lock and dam passage

I am planning a trip down a portion of the upper Mississippi this summer. During this trip I will have to pass through several sets of locks. Does anybody out there have suggestions on the correct proceedure for locking on the Mississippi? I would just as soon avoid mistakes if I can.

locking thru
Hi…as a general rule …some locks require a rope long enough to reach from bullards ( correct term ??) to craft with water level at it’s lowest level in the lock. A boat hook or similiar device is real handy to grab stair rungs and control boat as water in lock is raised and lowered, water can get pretty ruff inside a lock when filling. I never locked thru with a kayak but did so with a 18’ power boat. Lock walls tend to be real slimy with algae and grabbing the wall itself is not a option. lastly some locks operate on a time schedule ie: at the top or bottom of the hour and others on a “as needed” schedule. also not uncommon anymore to have 1 lock operator, to run between 2-3-4 locks, meaning he has to get in his vehicle and drive to the next lock to lock u thru .

1 man per 3 locks on the Mississippi?

– Last Updated: Jan-15-09 1:18 PM EST –

Is that a fact? Along the part of the Mississippi I'm familiar with, which is from LaCrosse to Prairie du Chien, there is almost never a time during daylight hours when boats are not waiting to lock through, and so the the locks are in nearly constant service. Even at night, they could never get away with leaving any of the locks un-manned, because it takes upwards of 2.5 hours to get a tow of barges through (they break the string in half, and the unpowered half takes a LONG time to exit the lock, either drifting on the minuscule dowstream current, or after being hauled a short distance with a big winch and then coasting). Further, there may be barges at more than one lock on this stretch of river at the same time, with another string of barges waiting in line sometimes. I've never seen an un-manned lock along that stretch of the river, and can't imagine how it could be done. Just my observation, that's all.

Also, for what it's worth, the locks on that part of the river are never filled quickly enough to create much turbulence, and I've watched them fill on dozens of occassions. I don't think a paddler has much to worry about. As calm as the water remains, I've always wondered why they don't save time and fill them faster.

I wouldn’t have even considered riding through a set of locks. Surely it’s safest and fastest to portage around locks. I’d bring a set of wheels so I wouldn’t be at the mercy of lock schedules, dodging commercial shipping, etc. Is this not feasible for some reason?

It could be a long portage around the

It’s easier to lock through than to portage.

I’ve only done it on one trip, with about 40 boats, on the inaugural Great River Rumble about 10 years ago. We did several locks over 130 miles of the Mississippi. My recollection is that we did have to bust our humps a few times to get there at a scheduled time.

I suspect that it would be a much different experience with just one canoe or kayak than it was for me with so many boats.

I know guys that have locked
through in their kayaks on the TN River. They had the phone number of the control room and just called them to tell them they’d like to come through. And with commercial traffic, there will be an operator on duty at each lock.

Commercial traffic will get priority so the operator can probably tell you what the wait might be. On some of the smaller dams, portaging around might be faster and with a cart not too big a chore.

You should be able to call ahead of tome and find out what they recommend at each set of locks for a kayak.


Portaging is likely to be faster than locking through, IF you need to wait in line, and definitely will be faster if a barge string is in the lock (as I mentioned above, it takes more than 2.5 hours for a barge string to lock through, and there may be another string waiting its turn in the meantime). Portaging will not be easy in most cases, as access to the river is usually poor. I just looked at an air photo of the lock at Genoa, WI, and the distance between access points upstream and downstream of the lock is nearly three-quarters of a mile (unless you are willing to risk a trespassing fine for portaging on the railroad track, and even then it’s more than half a mile), and you can expect the need to negotiate a very steep, high rip-rap bank when entering and leaving the river. The portage distance for some locks is likely to be even farther, in cases where private, commercial barge-docking facilities are located nearby.

Not first hand . . .
. . . but I have been reading Adam Brooks acount on the internet and Bluffs to Bayous by Byron Curtis and locks don’t seem to be a real problem. You can contact the lock master on VHF radio. There is also generally a rope to signal the lock master if you don’t have a radio. Traffic is controlled by signal lights. There should also be a rope to hold onto during the locking through process. It seems that fairly easty portage is an option at many if there will be a long wait.

update …

– Last Updated: Jan-15-09 6:40 PM EST –

sorry i should have mentioned all my lock experience is in NY state where , as a cost saving measure, will have 1 operator for 2 or more locks in close proximity to each other ...each state may be different i'm sure. try these links ..

It’s a cool experience
Did the locks between the Charles River and Boston harbor twice in one day in a kayak. I enjoyed it!

Locking thru is no big deal
Going down is smooth sometimes you can feel yourself going down. As stated going up can be turbulent, and commercial boats have priority, and most aren’t portage friendly. However all the operators I met were good people trying to do a job and will help if they can. Also as said before there is a rope or chain if you don’t have a radio, also I know the St Louis district of the Corps has their own website others may have too. Ours includes phone #s and VHF channels for each lock.

We put 22 kayaks into the 200’ x 1200’ lock at Alton IL at night last summer…we felt like fleas in a bathtub, there was a log in there as big as our boats.

Definitely do it at least once each way it’s an experience.