Approaching a boat lock

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 9, 2003

This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel with Nansemond-Suffolk Academy’s Varsity Swim Team to Charlottesville for the state swim finals. What an experience! The kids did really well and all the parents in attendance had a wonderful time.

During my time in Charlottesville, I had a chance to do a lot of reading. Trust me: if you are a &uot;swim parent&uot; you know what it is like to sit for hours on end and have that one or two minutes of pure thrill while your son or daughter, or a team mate competes. You can read a Tom Clancy novel at some meets.

Anyway, while in Charlottesville I had the opportunity to read about and visit the Rivanan State Scenic River project which starts after the dam on East Market Street and extends outside the city. This is part of the Virginia State Scenic River system and has been part of a commentary on its Web site


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It’s such a beautiful setting; perfect for a new inland river explorer.

While reading about the system I started think about the many locks and dams that make up our inter-coastal system. Here in Virginia we have a few so I decided to spotlight both. This week we will look at locks.

&uot;Boat Virginia,&uot; the publication by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has detailed information about how lock systems work.

Before venturing onto any inland waterways you should check on this and then prepare yourself for signals and procedures.

Why do we have locks? They safely transport boats from one water level to another, like an elevator transports people from floor to floor.

Are there procedures for entry? You bet there are. Boat Virginia recommends when approaching a lock that you:

Have available at least 100 feet of rope and fenders to use in securing your boat once inside the lock.

Be aware that commercial traffic always has priority over recreational boats.

Wait at least 400 feet away from the lock for the signal to enter the lock. (We will talk about signals later in the column.)

Alert the lock attendant that you wish to go through the lock by sounding one long blast followed by one short blast of your boat’s whistle. You may also contact the lock attendant using your VHF marine radio on Channel 13, but never interrupt commercial communication.

Enter the lock only after you’ve been signaled to enter by the lock’s traffic lights or by the lock attendant. Otherwise, stay well clear of the lock.

In all cases the lock attendant is in charge and his or her signals are the controlling factor. The rear gate will open and boats will proceed into the lock. Once inside the gate closes and the water levels adjust to allow passage. Once level the front gate opens and upon the proper signal the vessels exit.

What signals are used? There are three that you’ll need to know:

Flashing red light means stand well clear of the lock and do not enter. Allow plenty of room for vessels to exit the lock.

Flashing amber light means approach the lock at a safe speed and under full control.

Flashing green light means enter the lock

Got a better feel for how a lock works? Next week we’ll continue our discussion on river navigation and items you may encounter with a look at dams. Until then…Boat Safe… and Boat Smart!

LCDR Joe DiRenzo III is a resident of Suffolk and a regular News-Herald columnist.