Feedback on using the Ballard Lochs

sgwill122

I Should Upgrade My Account
Feb 21, 2011
2,098
2,509
Redmond/WA/USA
Name
Stephen
Boat
'Lady Karen' 28 Duckworth Offshore
Thinking of launching the boat in Lake Washington and going through the Ballard locks for a family trip just to experience it. Looking for feedback from someone that has done it. Is it fun/interesting or just a necessary evil that you would not undertake if you did not need to? Any tips?
 
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eldplanko

got the skunk off
Jun 18, 2012
603
465
Ballard
Name
My other boat is a piece of...
Boat
Floater
Unless you go off peak hours on the weekend, you’ll be asking yourself “what the fuck am I doing here.” Sunday afternoon, picture crowded boat ramp x 10 with the lake boat crowd that’s never been on the salt before, then add in the afternoon 15kt north wind, and you’ll see some dumbfuckery. If you have to raft up, make sure you keep control of your lines, I’ve had other boat try to tie my lines off to their cleats.

Plus side, “The Canal” is open for drinks on the weekend, so you can have a beer on their deck and have you own version of the YouTube Miami Boat Ramps Channel

A few of my lock highlight stories:

1. Heading west on the small locks, my dog jumps off the boat onto the lock wall and takes off down the lock wall after a gull… she came back, but it was pretty funny seeing her run around the lock attendants for a while.

2. Heading east, drunk takes our line and won’t give back, so we’re rafted to drunks, who are rafted to someone else. Lock gate opens and inrush of water causes them to flip out, they somehow come loose from who they’re rafted to, and they start to drift back sideways with the inrush of current, with us getting pushed by them back into the lock wall… we cut our lines from the drunks and gun it… they crash into the lock wall.

Bottomline… it’s worth it for the experience if you’ve never done it, but be prepared for anything, and pack your patience… if you’re lucky you’ll be rafted to the sorority bikini boat.
 
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Mr. Doodles

I'm the BIG Dog
Jul 3, 2011
833
436
Des Moines WA (Redondo)
Name
Ron
Boat
2002 Trophy "The Doodle Lynn"
Unless you go off peak hours on the weekend, you’ll be asking yourself “what the fuck am I doing here.” Sunday afternoon, picture crowded boat ramp x 10 with the lake boat crowd that’s never been on the salt before, then add in the afternoon 15kt north wind, and you’ll see some dumbfuckery. If you have to raft up, make sure you keep control of your lines, I’ve had other boat try to tie my lines off to their cleats.

Plus side, “The Canal” is open for drinks on the weekend, so you can have a beer on their deck and have you own version of the YouTube Miami Boat Ramps Channel

A few of my lock highlight stories:

1. Heading west on the small locks, my dog jumps off the boat onto the lock wall and takes off down the lock wall after a gull… she came back, but it was pretty funny seeing her run around the lock attendants for a while.

2. Heading east, drunk takes our line and won’t give back, so we’re rafted to drunks, who are rafted to someone else. Lock gate opens and inrush of water causes them to flip out, they somehow come loose from who they’re rafted to, and they start to drift back sideways with the inrush of current, with us getting pushed by them back into the lock wall… we cut our lines from the drunks and gun it… they crash into the lock wall.

Bottomline… it’s worth it for the experience if you’ve never done it, but be prepared for anything, and pack your patience… if you’re lucky you’ll be rafted to the sorority bikini boat.
Greatest show on earth starts about 1 to 2 hours after the seafair boat races finish.
Better than anything you have ever seen at any boat ramp.
 
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Siv

I Should Upgrade My Account
May 8, 2008
2,243
828
Normandy Park Wa
Name
Dave
Boat
19' SeaSport
I did it with my son for his 10th birthday with 4 of his friends. We had a blast . The small lock is your friend but it all doable . Best time I ever had transiting the locks was when we rafted up to a naval launch from Sand Point when they still had a small base there . There was officer making sure the kid seamen didn’t scratch a citizens boat. They were very very organized and nervous.
 
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liltrouble

Member
Jun 9, 2012
922
1,044
ShillCreek, WA USA
Name
Shari
Boat
Mr. Buttercup
Make sure you have 2 lock lines 50 ft each. Go to the army corps of engineers Hiram Chittenden Locks page and it has great pointers.

Assume you will be rafting to others so have fenders for both sides of the boat.

Have life jackets for every one to wear when locking through.

Have people designated to handle the 50 ft lines. Small lock the wall goes up and down with the water. Large lock there are bollards at the top of the wall that are stationary. You let line out/ take it up as the water goes up or down. Not keeping your boat tight can result in bumper boats. Don't think you can grab your ropes as the lock is about finished and get ready to go. Strictly follow the directions of the lock master. You may think the ride is over and you are free to roam around the cabin, but when the gates are open it can be a violent surge of water in or out of the lock. A lot of insurance claims are made by screw yours at the locks.

Can be great experience. Have fun and be prepared! Can be fun to go get fish n chips at the Totem, go across the street and watch how it is done before you go. i guarantee you will also see how it isn't supposed to be done!

Can also watch the fish in the fish ladder.
 
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Wild Bill

Not Blackmouthing
Aug 4, 2010
3,620
3,810
Camano Island
Name
Steve
Boat
Otter Craft
Ive done it about 6 times in a 30’ boat. People said it would be like a giant party on the water. After doing it, I say it is like a giant traffic jam on the water with many bad drivers. Not my idea of recreation.
 
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bdrlgion

Member
Apr 11, 2014
788
878
Seattle
Name
"Mulligan"
Boat
18' Tiderunner Runabout
For several years i had a July 4th weekend tradition of taking the wife and some lawn chairs just to watch the mayhem for an hour or two.

