How to Pass through Locks

  1. Stay between red and black buoys. They mark the river's navigable channel.
  2. On a down river approach, a dam is difficult to see. Be dam conscious and know your location on the river with regard to each dam and lock. Keep a sharp lookout for the Danger Dam signs and the white and orange pillar buoys which mark the dam. Be aware the buoys are not in the river year round and they can move off-station due to river flows. All water immediately above and below each dam are danger areas. It is recommended that boaters refer to Navigation Charts which provide valuable information on the location of the dams and other structures in the river.
  3. Personal watercraft of the 'sit down' variety are allowed to lock through, but must enter and depart according to the lock operator's instructions. The craft must remain stable. The operator must wear a Coast Guard-approved PFD, known as a personal floatation device, at all times and remain seated when the craft is not in motion. The 'stand up' variety of watercraft must be tied-off to an approved vessel during approach, lockage and departure with the operator remaining on-board the approved vessel until clear of the lock approach wall.
  4. When approaching a lock, wait for the lock operator to signal that you may enter. Craft going downstream should stay in the clear 400 feet upstream from the end of the guide wall until the signal to enter is received. This is particularly true if large craft are about to leave the lock and are headed in your direction.
  5. Vessels desiring lockage shall on approaching the lock give the following signal at a distance of not more than one mile from the lock: one long blast of the whistle followed by one short blast. (Whistles for the convenience of small craft operators are located at the ends of the guide walls at some of the locks.)

    Note: Radio contact with the locks may be made by any vessel desiring passage. All Louisville District Locks monitor FCC Maritime Band Channel 13 (156.65 MHz) and Channel 16 (156.8 MHz); and can work on Channel 13 and Channel 14 (156.7 MHz). Channel 16 is the authorized call, reply and distress frequency used in an emergency.
  6. Traffic signal lights guide you at all navigation locks on the Ohio and Kanawha rivers. They look like automobile traffic lights.
  7. The lock operator may, in addition to the traffic lights, signal you with an air horn.

    Traffic Light Signals
    Flashing Red -- Stand clear -- Do Not Enter
    Flashing Amber -- Approach lock but under full control
    Flashing Green -- Enter

    Lock Air Horn Signals
    One Long Blast -- Enter landward lock
    Two Long Blasts -- Enter riverward lock
    One Short Blast -- Leave landward lock
    Two Short Blasts -- Leave riverward lock
  8. Carry aboard at least 50 feet of mooring line to be used during lockages to tie crafts safely to the lock wall. Crafts without a proper mooring line may not be locked. Do not tie up to ladders or recessed mooring pins along the wall. Follow the instructions of the lock operator as to the mooring location.
  9. Make sure there is a mooring ring or similar device on the boat to which a mooring line can be tied.
  10. Small boats with only one person aboard may use one long line securely fastened at one end of the boat with a bight of the line around the mooring post on the lock wall and the free end of the line around a cleat at the other end of the boat. This will allow the person at the free end of the line to pay out or take in mooring as the water level changes.
  11. Stand by to pay out or take in mooring line as the water level in the lock rises or falls.
  12. Larger boats should use two separate mooring lines leading from bow to stern to separate mooring posts on the lock wall. This will require a person at each end of the boat to pay out or take in mooring lines as the water level changes.
  13. In locks with floating mooring bitts, place the mooring line around the mooring post on the floating mooring bitt. It will not be necessary for the lock operator to handle the craft line.
  14. Use fenders to save damage to boats and to lockwalls. Old rope makes good fenders.
  15. Passengers should remain seated during lockage.
  16. Always wear a PFD (life jacket) when it is necessary to handle lines on deck or in rough weather.
  17. Lock operators have been given the same authority over your boat in the lock as traffic policemen have over cars at intersections. For everyone's safety, obey their instructions.
  18. Wait for the lock operator's signal to leave the lock. Travel at a reduced speed on entering and leaving the lock.
  19. Keep away from the stern of passing tows. The stern waves are apt to capsize small craft.
  20. Avoid passing across the head or line of travel of tows. Tows cannot be maneuvered to change course quickly.
  21. Keep away from the head of barges moored along the shore. Small craft may be carried under the barges by the undertow.