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Navigation Locks

A navigation lock is a structure used to raise and lower vessels between two bodies of water that are different levels on a river.  Locks are used to make a river more easily navigable and to take advantage of deeper water levels provided by dams.  Locks have reportedly been used for this purpose even before 1000 AD. 


And the general design of those locks varies from today’s modern structures only in technology.  The major components of a lock are essentially unchanged.  Every lock has strong parallel walls on each side to hold the water; gates on each end of the walls to allow vessels in and out as well as isolate the chamber area from the water levels outside the lock; and some device to allow water to flow into and out of the chamber.  Most locks are filled by allowing water’s own ability to seek its own level to fill and empty the lock.


The Nashville District operates and maintains fourteen projects with navigation locks.  Ten of these locks are considered “high lift” locks because they raise vessels over 55 feet from the river below the lock to lake above them.  Wilson Lock in Florence, Alabama is the highest single lift lock east of the Rocky Mountains.  A vessel locking through Wilson Lock is lifted 94 feet from the river below to the lake above the dam.


Click on one of the links on the left of this page to learn more about a specific Nashville District Lock