St. Lawrence Seaway Locks and Lift Bridges
Updated: Jun 18
Everything you need to know about sailing down river through the locks.
Happy at Snell Lock because it went so much better than Eisenhower
There are 7 locks in this section of the St. Lawrence Seaway (from the Thousand Islands to Montreal). 2 are US locks and 5 are Canadian.
Since Covid times, Canada has a process where you have to make a reservation to go through the locks. You book the reservation on Great Lakes Seaway website. There are only two time slots available for pleasure crafts, an AM or a PM slot. At the time of this blog, it cost $25CAD per lock, paid through the website.
Each morning at 7am, the Seaway posts the AM and PM times. You need to check this the day you go through because the times change daily. Also, during a super windy day, the Seaway canceled all pleasure craft times.
Look at the Schedule! Lock Times Change Daily
Even though you booked a time, you may still have to wait if a big ship is going through. They always have priority. We had to wait 30 minutes for one to go through and the people going upstream had to wait for the big ship and for us.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons I thought I was videotaping this lock but I had the lens cap on!
The first lock you come to when you are going downstream is Iroquois Lock. It is a Canadian lock. It is used to control the flow of the river. Sometimes there is a drop and other times both sides of the lock are at the same level.
When you arrive at any of the locks, you tie up on a floating dock off to the side close to the doors and await instructions.
All the docks tell you to call the lockmaster on a special phone they have to make your appearance known. However, at every single lock, the phones had been removed. Iroquois did give radio channel 68 as an option and they actually answered our radio call and gave us directions. For most of the locks, no one will answer. Just wait for the green light and go in.
The official website tells you to arrive an hour early for the Canadian locks but that's a bit extreme. Then you are just waiting around for an hour on a sketchy dock with current pushing you around.
Iroquois let us through early. The water levels were the same on both sides of the lock so our instructions were to proceed slowly through the lock and by the time we got to the end, the doors would be open, and that's what happened. It was super easy and quick.
Eisenhower and Snell Locks
The rest of the locks come in pairs. After Iroquois, farther down the river you come to the American locks. You can go to the locks during these hours.
May 19 to June 22 9-5
June 23 to Sept 4 9-8
Sept 5 to Oct 9 9-5
At Eisenhower, we communicated on Channel 13 and they told us which number bollard to grab. They let us in right away.
I was so nervous about lassoing the bollard at midship. We hadn't done the Erie Canal for four years so my canal lock skills were rusty. And my nervousness didn't help, I ended up missing twice! Dave had to back the boat up so I could take another try at it.
I had a loop of line at the end of my hook and every time I tried to throw it over the bollard, the loop would slide down my boat hook instead of going around the bollard. What I figured out and fixed for Snell is that I needed to tie the line to my boat hook so I could just wrap it quickly around the bollard.
After you are tied up, the lock workers come over in a golf cart and ask for payment. You can pay them $60 cash (no cards or checks) right there for both locks or you can prepay online at pay.gov. If you pay online, you need to print out your receipt and hand it to the lock master when they come over. This takes care of you for both locks.
Snell is about 5 minutes down the canal. The lock will already be open and green for you to enter since they know you are coming. Upon entry, the lockmaster just yelled from the side which bollard to use. We were lucky we went through all the locks alone so there was no rafting up business for us.
Before you get to the upper and lower Beauharnois locks, you have to get under two lift bridges - Larocque Bridge (Salaberry-de-Valleyfield) and the St. Louis Bridge.
These bridges work on a schedule. Larocque opens every 2 hours starting at 9am. St. Louis starts at 9:45. So you can make both bridges and be at the upper Beauharnois by 10:30. The bridge masters do not communicate with boats. You just have to float around until the bridge opens.
The Canadian locks are easier than the American locks. You don't have to do anything but catch the two ropes the lock handlers throw to you. You need one person on the bow and one on the stern. Just wrap each loosely around a cleat and manage them as you lower down. When the gates start to open, the handlers will yell down to you to let go and they pull the ropes back up to the top and you motor on out.
Don't motor too fast to the lower lock or you will beat the line handlers to the lock. The same group will jump in their car and meet you at the next lock. The lock will be open with a red light so you need to wait until they get there, get set up, and the light is green.
Cote Ste. Catherine Lock and St. Lambert Lock
The next two locks are similar to Beauharnois. Before you get to Cote St. Chatherine, you have to get under the Mercier Bridge in Kahnawake. Again, there is no communication with the bridge master and there is no schedule. The bridge will open when they see you and it is a good time to stop traffic.
When you get to Cote Ste. Catherine you will already know your line handlers, it is the same group of people from the week before at Beauharnois. They time the locks so they can use the same workers at all the locks.
St. Lambert is your last lock. It is flanked with lift bridges on both ends This lock takes the longest because they have to stop and redirect traffic between the two bridges. It works just the same as the other Canadian ones, nice and easy. They toss you a line, you hold on and go down.
After all the locks, the river really gets interesting with tides and currents and timing your trip carefully. That will be in an upcoming blog but our next one will be out our visit to the Montreal area!
Coming out of St. Lambert lock, the final one heading downstream