Wisconsin Boating Safety Course


CHAPTER 6: On The Waterways


Many rivers are only navigable because of their systems of locks and dams. Locks allow boats to pass up and down through dams; like a set of stairs for boats.

The lockmaster controls all traffic in and out of the lock, and will signal your boat with a horn or light when it is clear for you to enter.

Certain types of watercraft have priority at the lock. At the top of the list are military craft, followed by mail boats, commercial passenger craft, commercial tows, commercial fisherman, and finally pleasure boats . . . so you may need to be patient!


  • When approaching a lock, operate at idle speed and stop at a minimum of one hundred yards from the entrance. Then, signal the lockmaster by giving one long blast followed by one short blast on your air horn, calling channel 13 on your marine radio, or using a signaling device on the lock wall.
  • Once you have signaled the lockmaster, stay clear of the entrance to the lock until given the signal that it’s okay for you to enter. Have your fenders, and at least 75 feet of mooring lines, at the ready.
  • When given the go ahead, proceed with caution. Stay clear of vessels entering or leaving the lock, and pay attention to barges and other large craft that can create a dangerous current for smaller vessels.
  • Once inside the lock chamber, adjust the lock lines to the water levels. It’s important not to tie your boat tightly to the lock wall, as your boat needs to able to move up and down along with the rising and falling water level in the lock.
  • When you’re ready to exit the lock, wait for the lockmaster’s signal, and operate at an idle speed. Last but certainly not least, always wear your lifejacket or PFD when using the lock, and remain seated.