When Locks Get In The Way

For those new to kayaking, there’s a fun new word dappled around this website:

the carrying of a boat or its cargo between two navigable waters.
“the return journey was made much simpler by portage”
carry (a boat or its cargo) between navigable waters.
“we portaged everything here”

This is a word you will very quickly become familiar with, because there are 77 of them to get around the locks between Devizes and Westminster.

Here’s what it looks like:


Getting a slick portaging technique needs to be on your to-do list as, if you can save 60 seconds at each portage, your whole race will be an hour and 17 minutes shorter.

This video shows you how slick you can get, but DW will never be quite so busy!

The basic principles are:

  • Head towards the bank at a 45 degree angle, then as the bow of your boat is about to hit the bank, the front paddler sticks their paddle in the water on the other side of the boat to quickly turn the boat in line with the bank. If you get it right then you shouldn’t need to slow down too much on the approach.
  • Unzip spraydecks and lift your outside knee up slightly on the approach.
  • Decide who gets in and out first so you know the routine – if you can do it simultaneously then great, but that will definitely take practice!
  • Stay on your knees so you can grab the cockpit and/or a convenient handle and lift the boat out of the water.
  • If possible, avoid putting the boat down and simply stand up with the boat in one hand and your paddle in the other.
  • Then start jogging/running around the lock.

Depending on your boat, you may have helpful handles around the cockpit or at the bow and stern. It’s up to you and your partner to work out the most comfortable way to carry the boat, and this may vary depending on the length of the portage. We found that we preferred to carry it by holding the side of the cockpit for shorter portages, but then lift the boat onto our shoulders for the longer ones.

To get a boat on your shoulder, you can (in theory) cunningly hoik it up one at a time whilst running. We tried this and it never really worked, especially after a long paddle as it needs quite a bit of strength in your arms. Our version involved lifting the boat out the water by the cockpits, putting it down on the ground, moving to each end of the boat, then rolling it up onto our shoulder by putting our arm underneath the very ends of the boat.
All in all, practice makes perfect.
Personally I’m quite pleased that we looked so professional by the time we got to race day!
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