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Locking Through | Ballard Locks
Last Post Feb 13, 2019 5:22 PM by chuck dahill. 1 Replies.
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Kelsey O'Donnell
New Member
New Member

Sep 26, 2018 6:13 PM

    Getting to Lake Union / Lake Washington from the Puget Sound requires going through the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, locally known as the Ballard Locks. For those of you located in the Seattle area, you've likely locked through the Ballard Locks several times - and also know that it can be intimidating for first timers. 

    From our office on Lake Union, locking through is frequent - and we've put together some quick reminders for both newcomers and veterans looking for a refresher.



    • If it is your first time and you have the chance, visit first and watch to learn from others. The locks are a very popular tourist and local destination in Seattle, with much to see including botanical gardens, summer weekend concerts, and the salmon ladder.
    • While there, pick up a guidelines for boaters pamphlet or ask for one from one of the attendants.
    • Remember fenders - it is important to have enough for both sides, as you won't know which side you may tie up on, and you don't want to rely on someone else remembering fenders
    • Be prepared with lines over 50 ft - this is required for the large locks. The small locks only need 15 - 20 ft.
    • Be prepared to go through either lock. You will most likely go through small lock unless it is a holiday or crowded weekend day.
    • As always, have PFDs readily accessible.
    • Feel free to contact your HYG broker if you have any questions - we are happy to assist you!

    Going Through

    • Lineup at waiting piers and wait for green light or public address system to direct you forward.
    • Make way for emergency watercraft, as these have first priority. Government, commercial, and tour vessels all have priority over pleasure watercraft.
    • While waiting, coach any inexperienced members of your party on how to tend the lines.
    • Remember that on busy holidays/weekends it can take several hours to get through. Patience is key or time your passage during off hours.
    • Enter locks slowly but with enough power that you will have good steering control.
    • Don’t be intimidated by what many term a "fishbowl" - all the people watching. Relax and listen to the lockmaster for instructions
    • Watch your lines in the large locks, you will need to manually let your line out as the water level drops or take it in as the water level rises.
    • Do not release lines before you are told to release lines and exit the chamber. There are strong current in the locks, so be prepared.
    • When entering/exiting the speed limit is 2.5 knots in small and 3 knots in large. Once you clear the area there is a 7 knot limit zone.


    What has been your experience locking through? Any questions? Add your stories and wisdom to this thread!

    chuck dahill
    New Member
    New Member

    Feb 13, 2019 5:22 PM

    Can two people handle going thru the locks or does it take more hands on deck.  A video of 2 people/cruising couple doing this would be great.

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