Off peak hours, it's fine. Nothing really complicated.
 
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kwik_wurk

Member
Apr 10, 2012
342
281
Indianola & Browns Point
Name
kwik_wurk
Boat
Montauk, Sailfish 2360, and Johnson18
The best time to go is when the kings are running, because just on the other side of the ladder they’ll be jumping all around. (they also jump around in salmon bay (mostly north side) just not as much, and definitely have lock-jaw.) — 50’ dock lines, for the big lock. lots of bumpers, and have fun. —. i’ve single handed many many times up to 45’ no problems. Biggest challenge is when the gates open and everyone surges for-aft…most boats won’t have proper spring lines, so check what/whom your rafted too.
 
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Kool-Aid

I Should Upgrade My Account
Mar 18, 2008
1,940
947
WA
Name
Jason
Boat
35 Carolina Classic
Well...as a guy who has his boat on Lake union and has been through the locks a ton in the last two years I will chime in...

1) go off peak times. Before 10am on the way out. Avoid afternoons on the way out. On the way back in it's been hit or miss. It can line up when people are getting done fishing. As well as cruising back in from the weekend...as is don't be coming back into the lake at 4pm on a Sunday.

2) tides...if this is a family thing...go at high tide....not a -2 This isn't that it's a problem with the bottom clearance...but more that the locks fill quicker when at a high tide. And when there's a line of boats, the quicker the better.

3) 50 foot lines. You are required to have them. I've used them exactly once. If you are smaller than most boats then the only reason for the 50 foot line is if they put you on the wall. BUT if you are a smaller boat and have to go through the big locks, chances are you are going to be rafting to a big boat that is on the wall with their 50 foot line.

4) Speaking of rafting....have fender FOR BOTH SIDES. A lot of us carry enough fenders for our docking side...in the locks you'll want them on both sides. Depending on your boat, if you end up in the small locks...you'll want them high up on the sides. Hard to explain until you've done it but my rub rail is further out than my sides. If I left the fenders low...the rub rail will hit the wall so I have to bring them higher up.

5) Boat hook. Have one ready. I have thrusters to move myself around but a boat hook to help grab/push off is priceless.

6) listen to the assholes that work there. And I say that as a joke...but am serious. Their patience level exceeds anything that I could muster dealing with boaters all day long. They are super helpful...but come off assholeish because they don't have time to mess around. They will tell you where to hook up. Likewise...if they grab your bow with their rope...stop steering and just bump it into gear. They will guide the front of the boat for you as they walk you into a spot.

7) Listen to them when they tell you what rope to take off first. Seen people spin when they don't listen....don't be that guy

8) Its stressfull until you have it down. I have it down and actually have a little fun going through. You meet some cool people in a 10 minute window.

9) any more specifics...pm me, but the bottom line is that if this is a family thing just for the experience...do it first thing in the am before it gets busy as in the middle of summer with a fishing season going on...it can get a little stupid.
 
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wdlfbio

Once you go Cat, you never go back
Sep 15, 2008
9,797
9,946
Olympia, WA
Name
laurence
Boat
2021 Allied WildCat 30
Is it actually any fun putting at 5-6 knots for 2 hours to get from Lake WA to the locks, especially since there’s no chance of yelling HOOKUP? I took a friend’s visiting family for a pleasure ride on the Lake and to the Locks. Way boring after getting to lake union. I’d rather run visitors around the San Juan’s and may grab a burger on one of the islands.
 
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Mrfitter

Newbie
Jun 15, 2020
7
13
41
PNW
Name
Jason
Boat
Seasport
Last year we were dry stacked in Ballard. We fish a couple days a week in the sound through out the summer and fall. The first time we went through it was cool. The other 500 times it was a waste of my life. If it’s busy say weekend 2 to 4pm and sunny plan for a two hour wait. Sometimes they only use the large locks when real busy. Once the locks open there will be a rush of current always flowing towards the sound . When going to the lake from the sound be prepared once they tell you to “go and get “ and your lines are loose to give it some throttle to compensate for the current.Don’t let off you lines until they tell you to. Listen to the workers they are grumpy as S but know what’s going on . Using the large locks I’ve always tied off to larger boats. Sometimes the larger boats don’t realize you need to tie up to them . In this case you may need to raise your voice politely or throw your lines at their face both work. Always tie off to your own cleat(around larger vessels cleat / small locks floating wall cleat then back to yours) for control. I moved my boat to Everett .
 
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KimH

Someday I'll live the dream.
Mar 4, 2009
2,824
2,887
Tacoma/Westport WA/USA
Name
Kim
Boat
28' Farallon Walkaround "Paragon"
Been through a bunch of times over the years but on bigger boats so always the large lock.

I've been told...Warm summer day, lock operation viewers (tourists) wearing nice little sundresses, as the lock lowers...the view..welp enough said about that...:D:D
 
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KaiChung

Almost A Member
Aug 10, 2009
238
313
Newcastle/WA/USA
Name
Kai
Boat
Boston Whaler Conquest 28.5
Lot of advice already here. Be prepared for long lines on weekends. Sometimes it's hard to tell what that line is and there's always an a-hole trying to sneak ahead. Couple of points that people didn't cover:

Put your fenders high. You'll be up against a metal wall and the regular spots that you put fenders (i.e. right above the water line) is too low. Think about the part of your boat that will most likely hit a wall - and put a fender there.

Avoid super low tides. If you do go on a super low tide, have slack in the line if you're going through the small locks and be prepared to uncleat and release more line. The reason is that wall goes down as the water goes down. But at super low tides, it stops while the water keeps going down. Next thing you know, your boat's hanging diagonally and you need to cut the line to keep your boat from being permanent suspended sideways.
 
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