Lock it Down


Long distance paddlers all share the same thought when they reach the wall blocking them at the “end” of a lake — dam.

But luckily for them and any other boater passing up and down the chain of reservoirs on the Tennessee River, locks provide a relatively easy way around the man-made blockages. “We’ll get them through just as quickly as we can,” says Butch Witcher, the lockmaster at TVA’s Nickajack Dam.

Tennessee River locks are available to recreation boaters of all shapes and sizes at no charge. Though commercial traffic takes precedence, the locks will operate for a single kayak or canoe.

And even if you don’t plan to paddle from Knoxville to Paducah, the lock can be a fun addition to short day trip. “It’s a pretty cool experience,” Witcher says.

Pretty cool, that is, if you know what to do. Witcher says there are a few things to know before you are ready to lock through.


Approaching a lock

›› Bring 50 feet of rope and wear your life jacket in the lock. The lockmaster will require you to have both to enter the lock.

›› When approaching the lock, hail the operator on the marine radio or by cell phone. If you don’t have either with you, there is a rope to pull near the ladder on the outside of the lock wall.

›› Listen and follow the lockmaster’s instructions either by phone or PA speaker.

›› Wait to enter the lock until you see a green light and hear the airhorn blast. See diagram #1

›› Yield to commercial boats. They may not be able to see you and the wash from their propellers alone is enough to swamp a canoe or kayak. “Any time there is a commercial boat, you need to stay clear,” Witcher says.

›› Once in the lock, loop your rope around one of the floating “mooring bits” rather than a ladder or other part of the lock. The bits go up and down with the water. The ladder won’t. See diagram #2

›› Looping your line rather than knotting it on will allow you to release yourself quickly if something goes wrong.

›› Do not disconnect from the mooring bit and leave the lock until the light is green and the airhorn blasts. See diagram #3

When approaching a lock, you can contact the lockmaster via cell phone to let him know your intentions.

Watts Bar Lock | 423-334-3522

Chickamauga Lock | 423-875-6230

Nickajack Lock | 423-942-3985

Guntersville Lock | 256-582-3263


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