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Black Rock Lock

Buffalo District
Published Jan. 9, 2024

About the Lock

The Black Rock Channel extends from Buffalo Harbor to the Black Rock Lock.  It is three and one-half miles in length.  The Federal navigation channel has a minimum width of 200 feet. Pleasure craft are required to yield the right-of-way to commercial vessels due to the confined waters of the channel.

The Black Rock Lock and the Black Rock Channel provide safe passage for vessels to travel between Buffalo Harbor and Tonawanda Harbor around the reefs, rapids and fast currents that exist in the upstream portion of the Niagara River. 

In combination with the New York Erie Canal, the Black Rock Lock and Black Rock Channel provides an inland water route between Lake Erie and the Atlantic Ocean.  Branch canals in the New York State Canal System provide vessels access to Lake Erie and Lake Champlain. 


There has been a lock at Black Rock since 1833 when the state of New York built one as part of the Erie Canal. The present lock, constructed by the Corps of Engineers from 1908-1913, provided the capacity to accommodate large Great Lakes vessels. Through the years those vessels have carried commodities essential to business and industry in Western New York. Although a once-important traffic in iron ore has disappeared, a substantial amount of coal and petroleum products are still transported through the lock.

In 1975, the first major rehabilitation of the lock was completed. Major rehabilitation of the guard gates and the operating system took place from 1984-1986. In 1991-92, cavities between the lock's concrete monoliths and the bedrock were filled with high pressure cement grout to stabilize the foundation. Since the mid ‘90’s, ongoing construction has included the widening and capping of all concrete approach walls, refurbishing of the lock houses, and the installation of new fencing, railing and ladders to provide a safer, more secure, work environment.

Locking Times 

The schedule for pleasure craft calls for the locking of down bound craft on the hour and up bound craft on the half-hour. Commercial traffic has priority, however, regardless of the pleasure craft schedule. For safety reasons, at no time will pleasure craft be allowed in the lock with tankers or large commercial vessels. In the absence of commercial traffic, the lockmaster may alter the schedule for the convenience of the small boater.

Black Rock Lock operations for the 2024 navigation season:

 01 Jan - 04 May


 First Down Bound is at 8:00 a.m. and Last is at 3:00 p.m.   First Up Bound is at 8:30 a.m. and Last is at 3:30 p.m.

 05 May - 01 Jun

 7 Days per week

 First Down Bound is at 8:00 a.m. and Last is at 3:00 p.m.   First Up Bound is at 8:30 a.m. and Last is at 3:30 p.m.

 02 Jun - 07 Sept


 First Down Bound is at 8:00 a.m. and Last is at 9:00 p.m.   First Up Bound is at 8:30 a.m. and Last is at 9:30 p.m.



 First Down Bound is at 11:00 a.m. and Last is at 9:00 p.m.   First Up Bound is at 11:30 a.m. and Last is at 9:30 p.m.

 08 Sep - 19 Oct

 7 Days per week

 First Down Bound is at 8:00 a.m. and Last is at 3:00 p.m.   First Up Bound is at 8:30 a.m. and Last is at 3:30 p.m.

 20 Oct – 31 Dec


 First Down Bound is at 8:00 a.m. and Last is at 3:00 p.m.   First Up Bound is at 8:30 a.m. and Last is at 3:30 p.m.

After Hours commercial traffic delivering commerce needing passage will require a 24-hour prior notice to schedule a transit time with Black Rock Lock. The Lockmaster or his representative will issue a transit time when all safety requirements can be met, and the lock can be properly staffed. The vessel is required to inform the lock of any delays which would change the scheduled transit time. After hours contact information can be provided upon request.



Larger Map

Navigating the Lock

As you approach the Black Rock Lock, you must inform the lock operators of your desire to pass and they, in turn, will indicate to you when it is safe to proceed into the lock. There are several methods of communication with the lock personnel, as follows.

  • Radio:

If your vessel is equipped with a two-way radio, please establish contact with the lock on VHF (FM) Channel 16. Channels 12 and 14 are working channels. Do this well in advance of your arrival at the lock so that the passage of all vessels may be facilitated.

  • Horn:

The signal of two long and two short blasts indicates to lock personnel that you wish to lock through. This signal should be given regardless of any other communication you may have established.

  • Signal Light:

Red and green signal lights are located at both ends of the lock. A red signal indicates that the lock is closed in your direction and you should moor where the lock operator directs you and remain in your boat until the green light appears. The green signal means that you have clear entrance into the lock chamber, unless you have been informed by the lock operator that you are required to yield to a commercial vessel.

Proceed only when the signal light is green and enter the lock at a safe speed. The lock personnel will direct you toward one of the lock walls. You are required to hang on to one of the lines on the west lock wall.

Obey all the instructions of the lock personnel. Your total time in the lock will be approximately 20 minutes. The pool in the lock chamber will be raised or lowered 5 feet in approximately 11 minutes. When the pool reaches the proper level, the gates will be opened for your departure. Please exit the lock at a safe speed. The speed limit in the Black Rock Channel is 6 miles per hour. 

Safety: Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) are required for all personnel under 16 years of age during the approach and while transiting the Lock and are recommended for all vessel crew members and passengers.

Navigating the Channel 

The Black Rock Channel extends from Buffalo Harbor to the Black Rock Lock. The waterway is 3 and 1/2 miles long and its navigation channel is at least 200 feet wide at all points. The lock and channel permit pleasure craft and commercial vessels up to 625 feet long with drafts up to 21 feet. The passage of commercial vessels is scheduled by radio from the Black Rock Lock. Pleasure craft are required to yield the right-of-way to commercial vessels because of the confined waters of the channel.

The channel is crossed by three bridges: the Peace Bridge, the Ferry Street Bridge and the International Railroad Bridge. The Peace Bridge, located 1.3 miles from the south entrance to the channel is a fixed bridge with a clearance of 200 feet above Low Water Datum* (LWD). The Ferry Bridge is located 1.9 miles from the south entrance. It is a lift bridge that has a clearance of 17.3 feet LWD when down. The signal for requesting the opening of this bridge is 1 long, 2 short. The last bridge before the lock is the International Railroad Bridge, 3.1 miles from the south channel entrance. It is a swing bridge which has a clearance of 17 feet LWD when closed. The signal for requesting the opening of this bridge is one long.

* All the clearances mentioned here are referred to Low Water Datum, elevation 569.2 feet above mean water level at Rimouski, Quebec (International Great Lakes Datum 1985.)

Lock Statistics 

Length 650 feet (625 usable)
Depth over lock sills 21.6 feet
Width 70 feet (68 usable)
Number of chambers 1
Total weight of gates 480 tons


Contact: Questions on lock operations may be directed to the Black Rock Lock during scheduled operating hours by calling (716) 879-4403.

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