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The charity making life better by water

We've published our Annual Lockage Report for 2021

The report shows how many times locks were used across our 2,000 miles of waterways. As Covid-19 restrictions lifted in the spring, most places recorded counts that were close to pre-pandemic levels.

aerial view of Grand Union Canal lock

What did the report find?

The Report compares 2021's lock use with the previous year. It details a 39.4% increase in total recorded lockage from 2020 to 2021 (across 178 comparison sites). The estimated total lockage across all our locks (not just those with lock counters) was up from 2.65million in 2020 to 3.70million in 2021. This is slightly below the 2019 total, before the pandemic affected boating, when there were an estimated 3.96million total lockages.

However, this compares a full year with just eight months as 2021 saw little traffic before May due to the extended lockdown period in the first four months of last year. In the peak summer months lockage was higher in 2021 than prior to the pandemic reflecting the surge in popularity once restrictions were lifted (Annual Lockage Report 2021, page 3).

Hillmorton Locks 2&3 (twinned locks) on the Oxford Canal, which saw 8,147 lockages, an increase of 37% remained the busiest locks on the English and Welsh canal system. New Marton on the Llangollen Canal was the second busiest, with a 77% increase to 7,457 lockages. Cholmondeston on the Shropshire Union Canal was in third (7,103), followed by Woodend on the Trent & Mersey Canal (6,279) and Bradford-on-Avon on the Kennet & Avon Canal (5,994).

There were year-to-year variations between the different regions. The year recorded the driest April since 1980 which, compounded by ongoing reservoir safety works, affected our water resources early in the boating season, with water-saving operating times introduced on some canals in the north of the country. These measures meant that we were able to ensure that water supplies were available to keep canals open over the peak summer period.

Volunteer lock keepers were present at 119 sites, helping boaters and playing a vital role in our water saving efforts, recording 136,500 hours of lock keeping.

Getting back to cruising on water

Adam Comerford, our national hydrology manager, comments: “The last two years have been like no other, with the lifting of pandemic restrictions resulting in increases in lock use that are unprecedented in the 21 years of preparing this report. It goes to show that boaters, be they liveaboards, leisure boaters, or holidaymakers, were keen to get back out cruising on the water. The slow pace of boat life offers an opportunity to get away from the stress and uncertainty of the times.

“The monitoring of lock operations across our waterways remains an essential element in our water resources management as well as providing an insight into any changing patterns in use across the network. This year it paints a hopeful picture and shows the enduring popularity of the waterways.”

‘Lockage' can be defined simply as lock usage through the filling and emptying of a lock chamber, which in turn allows the movement of water and passage of boats. It is important to distinguish lockage from boat movements, which are the actual number of boats which travel through a lock. We separate boat movements from lockage to acknowledge that averages can be skewed by the boat:lockage ratio (in the case of a typical broad lock, the ratio can be between one and four boats per lockful of water used).

Last Edited: 04 February 2022

photo of a location on the canals
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