Pawl – A small curved piece of metal which fits into the cog on the side of the spindle which prevents the paddle from dropping down.
Windlass - Or windlass handle is an L shaped handle which can be fitted to the spindle on paddle gear to raise or lower the paddles which in turn allows water to enter / leave the lock chamber.
Paddle gear - Paddles are trap doors over the sluices and are either fitted into the ground at the side of the gate (ground paddles) or to the gates themselves (gate paddles).
Lock landing - A section of towpath above or below the lock for boats to moor. They can be pontoons reached by a ladder.
Guillotine gate – A gate that is raised up or down. Sluices – Channels in the lock structure which enable water to pass from one point to another.
Locks are a simple system of enabling a boat to be raised or lowered from one level of waterway to another. As long as you are aware of the potential dangers, locks should not present a problem.
There are two basic types; narrow locks, which are predominately found in the Midlands, and wide locks, found in the South and in other locations on “wide” or “barge” canals. In narrow locks, which were built to take a single narrow boat, the boat will just fit into the lock. With wide locks, two narrow boats can fit in side by side.
Most locks are fitted with two sets of gates at either end to keep the water out of the lock from the top and in the lock from the lower level. Narrow locks are fitted with two gates at one end and a single gate at the other and some locks have guillotine gates.
Most locks, regardless of width, can take craft up to 70’ in length but there are some canals in the North of England, such as the Leeds and Liverpool, which are shorter.
Essential safety tips
Remember not to tie a boat up, especially when working downhill!
Drop your crew off before the lock at the “lock landing”(see right picture). If you’re working single handed you will need to tie the boat up outside of the lock.
Entering a narrow lock has to be undertaken with care as, unless you are dead straight, you can “cross wind” and get the boat stuck and can cause damage to either the lock side or the craft, or both!
Never leave your windlass handle on the paddle gear. Should the pawl disconnect and the paddle drop your windlass handle could spin round and you may either lose the windlass in the canal, or worse, it could hit someone and at speed and cause a nasty injury.
VERY IMPORTANT If working downhill, make sure that the stern (rear) of the boat is well forward of the “cill” which is the level of the bed of the waterway at the higher level.
If the lock is for you (i.e. the level of the water in the lock is the same level as the canal you are on.) then the gates can be opened and the craft taken in. If the lock is against you then you need first to check to make sure a boat is not coming in the other direction. If so then they have priority in using the lock and you should let them work through before you can enter the lock.
Take your narrow boat through each lock safely and efficiently with our step by step guide. Select the first image in the gallery to start the guide from the beginning.
First drop your crew off before the lock at the “lock landing”. If you’re working single handed you will need to tie the boat up outside of the lock.
If the lock is for you (i.e. the level of the water in the lock is the same level as the canal you are on) then the gates can be opened and the craft taken in.
Take your craft into the lock exercising particular caution if you’re entering a narrow lock to avoid “cross winding” (see Essential Safety Tips above).
Close the lock gates behind you once you’re happy that your narrow boat is clear of the gates and other potential snags.
Once in the lock, ensure that the front of the boat is clear of the underside of the gate and your rudder is not caught in the rear gates. If travelling downhill, make sure the rear of the boat is clear of the cill before letting water to out of the lock. White lines are painted at the side of the lock indicating how far out from the rear gate the cill protrudes.
DO NOT TIE UP YOUR BOAT ONCE IT IS IN THE LOCK. Next you will need to head on to the bank with your windlass or handle. This is used to wind the paddles open or closed and allow water into the lock. Some paddle gear may be locked with an anti vandalism device. In this case you will need to obtain a key to open it and proceed through the lock.
To operate the paddle gear you put your Windlass (or handle) on the spindle and, if winding the paddle up, you put the pawl on the ratchet which will hold the paddle in the up position. When winding down, take a secure grip of the windlass and ease up half a notch and take the pawl off. Do not let the paddle drop down but wind it down.
When raising a paddle, make sure you lock the winch ratchet using the pawl. This will stop the paddle winding back down and is an important safety feature.
Go to the other end of the lock and, starting with “ground” paddles, wind each paddle up one third of the way. Allow the water stream to settle and then wind up another third and finally to the top. When travelling uphill, you should not open the gate paddles until the bow (front) of the boat is above the water outlets to avoid the bow section of the boat flooding.
When exiting the lock open the gate first then lower the paddle. Do not lower the paddles first because the levels can change and you will have to open the paddles again. Once you’ve left the lock, make sure that all gates are closed and paddles left down. The Nene and the Grand Union canals are exceptions. If in doubt leave gates closed and paddles down.