Meet Colin, volunteer lock keeper

What does a volunteer lock keeper get up to on a typical day? Find out from Colin.

Colin receiving his Lock Volunteer of the Year nomination in 2015 Colin receiving his Lock Volunteer of the Year nomination in 2015

"I couldn’t recommend it too highly. Volunteer lock keeping is a fantastic and tremendously rewarding occupation."


I have been a volunteer lock keeper at Etruria Junction, where the Trent & Mersey and Caldon canals meet, for five seasons. During this time I have met and helped hundreds of boaters, holidaymakers, canal enthusiasts, walkers and cyclists enjoy what our wonderful waterways have to offer. 

I have teamed up with many equally enthusiastic colleagues and between us we pass on our knowledge of the local area. We usually arrive for a shift around 9.30am and meet with our Trust task manager, Simon Martin, for a briefing on water levels, lock maintenance and temporary closures/stoppages etc.

Well informed

This means that we go on duty well informed of any issues that will affect boaters or other towpath users. With life jackets donned and throw line at hand we usually head for Summit Lock number 40, if two of us are on duty, on the Trent 7 Mersey Canal. If more are present we also cover Lock 39 or Bedford Street staircase on the Caldon Canal where applicable. 

As Lock 40 is the third deepest narrow lock in the country it requires patience, strength and careful handling. Boaters are usually very appreciative when we ask if they would like a hand. The paddles can be troublesome for the inexperienced. 

Service with a smile and a “Welcome to Stoke” attitude loosens the tongues of many a boating crew and we have enlightening conversations with people from as far away as New Zealand, Japan, United States, Holland and Germany. Our knowledge of the local area is useful to them as they cruise around; “How far is Stone?”, “Where can I get water?”, “Where is a sanitary and rubbish point?” and “ Where are the nearest shops, pubs etc.?“ are regular questions.

Happy to help

While boaters are our primary customers, this information is also sometimes useful to other visitors. For boaters though, we can help with mooring information, walking distances, tunnel times, local attractions and any stoppages. On an average shift we’ll help about 20 boats so there are plenty of people looking for help which we’re happy to give.

As previously mentioned we also cover the twin staircase lock at Bedford Street on the Caldon with a 20 feet lift. Even this can be a daunting sight if not previously navigated but, as with any lock manned by a volunteer we’re there to help.

Just last year we had an incident when there was an emergency stoppage above the lock. Simon asked us to man the lock so we could inform boaters what was happening, this meant the draining of the pound up to the next lock, and once refilled safely assisting boats with passage through the staircase. It’s just one example of when we’ve really felt as though we’ve been able to make a real difference.

An enriching experience

After a day lock keeping we’ll feedback any useful information from boaters and the public to the task manager. I usually feel enriched by the day’s events after meeting the lovely people who are enjoying our network. I couldn’t recommend it too highly. Volunteer lock keeping is a fantastic and tremendously rewarding occupation.

Last date edited: 17 October 2018