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Best way to do broad locks single-handed?

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I'm looking for tips on tackling broad locks single-handed (other than the obvious advice of "wait for a boat loaded with experienced boaters going in the same direction"!)

I took my boat (56' trad) - 8 years ago - single-handed from Tamworth to the top of the Oldbury Locks but that was comparatively easy. Also, I was boating regularly and knew the boat and its habits very well. Now - after some years away from boating I need to move a different boat (44' trad) up the GU and onto the Oxford Canal.

 

I realised recently that I haven't ever down a broad lock single-handed, and it is so long ago that I did them with others on board that I have forgotten the tricks and tips for working through them. Many years ago, I had a nasty experience at X lock on the Calder & Hebble (long story but was trying to do the lock with family aboard but having their tea and stupidly open the hydraulic paddle way too much) ; it left me nervous about doing a broad lock alone again.

 

I have ordered several of the books people here often recommend (Going It Alone, etc) but wondered if people had specific tips about doing these bigger locks alone with just the one boat in the lock. As I said, it's 44' so **should** be straightforward. Grateful for all your collective wisdom on this. 😊

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 Downhill.  Set up then put the boat into the lock diagonally.  The other top gate will start to swing open on most locks, so hook the gate handrail to shut  with the cabin shaft as you go past, having checked at the first lock that the hook is not too tight a fit on the handrail.  Get off with centre rope, shut remaining top gate, open bottom paddles, open 1 gate, climb down ladder with rope, leave, stop and tidy up.

Going up.  Set lock, open a gate and drive in.  Some prefer to rope in.  If not roping get off up ladder with rope. Get boat alongside 1 wall about 10 ft back from the cill.  Shut gate. Rapidly and fully   Raise top paddle on same side as boat.  Then immediately Raise gate paddles on opposite side.  Wait for circular flow to stabilise with boat on the wall.  It will creep forward to cill, then gates.  Raise the remaining ground paddle half way.  Don't use the boat side gate paddles unless there is a mega leak at the tail.  When lock full exit normally ,   stop and tidy up.

Go steady, but keep going.  Watch, think and be aware of any problems to nip them in the bud.

 

 Always wait if there  is another boat with crew about, but do expect to work your own side when with another.

 

N

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As above but remember on a very small number of locks (Trent & Mersey, Chesterfield) raising the paddle on the boat side has the opposite effect. Always safer to wind a bit slower at first unless you’re familiar with the lock.

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Same as above, I usually only open one side and let the lock fill or empty more slowly, this has 2 advantages,

1 - it takes a bit longer, but you get a bit of rest and it's easier to keep an eye on what your boat is doing, and

2 - because it does take a bit longer, if another boat is coming along behind you, they will have more chance of catching you up.

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On the Warwickshire Avon the locks do not behave nicely. I find it easier going up to tie the stern to a bollard and take a long line with you to the top gates. Operate the paddles a little at a time until you get a feel for what the boat is doing.

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It isn't really much different from working narrow locks singlehanded, you just need to take it a bit slower.  However you open the paddles, the boat (especially a relatively short one, like yours and mine) is almost certain to bash about a bit however well you've got it roped up, so make sure none of your Spode bone china is going to fall off the worktop.  You can comfortably enter and leave through a single gate which makes life easier, but try to do it as slow as possible to avoid damaging the things.  There will be those on here that will say you should always use both gates, but you won't!

 

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Going up, do not be tempted to stick the nose into the V of the gates whilst setting the lock.  Whilst this is fine in a narrow lock, and will save much time,  on the GU at least the stern will thrash happily from side to side, saving you the effort of removing stuff from shelves!

N

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Broad locks along the aire/calder and calder/hebble (in particular) are pretty thrashy or "man's locks" as a CRT bod called them. I assume you can kept them under control with some of the suggestions above - going down is fine but going up, I'd be tempted to tie them both front and back if you can, after the calder and hebble locks removed most of the stuff from my shelves and did me a favour of disassembling various plates and glasses. Just going with the centre line was not enough.

