While recently boating throughout the many lakes and wonderful lock system of the Kawarthas, I was reminded of how critical it is to not just know how to appropriately operate your boat and its safety gear, but also how to navigate your boat appropriately through a lock system. (For those that may not be familiar, a lock is a device used for raising and lowering boats between bodies of water with different water levels).

Upon entering Lock 34 at Fenelon Falls, coming from Sturgeon Lake into Cameron Lake, everything appeared normal. There were six boats that had entered into the lock, including our own, with three on each side. The Fenelon Falls lock is one of the deepest locks, with approximately 24 feet between the lower-level water of Sturgeon and the upper-level water of Cameron Lake. Needless to say, at that depth, the Lock staff are not able to physically assist if something goes wrong – making it especially critical that boaters entering into this particular lock understand the right steps to take.

As the doors closed behind us and the water level started to rise, sun beating down and everyone chatting away, it suddenly became apparent that one of our fellow boaters was in serious trouble…

Cries of alarm abruptly cut threw the chatter, and everyone turned to see a boat at a 45 degree angle, quickly taking on water, with its four occupants desperately trying to right their boat, no life jackets to be seen. Within seconds, it became apparent that the boat was going under and so everyone yelled at the occupants to jump, while throwing them life jackets. One of the occupants nearly got trapped under the boat as it flipped over and completely went under.

Luckily, all four occupants knew how to swim and were able to get on board the boat next to them – or else this story may have had a much different ending.

This entire event happened within less than a minute. Lives risked and a boat destroyed all due to one simple misstep – the boaters tied their lines to the drop cables (essentially ‘locking’ their boat in place at that level of water), instead of wrapping the lines loosely around to allow the boat to move up or down freely. This meant that as the water level in the lock rose, the tied line stayed in place and started to pull their boat down, until it eventually went under.

This was not the best day for these folks for sure – but two important lessons can be learned from their unfortunate experience:

1. Always wear a life jacket or have one readily accessible when entering a lock.

If you run into a situation where your boat starts taking on water, there will be no time to find and put on your life jacket, so it’s important you and each passenger either has one on already or has one close-at-hand (i.e., not locked up somewhere in your boat).

2. Never tie your vessel lines to the drop cables.

Use the vertical drop cables on the walls to wrap your mooring lines LOOSELY around the cables to secure your bow and stern. Do not leave your mooring lines unattended at any point – make sure someone is manning them at both the bow and stern of the boat at all times.

Remember: when in the locks, keep it unlocked (both life jackets and lines).

Check out some more tips from Boatsmart on how to correctly navigate a lock and keep yourself and your passengers safe!