It’s becoming frosty in the mornings, the ropes are rather stiff.
I have been asked a number of questions and have found some time to answer a few of them today:
Who gets the lock first?
The vast majority of locks are manually operated by the boater. It’s first come, first served, except when the water level is better suited to the boat in the opposite direction. If you are coming up and the lock is full, then the down-bound boat has priority. If no down-bound boat is visible, you may empty the lock and use it. The idea is to not waste water. Everyone starts from different places each day so there isn’t often a queue – -except at difficult locks and near hire bases.
Is there a time of year when the locks are closed?
The locks are generally available year round, unless there is emergency maintenance. Scheduled maintenance begins in November. A plan for this is published by early autumn, so journeys can be planned to avoid any major holdups.
Some of the big river locks have automated control boxes for which a waterways key is required. Turn the key, follow directions and press buttons! Other big locks are manned with lock keepers, some of whom are full time staff while others engage volunteers to help out. Starting in November, manned locks and tunnels must be booked in advance, which is not always easy to coordinate.
Do you pay at each lock?
No, the use of the locks and swing bridges is covered with the boat’s licence. Licence costs are based on boat length and other factors — a hotly debated topic amongst boaters. It takes a huge amount of maintenance to keep the system running. At this time of year, scheduled large maintenance work is undertaken, causing closures, known as stoppages for weeks/months to repair and renew lock gates and banks. We have had to adjust our plans to allow for for these. All of that information can be found online.