Safer Boating Through Bridges, Locks & Dams

Our guide for boating safely through bridges, locks and dams.

Safer Boating Through Bridges, Locks & Dams
Bridges funnel boat traffic through small channels, often on scheduled intervals, while hampering visibility.
Safer Boating Through Bridges, Locks & Dams
Quick Tip: Set a GPS waypoint and monitor ETA at bridges with widely spaced openings.
Safer Boating Through Bridges, Locks & Dams
Drawbridge Etiquette
Check a cruising guide for the bridge name, opening schedule and VHF channel (usually 9 or 13). Let bridge tenders know you're waiting, and listen for other waiting boats and bridge updates, like an approaching ambulance that requires an opening delay. Make it easier for all at crowded bridges by gauging wind and current to hold position with minimal throttle and shift jockeying. Leave room for boats that can pass under closed bridges, and on long waterways, let faster boats through first to avoid having them pass you again later.
Safer Boating Through Bridges, Locks & Dams
Locks step between river elevations, from a few feet to 100 feet, or a single lock might block current in a waterway that joins waters with different tides.
Safer Boating Through Bridges, Locks & Dams
Lock Lines and Fenders
Have four long lines handy, even if locks provide lines. While rising or falling, man lines continuously and never fully cleat lines off. Loop your lines around floating bollards and secure both ends aboard, always ready for a quick release — those bollards can
hang up. Use lots of fenders, including one well forward to protect the bow if the stern swings out far. Place fenders for both a tall vertical wall and the equivalent of a dock very near the waterline. Stuff fenders into heavy trash bags to keep them clean of grease and creosote from barges, which are common on lock walls.
Safer Boating Through Bridges, Locks & Dams
Safer Boating Through Bridges, Locks & Dams
Quick Tip: Commercial traffic takes priority. Plan for at least one long lock delay.
Safer Boating Through Bridges, Locks & Dams
Dams can sweep boats over floodgates atop the water or draw swimmers into unseen hydroelectric generator openings below the water.
Safer Boating Through Bridges, Locks & Dams
Dam Safety
When launching PWCs and kayaks at ramps close to dams, head cautiously upstream. Don’t swim or water ski near a dam, and don’t walk ashore or wade below a dam since water can change in moments. Never anchor below a dam, since current might increase and water suddenly rise.
Safer Boating Through Bridges, Locks & Dams
Safer Boating Through Bridges, Locks & Dams
Quick Tip: When floodgates open or generators come online, what seemed like a pond becomes a torrent. Be prepared.