Working as a Lock keeper

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Steven Jackson is a lock keeper for British Waterways. He works at a lock on the River Trent in North Lincolnshire. He entered the work by applying for a vacancy that he saw in the Jobcentre.

What is your role?

My main duty is to help lock users take their boats through the lock so they can go on to the next part of the river. The lock is on a tidal river, which means that boats can go through the lock only when the river is at a certain level. Each lock user has to phone me 24 hours in advance to book their time slot. I read the tide tables so I know when the tide is going in and out.

I carry out general maintenance on the lock mechanisms, for example oiling them, so that they remain in good working order and safe at all times. I also clear any rubbish from the lock, weed the area around the lock and generally keep everything well maintained.

What tasks do you perform?

When a lock user approaches the lock, I make sure the water is at the right level for them to enter. If the water is not at the right level, I use a winding handle to wind up paddles, which let water in or out of the lock. Then I open the lock gates so the boat can enter. Once the boat is in the lock and is steady and restrained with a rope, I close the gates behind it. I then wind up the paddles and while the water level either rises or falls, I watch the boat to make sure that everything is safe. When the water is at the right level, I open the gates to let the boat out. Finally, I wind down the paddles and close the gates.

What equipment do you use?

Apart from the winding handle and tools for maintaining the lock and surrounding area, I use a VHF radio and a mobile phone to keep in contact with lock users. the lock is being upgraded at the moment, so I will soon be using a computer to perform tasks such as opening the lock gates.

What hours do you work?

As I work on a tidal river, my hours depend on the tides, but I generally work from 8am to 4pm in the winter and from 6am to 9pm in the summer. This includes working at weekends with days off in the week.

What qualities does a lock keeper need?

You need to be reliable and trustworthy because it's essential that the lock is run safely and efficiently. The ability to communicate with lock users is also very important, so that they can understand what you are explaining to them.

What training have you been given?

I have been given training in health and safety and lock maintenance. I have also passed an examination in the use of tidal gates. This training is crucial, as it could be very dangerous for people if locks are not operated correctly.

What do you like about this career?

Most of the time I am by myself, so meeting people as they bring their boats through the lock is one of the best parts of my job. I also like working in a healthy environment, which is the main reason I applied for the job of lock keeper.

Steven's route to working as a Lock keeper

  • GCSEs.
  • Worked as a spray painter of commercial vehicles.
  • Changed career to become lock keeper.

Steven's lock keeper tips

  • Make sure that you keep fit and healthy, as the work can be physically demanding.
  • Don't think about entering the work unless you enjoy working outdoors, whatever the weather is like!

Lock keeper related jobs

  • Coastguard watch assistant/officer
  • Merchant Navy engineering officer
  • Port operative
  • Tourist guide
  • Water bailiff
  • Water distribution/Sewerage process operator

Salary information

  • A new lock keeper earns from around £11,500 a year.
  • With experience, this could rise to about £15,000.
  • Some lock keeping posts are offered with accommodation.

How to become a lock keeper

  • There are no formal entry requirements for lock keepers, although familiarity with the local area is an advantage.
  • Relevant experience, such as work in a boating environment, and knowledge of DIY are useful.
  • Training is mainly practical and on the job, working alongside an experienced lock keeper. Employers organise formal training programmes for new entrants that usually cover health and safety issues and first aid. Training in customer service skills may also be provided.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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