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Thread: Transiting the Chittenden locks into Lake Union

  1. #1
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    Default Transiting the Chittenden locks into Lake Union

    On Sunday the 18 of August I will be attending a party hosted by a friend at a Ballard marina. So I got the idea that perhaps instead of driving over to Seattle, I'd take my 17' motor boat instead. This trip isn't a problem for the boat or me, having done it a few times to that area. But to get to the actual site I'd have to transit the Chittenden locks, something I've not done in any boat. I'd want to arrive at the marina by 3pm. So for those who are familiar with the area, is this advisable? Concerns I have are: 1) Are the locks super busy in early afternoon on a Sunday? 2) Can I do this alone, without crew? 3.) How much time should I allow both entering and leaving? (I would be leaving the party at maybe 6ish to travel back to my home port.)

    I haven't yet checked with my friend on the possibility of a place to tie up for a couple of hours. That may be a deal breaker right there.

    I welcome any and all comments and advice. And, on further thought... I may be able to pick up a friend somewhere along the canal before the locks as crew. This friend is able and would be a good crew.

    Jeff

  2. #2
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    Oct 2009
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    South Puget Sound/summer Eastern carib./winter
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    Default Re: Transiting the Chittenden locks into Lake Union

    The few times Ive been through on my small speedboats was a piece of cake. Alone, quick and painless.But it's been awhile.
    But INSIDE the locks is where the cops hang out.
    And in the whole of Lake Washington and Lake Union there is only one small area to legally anchor overnight,iirc.
    We would stealthily pull into an empty boathouse after dark and sleep aboard.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Transiting the Chittenden locks into Lake Union

    The locks are very busy on a summer Sunday afternoon. Plan a 1.5 hour wait at least. You get in line and idle in the current waiting for your turn. Wait for the green light.

    If you are in the small locks, you tie to bollards on floats. The staff will tell you which ones. They load it very full. Line is made fast on board, goes around the bollard and then ties back on your cleat. Once tied just ride it up. In the big locks, you need 50' lines ready, pass up the loop end, they tie it to the top of the wall and you adjust your lines all the way up. In a small boat you will likely be rafted up to a bigger boat, which is then easy as they have all the responsibility.

    You don't know which side you will tie on, so you need fenders and lines ready on both sides. You can go through alone, depending on your boat handling skills. Its fun and free, but always makes me a bit nervous in my full keeled 30,000 lb ketch. It doesn't help that there is usually a hundred tourists taking video of the whole thing.

  4. #4
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    Jul 2013
    Location
    Montana USA
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    Default Re: Transiting the Chittenden locks into Lake Union

    I've been through the locks many times in the past 20 years on 30 foot sailboats, 65 foot power boats and 15 or so times on a 160 foot schooner. It is literally a piece of cake and J. Madison is correct when he says that Sunday is a very busy day. Plan ahead, be patient and bring your best sense of humor. You'll have a good time...

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Transiting the Chittenden locks into Lake Union

    Thanks for the help. I didn't realize that the wait to enter would be as long as that. But it makes sense.... lots of boats. I may simply opt to tie up at Shilshole Marina for a few hours. My friends can pick me up and give me a ride to the event.

    Jeff

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Location
    Nashville TN
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    Default Re: Transiting the Chittenden locks into Lake Union

    I've typically been through in larger vessels although I have locked through in small boats as well. Bigger boats are less stressful with at least one additional crew member (more is better but two can do it easily enough in most 50-60 foot boats) but a '17 boat can almost always fit in any locking scenario and will generally be easy to single hand through. If transiting the large lock you will let the big boats in first since they will tie to the wall and you will then tie to them. You can then squeeze in when the lockmasters signal you. You will tie to one of the larger vessels, (they will instruct you as to which one). It's a little different if you're in the small lock. Don't try to sneak into the small locks. Very Bad Form. Wait your turn if those are being used. Your turn may not coincide with your arrival time since the locks are generally loaded according to the lockmaster's plan, not yours. The lockmaster will signal you with hand gestures or hail you over the PA. If the large lock is loading, you can just slither in towards the end of the loading cycle (or when summoned) and I doubt anybody will much mind even if you don't get a formal "invitation" from the staff.

    Make sure you have at least two proper lines. Twenty five feet is more than enough but you can probably squeeze through with shorter lines. Bring proper and sufficient fenders. It's your responsibility to protect your vessel and those in your proximity. I'd want lines sufficiently long to be able to toss to a neighboring boat. Do not assume somebody will have a spare set of proper "dock" lines to loan you, and once again, make sure you bring adequate fenders for protection of your vessel and those in your proximity. Be a good scout. Nothing looks more lubberly than trying to lock through without proper equipment.

    When the locks open, there will be a rush of water and, at least temporarily, very strong current. Make sure you are tied down properly before the gates open. If you have the time, go to watch the action before you actually transit. You'll see what kind of mayhem even a relatively small but poorly prepared and handled boat can cause if (as is often the case) some uninformed newb screws up the dance. The boats want to move and shift and bang against each other when the gates open. It's not the least problem for a little boat as long as you follow the rules, are fendered up and lock down your lines properly.

    That sounds like a lot to be aware of and it is likely that you will feel just a twinge of nervousness your first few times, especially if people are watching. Just use common sense and be polite and you'll get all the help you need from fellow boaters and the staff. A small boat is not a real challenge since they can be fended off easily. Oh! A good boat hook is a nice thing to have as well. It pays to be on your toes and properly equipped, even if a given transit doesn't really test you or your gear.

    Taking a small boat through is actually a piece of cake and qualifies as entertainment, even fun, if it goes smoothly. It quickly gets more difficult for larger or less handy vessels in unfavorable conditions, especially if there are high winds blowing you down on the wall or unfavorable tides. High tide is usually easiest, slacks are the best. If you are in a bigger vessel or one with a lot of windage going into the large locks, it can take some experience to look smooth and seaman-like so be alert for other people's problems just in case, even if you are already in and safely buttoned down. More likely you won't have those sorts of issues. Be prepared and it all goes down like a milk shake.

    If you arrive early, that is, you have to wait, you can tie up to the wall on the south side of the canal. The wall is covered in barnacles, slime, seaweed and other potential edibles but it can often be easier to tie to the wall or raft off a bigger vessel rather than trying to hold station in wind and current. This will be less of an issue in settled weather and depending on your skills. It can be easier or more efficient to just mill around holding station but if there's to be a longer wait, I usually prefer to tie to the wall.
    Last edited by Lew Barrett; 08-15-2019 at 09:22 AM.
    One of the most enduring qualities of an old wooden boat is the smell it imparts to your clothing.

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