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Tips and Notes > Waterways: Lock, Lockkeeper ...


French Waterways Words and Phrases
Lock, Lockkeeper and "Locking through"

The canals of France have their own specialized vocabulary.

Here are handy French words and phrases that you will see, hear (and use!) as you take your boat through the locks and canals of France and Belgium.

Scroll down or click on any word below ...

Éclusier, Éclusière
Passer l’écluse
Maison d’éclusier (Lockkeeper’s house)
For more words and phrases related to Locks and Waterways, see the Canals chapter in FRENCH FOR CRUISERS.

The examples below are organized in three columns, showing the English, French and Pronunciation for each word or phrase.

Notice that certain letters are printed in gray in the French column. These letters are silent in that French word. So don't pronounce the gray letters.

English ... French ... Pronunciation ...
lock l’ (f) écluse eh-klêwz
to lock écluser eh-klêw-zeh




ÉclusePronunciation: Eh-klêwz
"Écluse" (Lock)

Une écluse is a lock on a canal or waterway.

It raises or lowers the boats that travel through it to the water level of the next section of canal.

A lock may be manuelle (manual) and operated by turning cranks and manually opening the portes (gates). More often these days the lock is électrifiée (electric), and may even be automatisée (automatic), controlled by the user by pressing a button on a panel or turning a pole hung over the canal.

"Portes" (Gates)

A lock will have one or more chambers (French: sas). Une écluse simple has only one sas (chamber), but you will also find doubles and triples with two and three chambers for greater changes in water level.

The locks at Fonserranes on the Canal du Midi have seven chambers in a row forming an échelle d’écluses (ladder of locks) that raises or lowers boats a total of 13.6 meters (45 feet).

lock l’ (f) écluse eh-klêwz
... manual ... manuelle ... man-wehl
... electric ... électrifiée ... eh-lehk-treef-yeh
... automatic ... automatisée ... oh-toh-mah-tee-zeh
gate (of lock) la porte (d 'écluse) pohrt deh-klêwz
chamber le sas sahss
ladder of locks l’ (f) échelle d’écluses eh-shehl deh-klêwz
For more words and phrases related to Locks and Waterways see the Canals and Waterways chapter in FRENCH FOR CRUISERS.




Éclusier, Éclusière
A lockkeeper is called ...

un éclusier

"Éclusier" (Lockkeeper)


une éclusière

"Éclusière" (Lockkeeper)

French lockkeepers are employed by the VNF (Voies Navigables de France).

What is VNF ...

Some work for the VNF year-around and live in the maison d’éclusier (lockkeeper’s house). For others it is a seasonal job, and they return to school or their jobs when the summer season is over.

lockkeeper l’ (m) éclusier eh-klêwz-yeh
l’ (f) éclusière eh-klêwz-yehr
lockkeeper’s house la maison d'éclusier meh-zohn deh-klêwz-yeh


"Chien de l’éclusier" (Lockkeeper’s dog) At some locks,
a chien de l’éclusier
(lockkeeper’s dog)
may welcome you.
We keep a box of dog biscuits on hand for that happy occasion!

Local products for sale

Some lockkeepers offer local products for sale such as vin (wine), confitures (jams or preserves), and local fruits and vegetables such as cerises (cherries) and salade verte (green salad, lettuce).

They may also sell block ice and ice cream bars.



Can you help me with the lines?
How might you ask a lock tender for help with your lines if you are short-handed?
Can you help me with the lines?

Try not to be abrupt.

Greet the lock tender first (Bonjour, monsieur / madame) or at least say Excuse me, sir / madam (Excusez-moi monsieur / madame) before you ask for help.

Here’s a simple all-purpose way to ask for help:

Excuse me ... Excusez-moi ... Ex-kêw-zeh-mwah ..
... sir / madam ... monsieur / madame ... muhss-yûh / mah-dahm
Can you help me? Vous pouvez m’aider ? Voo poo-veh meh-deh?
... with the lines. (optional) ... avec les amarres. (optional) ... ah-vehk lehz ah-mahr
More phrases for conversing with lockkeepers and other locals are available in FRENCH FOR CRUISERS Basic Conversation chapter.


Passer l’éclusePronunciation: Pah-seh leh-klêwz
"Passer l’écluse" (Pass throught the lock)

There are a number of ways to say
to go through a lock”.

The simplest is probably passer l’écluse
(pass through the lock)

You could also use franchir l’écluse.

Sasser and écluser also mean “to lock through”
but sound more technical.

to go through a lock passer l’écluse pah-seh leh-klêwz
franchir l’écluse frahn-sheer leh-klêwz
to lock écluser / sasser eh-klêw-zeh / sah-sseh


FRENCH WATERWAYS WORDS on Canals Bulletin Boards and Signs ...

French Canals Links ...

THINKING METRIC: English-French Metric Conversions ...

10 "very" French Words and Phrases ...

For more words and phrases related to Locks and Waterways see the Canals and Waterways chapter in FRENCH FOR CRUISERS.
Tips and Notes > Waterways: Lock ...