River locks have strict rules regarding who can enter, and when they can enter. Priority will always be given to commercial vessels (unless you are a military craft), but regardless of who you are, you need to obey the traffic lighting system; green, amber, and red. But which flashing light tells you to enter a river lock?

A green flashing light is the color signal that you can enter a river lock. You could also hear horn blasts. These are also a signal also to enter, but only if the green light is flashing at the same time. Just like traffic lights on the road, red means stop and do not enter. Amber lets you start to approach safely.

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What do all the color lights mean at a river lock?

Please note, some river locks used fixed lights, others more commonly use flashing lights. But essentially, they mean the same thing.


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Knowing what the different colors mean is essential for keeping safe at river locks.


Red fixed light

If the lights are fixed on red, and NOT flashing, this means that the lock master isn’t aware of any boats or might not have noticed any.

Red flashing light

If the light is flashing red, this tells you to keep away from the river lock and don’t attempt to enter. You should leave lots of room for the boats to exit before you can start your entry on the signal of an amber light.

Amber light

The amber color means you can start to approach the river lock, but in a safe and controlled manner, proceeding with caution.

Amber and green light

If both colors are on at the same time, that means you can proceed towards the river lock, but under full control with no need to be as cautious.

Green flashing light

When the light starts to flash green, that’s your signal to enter the river lock. You could also hear long blasts on a horn which is another signal to let you enter.

Exiting a river lock

The traffic lighting system used above is the same for exiting the river lock, but instead of a long horn blast, you will hear a short one to exit.

Video show the wait for the green light at a river lock

In the video below you can see footage of a boater entering a river lock on the Murray River, waiting for the light to go green.


The last word…

This answer article was generated due to demand from users taking Boat Ed tests and Quizlets. It is for informational purposes only and is produced in order to help you with your revision and gain a better understanding of the topics you need to learn about.

I don’t advocate taking any short cuts when it comes to your marine and boating education, as boat safety is something that even the most experienced boaters should always be on top of.

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