Edited by NB Caelmiri
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Thanks for the excellent advice from everyone. Al makes good sense.

 

There are a few things I don't understand though.

 

1 hour ago, BEngo said:

 Downhill.  Set up then put the boat into the lock diagonally.  The other top gate will start to swing open on most locks, so hook the gate handrail to shut  with the cabin shaft as you go past...

I don't understand the bit about putting the boat in diagonally. I'm sure it's good advice, I just don't understand it. I would have thought alongside the nearside wall would be best.

I would normally let the re-opening gate close by the outflow of water through the bottom paddles unless the gate was open more than a few feet. or is that frowned upon/banned? 😐I'd be worried about being yanked off the back of the boat if I was holding on to a heavy gate....

 

1 hour ago, noddyboater said:

As above but remember on a very small number of locks (Trent & Mersey, Chesterfield) raising the paddle on the boat side has the opposite effect. 

I thought all T&M was narrow locks. Or do you mean the locks at Sawley and Beeston, etc, on the Trent?

 

A couple of additional points/questions:

 

Going down, is it best to open the nearside paddle first or the offside paddle, or doesn't it matter? Is it best to have the boat fully forward when starting to lift the paddle?

 

Going up, is it best to have the engine in gear (in reverse) to counter the pull forward as the lock starts to fill? And also to stick the stern against the lower gate at first, then shifting the boat forward as it fills?

 

I think my concerns or nervousness is as much about the fact that this boat is much shorter too. Fortunately, all the plates, cups, on board are enamel and would be slightly improved by being hurled around the cabin.

 

On the Calder & Hebble, the only lock that I remember causing a problem was the Upper Brighouse Lock. I must have done the lower lock off the river on my own too, but without problems. I recall that I stupidly (I was in a hurry, it was the last lock of the day) just raised all the top paddles including the gate paddles.....). Subsequent locks were down with three teenage boys manning the lock!   

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The T&M wide locks after Shardlow are all hard work going up. You have to go back and hold the centre rope round a bollard to stop it running forward. Even then it will be all over the place. Worth waiting for another boat if possible. 

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Relating to the GU. 

 

Diagonally means nose on one side at the bottom gate, stern on the other.  The pull from the bottom paddles will usually straighten you up and the boat will move back off the gate by itself as the lock reaches nearly empty.  This is a good signal you can open a gate. The wind will finally decide which side of the lock the boat ends up on, assisted by deflections off lock houses, the lock walls etc.

 

When going in down hill the unopened gate will usually swing fully open if you don't hook it shut. The paddles will then not close it.   I have seen it done with a rope, but the shaft is easier.  You only need to start the gate moving the right way, so  it is mostly shut.  If using the shaft you can let go at any time, and then recover the shaft after you are otherwise sorted. ( Assumes your shaft will float

!) Go in slowly, so there is time to do all the things that need to be done.

 

Open the paddle on the bow side first, ideally, but it is not vital. The wind will 

 

It is best to keep well clear of the bottom gate going up.  Leave enough room at the bow for the rush of water from the ground paddle to be clear of the bow (otherwise the bow washes across at first then comes back with a thump). No need for reverse gear-the boat will come forward slowly if you lift the top paddles in the right sequence. It will usually run up onto the timber cill bumpers then on to the gate.  Sometimes it will just go to the gate.

 

N

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The best way to single hand broad locks is in a broad boat! In a narrowboat, others have said it all really. Take it slow. It will be harder work. On a longer trip I breathe a sigh of relief when I reach narrow lock territory. A breeze to single hand in comparison. Don't have your Dresden porcelain collection on board. The Tinsley flight locks up to Sheffield are another set of rough ones. Most have gate paddles only and can set up some very strong currents in the chambers that will throw your boat all over the place if you open them too fast.

Opening the paddle(s) on one side of a broad lock can either pin the boat to the side, giving a smooth ride up, or push it over to slam the opposite wall. Trouble is, the side the flow will push the boat towards varies depending on lock design, so arriving at a new canal means learning how the locks behave. On some locks the flow reverses as the chamber fills, so your pinned boat will suddenly veer over and slam the other side. I keep a long centre rope laid across the lock side, so it can be grabbed to control an errant boat, but some times the force is so strong you just have to let it move where it wants, just using the rope to soften the blow.

