Locks on the river Shannon

A lot of people get confused about how to use the locks on the river Shannon. That’s not surprising really because the hire boat companies don’t take you through a lock on your induction training. But you’ll be glad to know that there are very few locks on the river Shannon anyway.  Like everything else in life there is a hard way and an easy way to to do it. But here are six tips on how to use the locks on the river Shannon the easy and hassle free way. Using a navigation lock on a canal or river is no different. But here are a few simple pointers to make your holiday a bit more enjoyable.

A navigation lock links two lengths of a canal or river where the water level is at different heights on either side of the lock. On the river Shannon the drop or rise in the locks is seldom more than one metre and often less. This is an important factor because generally speaking these shallow rise locks are easier to navigate through. If you know how to use the locks on the river Shannon it makes the process much easier.

Tip 1 is to approach the lock slowly. While the lock is a distance away but still quite visible try to spot the red or green traffic lights. Remember the lock keeper is in charge of the lock. There is a queueing system in place so other boats (although they may be tied up) may be ahead of you in the lock queue.

Lock gates
Shannon Lock gates

Tip 2 have all your ropes ready. That means make sure that there are no knots in them and that they are neatly looped up so that a crew member can pick them up easily.

Tip 3 wind direction is a very important factor at this point and one that is overlooked by many novices. Use a flag to tell you the wind direction and roughly it’s strength. Remember you will be traveling slowly as you enter the lock and the wind’s effect on your boat will be increased consequently. Locks on the river Shannon are wide and generally the lock keepers are very keen to help everyone out.

Try to use that wind to your advantage. All shannon locks can accommodate four or more boats at a time. Plan to moor up so that the wind is pushing you onto the side of the lock not off it. All the locks on the Shannon are situated so that there is no river current at their entrance. So you won’t have to contend with the river pulling your boat left or right on your approach.

When you have selected which side of the lock you are going to moor up on make sure to tell your crew members and tell them to man their respective ropes. Also make sure that anyone on deck is wearing a life jacket and watch your footing. Falling into the water in a lock is unlikely to have a happy ending, there are too many sluices that take far too long to close in an emergency, and a boat could easily crush someone against the lock side.

Boats in a Shannon Lock
Boats in a Shannon Lock

Tip 4. It’s much easier to be the first boat into the lock then it is to be the last boat in. That’s because if you’re the last boat in all the easier mooring spots will have been taken and you’re left with the most difficult mooring which is probably with the wind blowing you off the lock side and up against the neighbouring boat. Consider waiting for the next run of the lock when you will be first in the queue if conditions are really bad.

Tip 5. So now that you know which side of the lock you plan to moore at and your crew are ready with their ropes. So then the lock keeper gives you the green traffic light and you’re off. Remember you must move slowly because you are trying to maneuver a large boat in a small space. But also remember that the slower you go the less effective your steering will be. Line up for the lock entrance well in advance.

Try to use the boat’s own momentum, this will allow you to slip into neutral gear once you are properly lined up and only slip into gear occasionally to correct your course. If you have a bow thruster it will be very useful at this point.

The lock keeper will take your ropes from your crew using a boat hook. Just loop the rope over the boat hook and never throw the rope to the lock keeper unless he or she asks you to.

You will need two ropes one going from the front of the boat and a second one going from the back of the boat. Once all the ropes are looped over the bollards and a crew member is at the other end of the rope you can turn off your engine. The lock keeper will close the gates when everyone is ready. Stay on the boat and keep an eye on the ropes.

When the water level has settled after the lock has either filled up if you’re rising in the lock or dropped if you’re descending, the gates at the opposite set of the lock will open. Don’t rush to be first out. Start your engine before pulling in the ropes.

Tip 6 is for the lock keeper! The charge for bringing any boat through a lock is €1.50 and the same charge applies to having a bridge lifted. It is customary to tip the lock keeper. If your boat can pass under a lifting bridge you won’t have to pay for that bridge.

So now you know how to use a lock on the river Shannon so I hope these tips help you to enjoy your boating holiday!

Harry & Marion


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