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When Arriving at a Navigation Lock, What is the Order of Priority?

Written by J. Harvey / Fact checked by S. Numbers

When arriving at a navigation lock what is the order of priority

Using a navigation lock is a quick and exciting way to cruise a new body of water. Knowing the answer to the question, “When arriving at a navigation lock what is the order of priority?” avoids surprises.

There is a strict order for vessels to use a navigation lock. Military craft and commercial mail boats are the highest priorities. Then, in proper order, commercial passenger vessels, commercial tows, commercial fishing vessels, and recreational crafts are next in the queue.

Boat Priority When Using a Navigation Lock

If you are a boating enthusiast or enjoy recreational boating adventures, you must know which class of boats has priority when using river locks. It will help you understand why the lockmaster allows another boater to lock through before you.

The following vessels have priority when entering a lock. Read under each of them to understand why there is prioritization in locking boats at a navigation lock.

Priority 1: Military Crafts


If you arrive at the navigation lock simultaneously with a military craft, know that the lockmaster will allow it to lock through first. It has priority over the others. However, this scenario does not usually happen at small river locks.

General knowledge is that military crafts should lock through first to avoid operation delays. Thus, if you lock through a busy river or where military vessels frequently pass through, bring a lot of patience to wait for your locking turn.

Priority 2: Commercial Mail Boats

Commercial mail boats carry important parcels and packages that must arrive at their destinations within a specified period. That given fact explains why they are the next priority.

Priority 3: Commercial Passenger Vessels

Commercial vessels that transport passengers get the next priority. Of course, people who are bound to reach a destination are more important than cargoes and recreational activities.

Priority 4: Commercial Tows


If you drive a commercial fishing vessel or a recreational boater and encounter cargo watercraft, container ships, or tank crafts, you need to give way. These vessels must lock through first before you.

Priority 5: Commercial Fishing Vessels

History tells that navigation locks originally aided military transportation. However, it later became commercial traffic that allows companies to transport goods to another place in a much shorter period.

As fishing vessels commercially do business, it makes sense that they have priority over other pleasure or recreational crafts.

Priority 6: Recreational Crafts

Finally, recreational watercraft can now lock through. Although these boats come last in priority, they seldom encounter other crafts unless they traverse busy waters.

It is also important to note that small watercraft may be required to wait and lock through with other crafts.

Frequently Asked Questions


Boating is, no doubt, a fun, and exciting business. Take a look at some of the common questions that boaters ask below.

What do you need to know when passing under a river bridge?

It is a standard practice to reduce speed when passing under a river bridge, and most states implement this as a law. You need to find the “clearance board” to determine whether your boat is fit to pass through before doing an unnecessary opening, as it may be illegal.

Why must a personal watercraft operator follow?

Personal watercraft operators must follow the standard procedures to ensure safety. Failure to follow operational procedures can result in accidents that could cause a life.

What are the basic procedures when passing a river lock?

Locking through requires the boater to contact the lockmaster first and wait for the green light before proceeding to the next step. The operator will provide the instructions that the boater must strictly follow. Then, the boater must wait for the operators to signal to leave the lock safely.


When arriving at a navigation lock what is the order of priority is a question that most boaters want to know. If you have just ventured into boating, you can’t avoid encountering river locks.

It is important to know that there is a proper order of watercraft when locking through. Not knowing the proper priority may cause inconvenience.

Military crafts can lock through first, followed by commercial mail boats. Then, the rest of the boat classes below are in proper order: passenger vessels, towing vessels, fishing vessels, and recreational boats.

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