HowTo: Transit A Lock

Transiting a lock is not something which is generally done in regular training, so you may not be used to it. Fortunately, it is a relatively simple system, there are just certain things you should check (and be aware of!) beforehand. Here is some advice on how to transit a lock, from the moment your captain suggests it to the inside of the lock itself. Primarily aimed at coxes and captains.

Step 1: Check the flag status and EA River Conditions Boards

For stretches where OURCs maintains a flag, Blue or Amber flag means navigation of the locks is prohibited (2.8.7c and 2.9.3b for the Isis and Godstow respectively).

For all other stretches, the Environment Agency's river conditions page displays the boards on the stretch upstream of each lock (so e.g. Osney Lock to Iffley Lock indicates which boards will be displayed on Iffley Lock)

OURCs Code of Conduct 2.6.14 states: 

This applies to both launches and rowing boats. In particular, the section just upstream of Osney Lock can become extremely dangerous in high stream due to the narrowness of the river and the proximity of the weirs. The EA boards are displayed on the website and failing that on the lock itself if you feel the need to send someone in advance. The phone number for Osney Lock is 01865 247050 and Iffley Lock is 01865 777277 (note: not 24-hour numbers). If going through any other lock, contact numbers for the lock-keepers should be sought in advance.

Step 2: If necessary, contact the OURCs Secretary

Permission is required to use any coaching launch on the Isis, so if a launch will be transiting as well, ensure that permission is sought in advance - 24 hours' notice is typically sufficient, but out of term time more may be needed. This will also help flag up any safety issues that may have been missed in the planning.

Step 3: Proceed as normal

Conduct your standard pre-outing risk assessment: are the crew competent, is the cox able to handle the conditions, etc.

Step 4: Approach the lock

The safest course of action is to have a coach or other accompanying person on the bank to handle the opening and closing of the lock for you; if this is not possible, then take care getting rowers in and out of boat.

If going downriver, you should bear in mind the risk of stream and stay a good distance away from the lock gates while waiting for the lock to fill. Make sure you know in advance where the weirs are and wait somewhere you are not going to get pulled towards them.

If going upriver, the weirs won't be as much of a problem, but you might find yourself buffeted around by water emptying the lock. Tucking into the bank is your best option for staying stationary.

Step 5: Inside the lock

Line up to go into the lock before you begin to move inside. Rowing in pairs, ensuring that you stay straight by adjusting the pressure of the rowers (rudder will have very little effect), is the easiest way to approach. As your bow approaches the lock, stop rowing and drift inside, drawing blades across if necessary. Once bow pair are through, they can take small taps if necessary.

If you are nervous about the location of your bow, use a runner on the bank or ask your bow to warn you about the lock gates. You should keep an eye on your stern or ask your stroke to do so if you prefer.

As the lock fills, keep your hull parallel to the sides by taking small taps with bow pair or small backing strokes with stern pair. This will require a lot of management, but in general lots of small movements are better than a handful of bigger ones.

When you leave the lock, the same applies: get straight and row with a single pair. Some locks are too narrow to row with blades pushed out, so make sure they are exerting equal pressure. When you get close to the gates, stop rowing, draw your blades across and drift until bow pair are through, then row out, joining in a pair at a time as they become free.

General advice

The Environment Agency's incident hotline number is 0800 80 70 60. This is a 24-hour number but it is not an emergency service.

Be very careful not to get too close to the gates - it is possible to get your bow or stern stuck and snapped off as the lock fills. 

Other river users may also want to use the locks. Please be courteous and wait your turn. This also applies to planning - make sure you budget in time for waiting at the locks if e.g. you are going through close to sunset.

It is not recommended to stick blades into the sides of the locks to maintain position as they may become damaged.

If rowing multiple boats through at one time, overlap such that the 2-rigger is over the stern of the boat in front and the 7- or 3-rigger is over the bow of the following boat (assuming standard rigging). When you wish to dock in this way, move extremely slowly (again, drift up rather than tapping, and ask the boat / other boats to lean away to ensure the bow passes under the riggers) and confirm with bow pair that you are attached. When exiting the lock, the lead boat should move first and be allowed to exit the lock completely before the two following boats start to move.


Written by Tom Coles, 30th January 2017, heavily plagiarised from / based on advice from Alissa Bray (Ordinary Committee Member)