Which Class of Boats Has Priority When Using River Locks?

When studying for a boat ed exam, chances are you will be asked as to which class of boats has priority when using river locks. It goes without saying that this is an important piece of information you need to know not only to pass the exam but also for you to understand proper boating etiquette and the right of way when experiencing such a situation.

Correct Answer

Commercial boats and vessels are the class of boats that have right of way when using river locks. There is a reason as to why this is so and will be discussed later on in this guide, but for the purposes of a boat ed exam, this is the correct answer.

What a River Lock Even Is

First of all, this may sound a bit counterintuitive, but water is not always flat. Common sense dictates that water in a lake or river is flat, but reality says otherwise. Water levels vary greatly especially on a river where the upstream water level is higher than the downstream level. Also not all vessels are allowed to pass through certain waterways.

This is why river locks were made to provide a path for these vessels or in some cases acts as shortcuts vs traversing through the entire length of the waterway.

A river lock is a system of locks, hence the name, used to raise or lower boats, ships, and other kinds of watercraft across different levels of water on waterways such as canals or rivers. They work by first letting a watercraft pass through, then enclose the said craft and pump water in or out of the enclosure in order to raise or lower the water level and make it equal with the destination’s water level.

Some river locks are longer than others and may need multiple stages of this process to fully elevate or lower a boat to its intended exit. However, due to the nature of this method, most river locks operate only in one direction at a time and allow only one vessel at a time. This results in queues and thus creates a need for the prioritization of certain vessels.

Why Understanding River Locks is Important

Modern waterways have river locks not only for the sake of convenience but also to make travel possible, faster, and safer. Since not all rivers, canals, or waterways may allow just any vessel to pass through them especially when moving to bodies of water with different water levels. River locks make it such that having boats reach a certain water level would no longer be extremely difficult or even impossible.

River locks undeniably play a vital role for boat travel, as it allows ships and other various watercraft direct access to their destinations without the need for traveling through unnecessary and potentially dangerous lengths.

This level of importance given to river locks also serve another reason as why commercial boats and vessels are given the utmost priority when using them.

Why Do Commercial Boats and Vessels Have Right of Way First When Using River Locks

Trade and commerce are vital pillars of any country’s economy. Safe and timely delivery of goods make up a significant portion of a country’s income. Therefore, it should be properly optimized to prevent any losses of income on a daily basis.

What does this have to do with commercial boats and vessels you ask? Well, these are the class of vessels that ferry those very goods from one point to another. Waterways are one of the major avenues for the lifeblood of the economy to flow through and as such these vessels are given priority on river locks. Several industrial and commercial companies have boats as their main mode of transport for goods and services.

In fact, river locks are tailor-made specifically for these classes of boats and they are one of the major reasons and considerations when a river lock is being designed and built. This is why commercial boats and vessels will always have a priority when accessing river locks due to their extensively economic nature. Should a commercial vessel need to access a river lock alongside a commuter craft, the commuter craft will always have a lesser priority than the commercial boat for the reasons stated above.


In summary, commercial boats and vessels are the class of vessels that have right of way when using river locks. Mainly due to industrial and economic reasons as they are vital enough to be considered the lifeblood of a country.

We hope that this guide has helped expand your knowledge base enough for an upcoming boat ed exam or just to sate your curiosity. At least now you know which class of boats has priority when using river locks.