Cruising the Mississippi River is an unique and enjoyable experience, there is so much to see and do including going through a Mississippi River Lock and Dam. The US Army Corps of Engineers maintain and operate the lock and dams. It was in the 1930s that Congress gave permission and a money grant to the Army Corps of Engineers to go ahead and build the lock and dams you see today. From Minneapolis,MN to St. Louis MO there are 29 lock and dams to go through. The majority of the locks are 100 feet wide, which is wide enough for a double-wide barge. Only the three upper most locks are 56 feet wide and require the barges to break down to a single-wide which is very time consuming and costly. There has been some talk among our local senators to grant money for expansion but it is estimated to cost around $2 billion to do it. The locks and dams were built primarily for navigational purposes and not to control flooding along the Mississippi River, they try to maintain a 9 foot depth in the the main channel for easy passage.
When approaching a lock and dam there is a procedure that must be followed. First, upon approach you will see the lock is closed, this could mean someone is coming through or just in waiting. Along side the wall at the beginning of the dam you will see a sign that says "Signal Rope" just proceed up to it and give it a tug and a signal goes off in the tower where the lockmaster is informing him/her of your presence, you may also call them on the CB Radio on channel 14. Secondly, look up at a set of lights that look like stoplights, if it is red, someone is locking through and you must wait, yellow means the gates are getting ready to open, green means the gates are open and it is clear to proceed. Thirdly, approach at a slow speed, it is NO WAKE, and proceed up into the holding area far enough so other boats can also get in, you will see many ropes hanging alongside the wall, you need to grab a hold of one so you don't float around in the holding area. Fourth, when all the boats are in the holding area the gates will close and depending which direction you are traveling the water will rise(going down river) or fall(going up river). Be sure not to tie the rope to your boat it will be disastrous, just hold it. Fifth, when the holding area reaches the proper water level the gates will open and you must wait till you hear a loud horn go off and that is the signal it is OK to exit the holding area and proceed to your destination.
If you are interested in touring a Mississippi River Lock and Dam just click on the above link and then choose the Lock and Dam number of your choice and it will give you the the contact person and phone number to call. Also to see some additional beautiful photos of the different Locks and Dams click this link LOCKS and DAMS.
Continue to follow Houseboating Excursions in the Mississippi River Valley as we explore more cruise stops, events and provide more information.