The Welland Canal forms a major part of the St. Lawrence Seaway System, providing a deep draft passage between Lakes Erie and Ontario.
Unlike the New York State Canal System or Ontario's Trent-Severn Canal, the Welland was designed for and primarily caters to large deep draft commercial shipping. Located in Canada, the Welland Canal runs between Port Weller on Lake Ontario south to Port Colborne on Lake Erie using (8) locks to lift vessels 326.5 feet (99.5 m) over the Niagara Escarpment.
Since the Welland Canal's main purpose is providing passage to large commercial ships, this means that pleasure craft are at the back of the line when it comes to scheduling. To quote the Seaway Handbook - "The transit of pleasure craft shall be scheduled by the traffic controller or the officer in charge of a lock and may be delayed so as to avoid interference with other ships."
The use of the Welland Canal proves most useful for those vessels already on the Lakes and transiting between Lakes Erie and Ontario. Its use also becomes mandatory for vessels whose masthead heights (MHH) will not allow them to transit the western portion of the Erie Canal when entering the Great Lakes via the New York State Canal System.
When considering the use of the Welland Canal, remember; this is not the tranquil ride of the New York State Canal System.
While the Welland should not be avoided because of its reputation, it will require some added patience and attention.
The Welland Canal does not operate year around. It closes in winter when ice or weather conditions become a hazard to both navigation and shipping. The canal's closing is typically during the latter part of the month of December and reopens in spring, typically late March or early April.
The Welland Canal is 27.6 SM (24.0 NM or 44.4 km) long and runs on a generally North/South axis.
Controlling depth in the canal is 27' (8.23 meters) with a maximum permissible draft of 26' (7.92 meters).
The limiting vertical clearance available is 116.5 feet (35.5 meters).
For all vessels, 6 knots over the bottom, except in the Welland By-Pass Channel from Port Robinson to Rameys Bend, maximum speed 8 knots over the bottom.
The following VHF channels have been assigned to this station for controlling movement of vessels in the Welland Canal and its approaches:
*Or as directed by Canal Control. All vessels must also continue to monitor channel 14 at all times.
Transit times for the Welland Canal can vary. I have heard stories of transits of as little as 7 hours and I have heard horror stories requiring more than 14 hours. Having made this passage many times myself, I have found my average transit time to be around 11 hours.
Crew requirements for passage on the Welland Canal are dependent on the direction of travel. Vessels upbound require a minimum of 3 crew members and vessels downbound require a minimum of 2 crew members.
The Welland Canal makes use of 8 locks in its passage between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie:
Welland Canal - Locks and Distances Table
|Lock #||Type||Lift||Next Lock|
|*This table reflects an up bound passage from Port Weller to Port Colborne.|
|Lake Ontario - Port Weller||---||---||#W1 / 1.65 NM|
|#W1||Single||46’||#W2 / 1.55 NM|
|#W2||Single||46’||#3 / 2.31 NM|
|#W3||Single||46’||#W4 / 1.14 NM|
|#W4 E/W||Double||49’||#W5 / 0.14 NM|
|#W5 E/W||Double||49’||#W6 / 0.16 NM|
|#W6 E/W||Double||43’||#W7 / 0.51 NM|
|#W7||Single||46’||#W8 / 13.71 NM|
|#W8||Guard||2’ - 11’||Lake Erie / 2.36 NM|
The side for mooring differs from lock to lock. The following table will help you prepare fenders and crew in advance. This is the preferred mooring arrangements for each lock and while preferred, it is subject to change.
Welland Canal - Lock Mooring Table
|*This is the recommended mooring arrangement, but is subject to change at the direction of Canal Control.|
|Lake Ontario to Lake Erie
|Stbd. Side To||Stbd. Side To||Port Side To||Port Side To||Port Side To||Port Side To||Port Side To||Stbd. Side To|
|Lake Erie to Lake Ontario
|Port Side To||Port Side To||Stbd. Side To||Port Side To||Port Side To||Port Side To||Stbd. Side To||Port Side To|
The lock distances and moorage tables above can be downloaded for your personal use as a ZIP file. The file contains the schedule in Adobe (.pdf) file format.
Aerial photos of each lock:
E & W
E & W
E & W
Because of the nature of the Welland Canal, preperation is key to success and will make your trip through the Welland Canal and your life a whole lot easier.
We have details on entering Canada by boat at Canadian Customs, but we will recap the important rules here.
You may navigate your vessel through international or Canadian waters while in transit directly from one place outside Canada to another place outside Canada without reporting to CBSA if the transit is:
According to Canadian Law; Transiting through a canal or lock system that requires mooring or anchoring may not be considered an uninterrupted route. (The moment that you have a line to shore such as in a lock, you have entered Canada.)
Failure to report to the CBSA may result in detention, seizure or forfeiture of your boat and/or monetary penalties. Fines can be fairly large for vessels that are required to, yet fail to report their arrival to Canadian Customs.
The simplest method for complying with Canadian Customs laws is contacting Canadian Customs through the use of their Telephone Reporting Center (1-888-226-7277).
Note: The COVID 19 pandemic has added additional requirements for anyone entering Canada. Failure to comply with these requirements may result severe monetary penalties or criminal conviction and/or imprisonment.
The latest navigational information can be found at Welland Canal System Bulletins to Pleasure Craft Mariners. Anyone planning to transit the canal system should check these notices for last minute information on closures and restrictions.