on "Locking Through"
Capt. George East
notes and pictures by,
Capt. Eric Grubb
Commercial Towboat Captain
Picture published with
permission, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
There are written guidelines in place
for locking through on the Ohio River, and these can
be found in the "General Notes" section of
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers River Charts. Visit
the "Links/Resources" tab on the menu for
a link to the charts.
In addition to adhering to the rules
and regulations set forth by the Corps of Engineers
and the Coast Guard when locking through on the Western
Rivers System, the following tips will make your passage
- Contact the Lockmaster on channel
13. State which lock by name that you are trying
to contact. Identify your vessel as a recreational
vessel and by the boat name. When the lockmaster
responds give them your position as to how far you
are from the dam ( usually 1 or two miles) and whether
you are upbound or downbound. If you can state the
river mile that you are it will fix your postion
and your direction exactly.
- The lockmaster will tell you which
lock chamber to use by refering to the land side
or the river side and will give you info as to how
long your wait will be. All commercial vessels have
right away over recreational vessels. If he says
that he has to " turn the lock around",
that means that the lock is set to accept vessels
traveling the opposite direction than yours and the
chamber has to be emptied or filled to accomodate
- Make sure that your mooring line
and fenders are ready and your deck crew has their
life jackets on.
- When you received a green light
enter the chamber as slow as you possibly can ( kick
big boats in and out of gear to keep your speed slow)
because even the smallest wake will make your procedure
difficult and will bounce the other vessels that
have preceded you. One prolonged blast is the whistle
signal as an alternative to the light or radio communications
(two for the riverward lock).
- You should have at least three fenders
preferably four for a larger boat rigged on the side
of the boat. Rig a bow fender 1/2 to 2/3 back from
the bow this will keep your bow off the lock wall
both on your approach and your departure to tie to
- Rig one line only with a loop on
the cleat on your boat closest to midship. Take that
line around the bollard and back to the cleat making
fast with a wrap tie keeping the bitter end in a
crew members hand so it can be rapidly untied in
the evnt that the bollard hangs up when the lock
fills or empties. If the crew member has to tie the
line to the boat cleat be sure to have a large sharp
knife ready to cut the line if the bollard hangs.
This does happen! IMPORTANT NOTE: Tie to the bollard
as close to the end of the lock that you can. This
is because the gates are near the middle, and the
water is less turbulent at the ends.
- When the lockmaster sounds one short
blast on the horn that is the signal that it is safe
to leave the lock (two short blasts for riverward
chamber). If possible it is better to back away from
the wall because it is very easy to hit the wall
with the stern or swim platform when trying to pull
- Leave the lock very slowly and keep
that speed until you are well clear of lock walls
both inside and outside of the lock.
- Be courteous to the lockmaster because
they are professional
and have your safety uppermost on their mind.
Sample Radio Communication:
YOU: Markland Lock, Markland Lock,
this is the pleasure vessel Mom’s Mink.
LOCKMASTER: Markland Lock back to
the boat calling.
YOU: This is the 52 foot Pleasure
Vessel Mom’s Mink and we are at Ohio River
Mile Marker 5-3-3 about 2 miles from the lock; we
are up bound and would like to lock through.
LOCKMASTER: Mom’s Mink approach
the land side chamber and enter when you have a green
The above is a perfect world scenario.
The Lockmaster may tell you that he is locking another
boat down and to stay well clear of the lock and it's
approach walls. Also, he may inform you of another
commercial boat in front of you and that he has to
lock that one up and turn the lock around to accomodate
you. Whatever they say, just acknowledge and comply.
Please do not complain, as this is their world and
recreational vessels have a lower priority than government
and commercial vessels.
You can lock through with a commercial
boat, provided that it is not carrying hazardous cargo,
if the captain of the commercial boat agrees. Again,
if they decline, just acknowledge and comply. If the
commercial vessel is carrying hazardous cargo, they
should be displaying a red flag.
Capt George East
USCG Master 100 GRT
Commentary by Capt. Steve Grossarth,
Commercial Towboat Captain:
flag" mentioned as being displayed on the towing
vessel is in real life a small (approx. 1' x 2')
metal flag that is in place on the actual barge containing
the hazardous cargo.