 

Jen

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I remember coming up the Hatton flight with one of the fuel boats and noticed he kept the boat in forward gear throughout.  I asked him why and he said it was just habit as that was how he did the locks solo, it kept the boat straight.  Mind, it was a full length boat of course (and no front fender).

 

It's all about going uphill isn't it?  I can think of many locks where I honestly don't know how folk manage going up on their own, the Avon for a start, many of the K&A locks, and how do people cope with the Thames locks where you are supposed to have fore and aft lines ashore?

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1 hour ago, Neil2 said:

how do people cope with the Thames locks where you are supposed to have fore and aft lines ashore?

Bow line round a bollard, ditto stern line, stand in the middle holding both. Avoid lunchtime when the lockie is on lunch break.Or, going up, tie one end on and control the other.

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1 hour ago, Neil2 said:

I remember coming up the Hatton flight with one of the fuel boats and noticed he kept the boat in forward gear throughout.  I asked him why and he said it was just habit as that was how he did the locks solo, it kept the boat straight.  Mind, it was a full length boat of course (and no front fender).

 

It's all about going uphill isn't it?  I can think of many locks where I honestly don't know how folk manage going up on their own, the Avon for a start, many of the K&A locks, and how do people cope with the Thames locks where you are supposed to have fore and aft lines ashore?

Most Thames locks they let you use just a centre line unless it's locking up on a deeper one or the lock is very crowded. The lockies seem more aware of single handers and that it is easier and safer to control a boat with one rope if you are single handing. Or often there is a volunteer to help take a rope when it's busy.

 

Back to the GU though. Going down is easy, just go slow, don't let others rush you and either check you will be able to get down the ladder to the boat or keep the bow line at hand to pull the boat out. Going up, again go slow and learn to tie a tugmans hitch with the right length to stop the boat colliding with the gates. Problems mostly happen when rushing (either because you feel you are keeping others waiting or because you have set yourself too ambitious an itinerary).

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3 hours ago, stort_mark said:

Going down, is it best to open the nearside paddle first or the offside paddle, or doesn't it matter? Is it best to have the boat fully forward when starting to lift the paddle?

Doesn't matter from what I've found. Have the boat fully forward, but watch that it isn't catching anywhere as it goes down and be there to drop the paddles if required. This prevents the current pulling the boat in to the gate, then it bouncing back. In extreme cases it could bounce all the way back to the rear of the lock and on to the cill.

 

3 hours ago, stort_mark said:

Going up, is it best to have the engine in gear (in reverse) to counter the pull forward as the lock starts to fill? And also to stick the stern against the lower gate at first, then shifting the boat forward as it fills?

I wouldn't have the engine in gear without someone on the boat. If the prop is moving the boat to a dangerous place, you probably won't be able to pull it away with a rope. I do all boat control single handing with a centre rope to the lock side. Sometimes tied to a bollard so it doesn't get lost, but very loose so it doesn't come tight without me being there to control the boat.

 

Jen

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Don't keep it in reverse - recipe for disaster and getting something stuck on a gate.  What works on a long boat, such as riding the gate, doesn't work on a short boat (I've seen a few long ones sunk by it too).  And if singlehanding, by the time you notice something's stuck, it's too late.  My boat's forty foot, and I always try and keep it in the centre of the lock against the wall, and tie it up with the centre rope.  In a wide lock it will always get thrown about going up, doesn't matter what you do or which paddle you open first.  Near side is odds on the best, and you only find out it isn't when it isn't. 

But really, it's just the same technique as a narrow lock, except slower and slightly bangier.  If, going up, there are helpful people poised at the gate paddles, keep an eye on them and don't let them do anything until you're ready!  I do most of my boat single and it's really no problem.

