Ship lifts in China

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The government of China has built or is building several new Chinese ship lifts.

Ship lifts, also called boat lifts or lift locks are an alternative to canal locks. Unlike a canal lock a ship lift has an entire basin that the vessels enter, then water-tight doors close, and the ship lift raises or lowers the entire basin.

Three Gorges Ship Lift

The ship lift at the Three Gorges Dam was designed to lift vessels of up to 3,000 tons displacement.[1][2] The vertical distance traveled will be 113 metres.[3] The size of the ship lift's basin will be 120x18x3.5 meters.[4]

The ship lift, when completed, will take 30 to 40 minutes to ascend or descend, as opposed to the three to four hours for stepping through the main locks.[5][6]

In the original plans the ship lift was going to have the capacity to lift vessels of up to 11,500 tons displacement.[7]

Most of the dam was completed on May 21 2006.[8][9] But the ship lift was not yet complete. China Daily predicted, on October 3 2006, that the shiplift wouldn't be completed until 2008.[10]

One of the complicating factors the design has to deal with is that the water level can vary dramatically.[2] The ship lift had to be designed to work properly even if the water levels that varied by 12 meters on the lower side, and 30 meters on the upper side.

Other Ship Lifts

The Chinese government has built several other ship lifts, of lesser capacity,[7]

  1. There is a ship lift at the Geheyan dam, in Hubei Province, capable of lifting vessels of 300 tons displacement.[7] The dam was completed in 1994, but technical difficulties delayed the opening of the ship lift for four more years.
  2. There is a ship lift on the Danjiang River, at the Danjiangkou dam, also in Hubei Province, capable of lifting vessels of 450 tons displacement.
  3. There will be a ship-lift on the Longtan dam on the Hongshui River, a branch of the Pearl River, in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.[11] The Longtan ship lift has the capacity to lift vessels of 250 tons, in a basin 40×10.8×1.8 meters, and a vertical lift of 68.5 meters.[12]


  1. Three Gorges Dam. Missouri Chapter American Fisheries Society (April 20] 2002). Retrieved on 2007-01-28.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Dorothea Krebs, Thomas Runte, Gerhard Strack. Planning of the ship lift at the Three Gorges dam in China. Retrieved on 2008-03-12.
  3. Its Buildings with Biggest Indices. China Three Gorges Project (2002). Retrieved on 2007-01-28.
  4. Three Gorges shiplift resurfaces. Three Gorges Probe (November 7 2003). Retrieved on 2007-01-28.
  5. China's west seeks to impress investors, BBC, May 4 2005. Retrieved on 2007-01-28.
  6. Ship lift work to begin at Three Gorges site,]. Three Gorges Probe (March 23 2005). Retrieved on 2007-01-28.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Three Gorges Probe. Probe International (June 19 2000). Retrieved on 2007-01-28. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "ProbeInternational000619" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "ProbeInternational000619" defined multiple times with different content
  8. Three Gorges dam ready to go, Taipei Times, May 21, 2006. Retrieved on 2007-01-28.
  9. China Completes Three Gorges Dam, CBS News, May 20, 2006. Retrieved on 2007-01-28.
  10. 300,000 more to be relocated from Dam region, China Daily, October 3 2006. Retrieved on 2007-01-28.
  11. Hongshui River in south China to be dammed in November, China Daily, October 26, 2003. Retrieved on 2007-01-28.
  12. Zhu Shihong, Niu Xingqiang, Yang Chun. Prototype observation study of Yantan vertical ship lift, Yangitze River Scientific Research Institute. Retrieved on 2008-04-21.