Going through the Ballard Locks for the First Time

Ballard Locks

Scott and I didn’t want to finish the season without going through the Ballard Locks for the first time.  They are also known as the Hiram M. Chittenden locks.  We invited my college friend Jen and my sister Susan and her husband Kurt to join us as all three have been through them before.

We decided to go through the locks the day after Labor Day, thinking that it would be less busy. Friends of ours have their boat moored inside the locks and this past summer it often took them hours to get through. The weirdest part of the trip was that everything was “orange” as Western Washington was engulfed in ash and smoke from the fires in Eastern Washington.

Before you go through the locks, you do need to have on board, two 50′ lines each with a 12″ eye on each end. These are not cheap and luckily we had our rewards from West Marine that we used to purchase them.

Entering the Locks

As we entered the locks, we immediately saw a huge yacht in front of us. We slowly followed it and what we thought was a fire boat behind it. Turns out it was their tender!

Thank God we had Jen, Kurt and Susan with us, as we had no idea what to do.  There are two sets of locks. The large one holds many boats and the outside boats tie up (using your 50′ lines) to the cleats at the locks and then boats inside tie up to one another.  In the small lock, you simply tie up to the wall and go through individually.  As we got closer to the actual locks, we figured out we were probably heading into the large locks.


Once inside, the lock workers shouted down to us to tie off to the sail boat next to us.  We used our own line on their cleats.  Make sure your fenders are up high, as you will be locked in tight with the other boats!

Then a few minutes later, they had another 30′ boat tie up to us. Once we were all tied up you can see how tight we all are inside the big lock.

In this entire process, this huge M/Y Spirit, a 178′ yacht came in behind and next to us. She was coming down from Alaska for maintenance work at one of the shipyards. She sleeps 11 guests and has a crew of 13. It’s available for charter for just $270k per week during the low season.

Once all of the boats are tied up, they close the locks and they raise us up to the height of the locks, which is about thirty feet or more.

Our Lucky Day!

We really lucked out on our first trip through the locks as we literally came straight into the big locks without waiting, tied up and then waited a total of fifteen minutes before they filled up the lock. The sailboat next to us had been waiting on the wall for over an hour and a half! Overall, it took us less than an hour from the time we entered the channel to when we left the locks.

You do feel a bit weird having all of the spectators watching you. We felt like we should do the parade wave!

There is not a lot to see as you travel through the Fremont Cut. It is very industrial and there are a lot of large vessel shipyards.

We planned on having lunch at one of the restaurants at South Lake Union , but there was no transient moorage as they were setting up for the Boats Afloat Show next week. When you are at South Lake Union, you do have to be watchful to stay out of the fairway for Kenmore Air.

The crew decided to have lunch at Ivar’s Salmon House located at the north end of Lake Union. They have a nice long dock, with easy access.

Going back through the locks again

After lunch, we headed right back to where we came from. We had no idea if it would be crowded again.  As we approached the locks, there was only one small sailboat in front of us.  You will see a red or green light at the locks, which will tell you if you can enter or not. Within about ten minutes the green light for the small locks came on and we followed the sail boat.

The locks crew had us use our small lines to tie up to the moving wall. Again, make sure your fenders are up high, so you don’t rub on the wall.  After we were tied up, they closed the small locks and the two of us went down about thirty feet and off we went.

I have to say that this journey was one of the coolest things I’ve done in awhile! Originally we were going to moor Kokomo inside the locks. Can you imagine us going through these on our first day of owning and operating a boat?! Crazy. If you have the opportunity to go through them either on your own boat or someone else’s I highly recommend it.

Cheers, Scott & Ally on Kokomo