then opens the gates and off you go to your next lock.

Some thoughts about what we experienced in the locks are as follows:

A. Different locks have different personalities. Each is custom built to the needs of the drop required at that lock, the surrounding topography and the whims of whomever built the lock

B. As their locks, each lock master has a different personality, but most all are kind, helpful and want you to have a fun time. masters.

C. Whatever organism was the first sign of life and caused the so-called first primordial slime exists in these locks. The slime covers the fenders and then gets on the boat, your hands and clothes. There’s no point in washing it off before exiting the canal system as it just keeps coming in each lock.

D. Setting fenders (the bumpers boats carry) is a critical strategy to keep Selkie from bumping the wall. We quickly learned that because each lock was different we needed to set our fenders at different heights to properly fend Selkie off the wall.

We gained quite a bit of experience handling Selkie going through the locks. Learning to manage 36,000 lbs or so of trawler has been a challenge.

The locks will be different in the Trent Severn Waterway. It should be interesting. We will keep you posted on our progress.

By Tad Sheldon

I'm a retired Silicon Valley Technologist and Director. I teach skiing as a 4th (5th? 6th?) career for fun, and am passionate about Boating. I'm even more passionate about my family and friends. I volunteer occasionally for non-profit Boards, and currently serve as the Secretary of the Board for Western Division of the Professional Ski Instructors of America / American Association of Snowboard Instructors.

4 replies on “Locking Through”

Thanks so much for sharing the experiences. My brother in-law John Sontag recommended I follow your updates. Never have been through the locks on the canal. Used to work in Rochester and found the canal truly amazing. Thanks again.

Liked by 1 person

Enjoying reading about your experiences Tad and the photos are lovely. Loved the nature as cataloged by your sister. What a grand experience. Your writing is compelling, interesting, concise yet informative and fun to read. Having grown up on the shores of Lake Erie I am now seeing through your photos more of the Great Lakes than I ever imagined possible. It’s very beautiful especially in the summer. Please give my love to Libbie and your sister…safe travels.

Liked by 1 person

Hi from DC. I love your inclusion of technical details. Keep them coming. My visit to the locks in Sault Ste. Marie is a summer highlight from long ago.


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