Traveling through the locks of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway

November 3, 2022

Traveling through the locks of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway

By Wayne Dewyer

Self-proclaimed “professional beach bum” Wayne Dewyer of Ludington is currently trekking his way to the Florida Keys in a 17-foot motorboat. From time to time, Wayne will update the readers of MCP about his journey. You can also follow him by subscribing to his YouTube channel, The Wayne Diaries here. 

As I start the decent down the river system to Florida I will encounter some 23 locks that I must go through. The locks were built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to allow the shipping traffic to navigate the waterways. Each lock is around 800 to 1000 feet in length, and you can expect to rise or fall anywhere from 10 feet to as high as 80 feet. The filling or draining of the chambers to raise or lower the boats is all done by gravity and the cost is free at this point in time.

Commercial boats get first priority in locking through and then any pleasure craft can go after that. Locking in and out of the chamber takes around 30 to 40 minutes depending on the lock master and the raise of fall in the water.

As one enters the chamber after the large steel doors open it is a bit scary and can create some anxiety to say the least. One can feel trapped and a little like you are about to enter into another world as the water is released or allowed into the chamber. As you get through a few locks you become more comfortable with each lock you go through. One must wear a life jacket when locking through and one must have some lines to secure to the big steel bollards that will raise and fall with your boat. 

The marine radio or a cell phone is how you contact the lock master to ask permission to lock thru the chamber. Most of the locks monitor channel 14 on the radio and or channel 16 will work also

The locks are filled with either pleasure craft or commercial boats. They don’t mix the two because of the massive power of the tugs and commercial vessels. The lock master is very personable and friendly, as are the other workers there. Some will talk to you about you trip and some don’t say anything.

The sheer power of these locks and the engineering of them will amaze you to say the least. The experience is one you will never forget, I promise you. So with that in mind I hope you enjoyed the article on locking through the locks on the Tenn-Tom waterways. The next article will be reaching the Gulf of Mexico and navigating the intracoastal water ways to Key West.. If you want to see the trip please go to Thewaynediaries/youtube and watch the series. 


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