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Trip Report    

Hiram M. Chittenden Locks

The majority of this trip was pleasant and uneventful, with breezy but manageable conditions. This is a great trip, with a fascinating experience through the Locks. See below for incident that occurred in the Locks on the return to our launch site.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  •     Due to winds that approached 15 knots,  we did not kayak out to West Point and Magnolia Bluff, and instead paddled a protected route, through the Locks and to Golden Gardens and back, paddling behind the breakwater in Shilshole Bay.  This route offers protection from both northerly and south winds.   The winds on this date were from the south. 


Trip leaders should be aware of a potential safety concern for sea kayakers traveling through the Locks.  Our group of six sea kayakers  travelled eastbound through the Locks at about 2 pm. (Earlier in the day, we had passed through the locks westbound at about 10:10 am.) We monitored VHF channel 13 and waited, as instructed, for the Good Time tour boat to enter the small lock ahead of us. When directed by the Lock Master, we entered the small lock chamber behind the larger vessel and attempted to hold onto the walls of the lock chamber. The Good Time boat occupied most of the small Lock.

 During the cycling of the small lock the current within the chamber became too great for the kayakers to hold onto the wall. When letting go of the wall, one of the kayak sterns became stuck in a crevice in the concrete wall preventing the kayaker from maneuvering the kayak and dragging the stern down as the water level in the lock rose. Eventually the bow of the kayak rose sufficiently and capsized the kayak, leaving the kayaker in the water at the northwest corner of the lock near the iron flood gates. Using a pole with a hook on the end, a Lock attendant unsuccessfully attempted to dislodge the stuck kayak; the force of the water differential on the kayak was too great. With the aid of a fellow kayaker, the swimming kayaker was able to climb back into her boat and others helped bilge pump water from the craft. Once the kayak was upright the locking through sequence continued without further incident. 

 Fortunately, most of the kayakers had been through the Locks many times, were dressed for cold water immersion, accustomed to reentering their capsized boats, and were well-practiced in incident management. Less prepared kayakers may have suffered hypothermia, cold water shock, or other hazards.

 Our group debriefed this incident, and reviewed underlying issues. We submitted the following questions and concerns to the Locks management:

 Why were the kayaks loaded behind the large tour Good Time vessel near the flood gate where the water was most turbulent?

 Would it be safest to put the kayaks in the front (east) end of the small Lock? While locking through earlier in the day we occupied the front (west) end of the chamber and we’re able to hold on to the wall without difficulty or excessive water turbulence.

 The currents were too great to hold on to the wall. Should the kayaks have been secured with line? 

 We are awaiting an opportunity to discuss these concerns further with Locks leadership.

Pending the response from the Locks leadership, trip leaders should be very cautious and avoid being hemmed in by large boat traffic by the rear chamber wall.  There should be ample room to maneuver if there is current.   It's not clear whether requiring ropes would have helped in this incident, as a rope may have further restricted the kayak as it was pinned to the wall.