For the travelers heading North,
here is some info on the Pittsburgh Locks: At Montgomery
Lock (M 32), Dashields Lock (M13) and Emsworth Lock
(M6) the small chamber is on the river side. There
are no floating mooring bits in these chambers. Also
the small chambers are 360' x 56', not the 600' x
110' as at most other locks on the Ohio.
Lastly, Capt. Eric adds:
Here is link to a .pdf file
from the USACE Louisville District that has some
useful information for locking on the Ohio
River contained in an easy-to-read pamphlet: link (755
K). I would suggest printing out a copy and sticking
it with your river charts on the bridge, even for
locks down here.
If you're heading
north, here is the Locking Through guide from the
Pittsburgh District: link (228K).
In the case of the northernmost locks
that Capt. Steve mentioned, be prepared with at least
100' of line so that the lockmaster can pass down
a hook, take the line, and secure it around one or
two pins at the top. In this case, attach one line
to the bow cleat and keep the other around a cleat
at the stern.
Below are pictures taken by Capt. Eric
while Locking through Markland in June, 2010:
Above, approaching the landward lock,
also known as the small chamber.
at the lock entrance. Note that you can use the pull-chain
and listen for their signals, call them on VHF ch.
13, or call them on your cell phone. We experienced
a combination of radio communications and whistle blasts
while going through Markland this day.
Above, a floating pin to which you
attach. In this case, the upper-most attach point was
better suited to our vessel due to the deckhand's and
cleat's height above the water.
As the doors closed, the lockmaster
confirmed that we were secured. Next, the water level
Above, a floating pin hanging on the
wall. If you were attached to this one, the weight
of your boat should help move it, but be prepared to
disconnect just in case (per notes above).
Note that as you approach and go past
Pittsburgh, you won't find floating pins (see above).
Above, water is at the upper level
and the doors have opened. When fully openned, we received
one short blast, indicating that is was safe to exit
the landward lock chamber.
Thanks again to the folks at Markland
for their help locking through. It's paid by our tax
dollars, but we still appreciate their help.
Capt. George East
East has been boating since he was seventeen,
has had other interests including flying (FAA
licensed pilot) car racing, and snow skiing,
but he has always remained an ardent boater.
After earning a USCG captain's license some 25
years ago, George spent time as a delivery and
demonstration captain for one of the major motoryacht
During this same period, while
he was building a successful construction and
ready mix concrete company, George still found
time to own and operate several boats including
two Chris-Crafts, a Gulfstar, and two Hatterases.
Fast forward to the present
to find George retired from his businesses,
devoting all of his energy to boats and the
boating industry. George currently holds a
100 Ton USCG Master's license. His specialties
are classic Chris-Craft and Hatteras yachts.
George instructed with the U.S. Power Squadron
for 15 years, and is now a broker with Paradigm
Yacht Sales in Louisville, Kentucky and Cape
Founder, Port KY
Eric grew up around boats, trading summers on board his parents' Sea Rays for many man-hours of swabbing the decks. He grew up by the little town of Sewickley, Pennsylvania, overlooking the the Dashields Locks and Dam. He has traveled the Great Lakes, Lake Huron's North Channel, Gulf of Mexico and several rivers to include the Ohio, Allegheny, Monongahela, Kanawha, Mohawk (Erie Canal), Tennessee, Tombigbee, Black Warrior and Mobile Rivers.
As a commercial pilot, Eric flies jets and is a flight instructor. He has owned recreational boats ranging from PWCs to most recently, a flybridge convertible that he keeps in a Louisville marina (MM 590). You can also find him with his family on the "Escape Pod," an 18' fishing boat. His most memorable journey was aboard the J. S. Lewis, a 155' towboat in service since 1931.
Eric is a USCG Licensed Master with a Commerical Tow Assistance rating, and is a member of the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Riverman and the Louisville Sail and Power Squadron. After moving to Louisville, he conceived the idea for Louisville's Port KY website while searching for information to help him become a safer and more knowledgable local boater. He has worked hard over the years to educate other boaters by promoting safety classes through Port KY and by hosting captain's classes and related events.