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2 hours ago, Neil2 said:

I remember coming up the Hatton flight with one of the fuel boats and noticed he kept the boat in forward gear throughout.  I asked him why and he said it was just habit as that was how he did the locks solo, it kept the boat straight.  Mind, it was a full length boat of course (and no front fender).

 

i do that on narrow locks, but dont on broad locks after I got my bow fender trapped underneth part of the gate.    Nothing damaged apart from the chains holding the fender and my pride luckly, but a learning point.  

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14 minutes ago, Dharl said:

 

i do that on narrow locks, but dont on broad locks after I got my bow fender trapped underneth part of the gate.    Nothing damaged apart from the chains holding the fender and my pride luckly, but a learning point.  

That is why my fender is fixed on with string, going down I often have it just flip off, its not tied down, I am not bothered about scraping the paint off my stem

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4 minutes ago, ditchcrawler said:

That is why my fender is fixed on with string, going down I often have it just flip off, its not tied down, I am not bothered about scraping the paint off my stem

that was onw of my learning points!! :) 

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Going up wide locks, do you single handers tend to use lock ladders or is it easy/practical to step off at the lock tail (with a rope) as you can with narrow locks?

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9 minutes ago, Neil2 said:

Going up wide locks, do you single handers tend to use lock ladders or is it easy/practical to step off at the lock tail (with a rope) as you can with narrow locks?

It completely depends on the lock and the whole situation in general (eg passing a boat leaving the lock might prevent you hoping off). On narrow locks I often do this, especially the deep ones in the central part of the T&M like Sandon.

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3 minutes ago, Neil2 said:

Going up wide locks, do you single handers tend to use lock ladders or is it easy/practical to step off at the lock tail (with a rope) as you can with narrow locks?

Almost always go up the lock ladder with either centre rope in hand, or throw the centre rope up on to the lock side first, then scramble up the ladder. Stepping off at the lock tail is too variable in terms of lock tail landing. I'll do it on narrow locks sometimes, but not wide. If the boat is going slowly enough to make this practical there is too much risk of it drifting away from the landing, leading to a scary leap, that you can't get in a narrow lock. The only exception is that on occasion I will bow haul the boat in to the chamber with the centre rope from it being moored below a lock against me, once the lock is set, rather than get back on, steer in, stop, then climb the ladder. Depends on the lock and how I'm feeling.

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Bear in mind this is a short boat and there are particular challenges in working short boats through wide locks as there is a lot of room for them move about. The methods that work for longer boats don’t always hold for shorter boats. Otherwise methods for single handing are more dependent upon the behaviour and set up of the lock than they are on that of the boat.

 

At 44’ it won’t necessarily always be in range of the lock ladders if your method requires the boat to be at one end and/or one particular side of the lock. With my 35’ boat I tend not use the lock ladders in GU locks whereas I will always use them when going up a narrow lock on the W&B for example. I’ve single handed through GU locks on both the northern ex-GJC section and the Birmingham line a reasonable amount in the last few years so have learnt what works for me.
 

These locks have steps up at the foot that make stepping off with a line while the boat coasts in an easy thing to do when going up. Similarly I also often haul the boat out on the centre line when going down and step onto the counter as it passes the bottom of the steps. The boat is short enough and the line long enough that I can shut the gate behind the boat while paying out the line through my hands and allowing the boat to keep moving. Bow hauling a short boat is fairly easy and if the lock ladder is toward the rear of the lock I think it’s quicker.

 

I always restrain the boat along one side with a couple of turns or so around a bollard whether going up or down. Wind one paddle and then check the line is behaving as it should before winding another and attending to the line again.

 

If the locks are close I may go ahead and set up the next but often the additional walking isn’t worth it for the time saving.

 

I don’t think there can be one single method because circumstances change and I vary my methods according to weather and my own mood.

 

As for the opposite top gate opening when you enter going downhill that’s the biggest pain on these locks but personally I think if I tried to hook a cabin shaft around the handrail then the chances of my getting wet or losing the shaft are far higher than those of the gate closing. Maybe I’ll give it a go one day but for now I’ve just left the northern GU and won’t be returning until next summer.

 

JP

Edited by Captain Pegg
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