Lift Locks - Boat Elevators

Mercer Boat at Great Falls, MD in a Lift Lock during a boat tour Water flowing out of a Lift Lock lowering a boat.

Right Side: Historic Boat Entering a Lock

Left Side: Modern Boat in a Lift Lock
NPS/E. Cowan


What are Lift Locks?

Illustration of Canal Boat exiting a lift lock Canal Boat exiting a Lift Lock
NPS/Harpers Ferry Center
Instead of following the slope of the land, a canal periodically takes a vertical step between levels of the flat water. This is accomplished at a series of lift locks, which on the C&O averaged a drop if 8 feet. The operation, though, demanded experience and close attention.

Why are Lift Locks Important?

Lift Locks are important for many reasons. Here are just a few:

  • Boats can navagate in both directions on the canal
  • Lift Locks created flat water levels, this limited the amount of water current in the canal.
  • A single lift lock can raise a boat 8-10 feet at a time. They made climbing over 600 feet of elevation possible for the C&O Canal.

Who was responsible for the Lift Locks?

The Lockkeepers! They were hired by the C&O Canal Company to operate the lift locks they were assigned to.


Lift Lock Basics

Everything you need to know about lift locks!

Last updated: December 16, 2023

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