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By learning how to use locks, you will have a host of new opportunities for pleasure boating on the rivers of North America. Lock attendants are present at most locks to help you through safely.

A series of dams on a river help maintain enough water depth to allow river traffic to operate year-round. As a result of a dam, there will be two levels of water at the dam site—one level above the dam and a different one below. Locks safely transport boats from one water level to another, like an elevator.

When approaching the lock:

  • Be aware that commercial traffic always has priority over recreational boats.
  • Wait at least 400 feet away from the lock for the flashing light signal to enter the lock.
  • Alert the lock attendant that you wish to go through the lock. You can sound one prolonged blast followed by one short blast of your boat's sound-producing device. You also may contact the lock attendant using your VHF marine radio, but never interrupt commercial communication.
  • Enter the lock only after you've been signaled to enter by the lock's traffic lights or by the lock attendant. Otherwise, stay well clear of the lock.
Rear gate opens and boats enter lock
Gate closes and water level adjusts
Front gate opens and boats exit lock