How to operate Watford Locks

Watford locks

It’s important to know how to operate Watford Locks because – like Foxton Locks – these incorporate two styles of mechanism to wind up the paddles. As you travel from Market Harborough, you will first encounter a single lock, then descend down a staircase of four locks grouped together and then finally two more single locks.

This Union Wharf Beginner Guide will show you how Watford Locks appear to you when you first encounter them on your narrowboat. We also recommend you watch the Canal and River Trust’s video on general lock operation.

Step by step - Watford Locks

Moor up on either side near the white-topped bollards to allow your crew to disembark. You can hold your narrowboat temporarily on the centre line; winding the rope around the bollards will give you more grip.

The crew will now need to “book in” with the lock keepers. These wonderful volunteers wear the blue uniform of the Canal and River Trust with a red lifejacket and you will usually find them on the locks themselves or in the little building at the top lock. The lock keepers manage the travel of boats in both directions and will guide you as to when to move your boat through.

man showing how to operate watford locks by holding boat before first lock
operating watford locks with a gate spindle

Check that the lock is empty and no boats are approaching from the other direction.

If the water level on the other side of the gates is lower that the level of your boat then you will need to fill it. Do this by using the windlass to slowly wind the paddles up. First wind the spindle on the Ground Paddle and then, wind the spindle on the Gate Paddle.

If the water level between the lock gates (the “chamber”) is already at the same level as your boat then you can open the gate straight away and steer the boat in. Close the gates.

If you have wound up the paddles, you will now need to wind them down again. To do this, you will need to lift the catch on each spindle with one hand, whilst winding the windlass with the other hand. Hold the windlass firmly, taking care not to let it spin out of control.

Next come the four staircase locks, and these begin with two gate paddles. Winding the spindles on these paddles will fill the lower chamber with water, bringing it level with your boat and allowing you to open the gates.

You will be able to push the gate open when the water is at the same level either side of the gate. Drive the boat through.

From now on, you will be winding up the RED paddle gear first, followed by the WHITE. Wait for the lock to fill and when the water equalises either side of the gate, you will be able to open it and allow your boat to drive through.

You will then lower the paddles again, before closing both gates and repeating the process on the next set of gates.

At the bottom of the staircase, you will cross a small pond to reach the final two locks.

After the final gate is closed and the paddles are down, pull over to the left hand bank to enable your crew to get aboard.

Unless advised otherwise by a lock keeper, always leave Watford Locks with all the paddles down and all the gates closed.

Watford Lock closures

Watford Lock is usually open all year round, unless the Canal and River Trust is working on maintenance in the area. You can check for live stoppages on their website here.

In the winter months (November to March inclusive) the locks are usually open between 9am and 3.30pm, with the final boat entering the lock at 2.45pm.

In the summer months, the locks are usually open between 8am and 5pm, with the final boat entering the lock at 4.15pm.


Watford Locks history

You can read more about the history of Watford Locks on the village website here.


Watford Locks itineraries from Market Harborough

Many hirers from our base at Union Wharf choose to explore this lovely tranquil part of the canal. We explain a bit more about this route on our itineraries .

We are delighted that more and more narrowboat novices are enjoying the canals around Market Harborough. We are putting together a series of Beginner Guides to help you prepare for your holiday and find a few solutions to common problems en route.

It is also a good idea to familiarise yourself with the Canal and River Trust’s Boaters’ Handbook before you arrive.

We offer all kinds of narrowboats, from Day Boats to Boutique Narrowboats and boats suitable for families. All our hires involve full training and we welcome complete beginners.