Boats Lift in Scotland



The Millennium Link was an ambitious project of 84.5m length designed with the objective of restoring the navigation history in Scotland between the Forth & Clyde Canal and Union Canal, thereby getting a corridor which reactivates the activity in Scotland downtown.

The biggest challenge to achieve this goal was the gap between two channels: the Forth & Clyde Canal is 35m (115 feet) above the level of Union Central. Previously, the two channels were connected in Falkirk by a series of 11 locks spread over 1.5km, but this connection was inactivated in 1933.

Thus it was necessary to find a quick and simple method, which connects the two channels hauling boats by 35m of gap. British Waterways, presented a visionary solution taking the opportunity to create a spectacular structure that would certainly be perfect for the celebration of the millennium, and a symbol for the future. The Falkirk Wheel – the first rotating boat lift in the world.

Connecting two channels with more than 115 feet in elevation, the Falkirk Wheel is an innovative solution that solves the old problem of transferring boats between different levels. The complex was the product of joint work of British Waterways, the Ove Arup Consultants, Butterley Engineering and the architectural firm RMJM.

The Falkirk Wheel’s design explores the simplicity of the Physic, imposing the minimum of energy required to rotate a phenomenal amount of water and steel with grace and elegance. The great wheel in driven by 10 hydraulic motors responsible for turning the two gondolas, accommodating up to four boats of 20 meters once each, and has the ability to lift 600 tons of water in 35 meters in less than 15 minutes.

Millennium Link The complex is composed of four elements: a Visitors Center, a lake bottom, the lift (Falkirk Wheel), and upper aqueduct.

The Visitor Center located in the lower lake, offers exhibition areas, café and office space under a wooden roof with a front of glass and steel that has a slope of 45 grades allowing a panoramic view of the Wheel.

The Millennium Link was officially opened on May 24, 2002.

Click to enlarge

The Project

(clique para ampliá-la)The original concept of using a wheel to lift boats exists since the 19th century in Europe, but the first time it was considered as a possible solution was to Falkirk in 1994.

Dundee Architects and Nicoll Russell Studios presented to Ferris wheel the first design that was used to attract the participation of the Millennium Commission Funding into the project.

The development of the project was conducted by a consortium led by Morrison-Bachy-Solentache and which included the Scottish architectural firm RMJM Scotland LTd. The team redesigned the original design of the Wheel.

Their ultimate goal was to create a functional boat lift that could raise and low down boats lightly, celebrating the re-connection of two channels with a historic structure worthy of the new millennium. The ideas and concepts presented were many: from the rolling eggs to inclined tanks, giant swings to air monorails that included complex structures of counterbalance.

But the final solution chosen was the Falkirk Wheel, which combined function and design, creating an elegant sculpture in the same time.

The unique shape of the structure seems to have been inspired by many sources, both artificial and natural, from a Celtic spear or a double helix mill or by boat up the skeleton of a whale or a fish’s spine. The channel that connects the Scottish east to west as a backbone, seems to have an appropriate symbology and there is a real beauty in the way of the aqueduct.

The arches of the aqueduct also add an aesthetic element structure, forming with its reflection in the channel a full circle that increases the feeling of the tunnel. The fact is that the channel literally ends up in the air, creating an exciting feeling of been “sailing in the air” in front of the spectacular scenery of the horizon.

Click to enlarge

How does it work?

Wheel Falkirk is located at the end of an aqueduct of reinforced concrete that is joined via the tunnel Rouchcastle and a double lock, to the Union central channel.

The boats which enter in the gondola by the upper channel go down, with the water in which they were floating, to the lower level. At the same time the other gondola – which has an equal weight – rises toward the top level. Everything works as Archimedes’ Principle of Displacement. Which means, the vessel which enters into the gondola displaces a volume of water, to keep proportional the combination boat + water and always stays equal to the original mass.

Each gondola is supported on small wheels that fit on a single curved rail inside the opening of each arm.

In theory, this should be sufficient to ensure that they always remain horizontal, but any friction or sudden movement could cause the gondola crashed or leans. To ensure that this does not happen and the water and boats always maintain the level in all parts of the cycle, were designed a series of cross-linked sprockets.

Behind the nearest arm of the conduit, there are two sprockets with the diameter of 8m attached at the end of each gondola. A third of that of the same size is in the center. And two small are placed in the space between the two largest. The teeth of each wheel fit perfectly into the adjacent wheel transmitting motion around the center wheel.

The two gondolas attached the other wheels on the bent rail rotate at the same speed but in opposite direction of the wheel.
Given the precision of the gondolas’ balance and the simple but clever dented system, you need a very small amount of energy to move the wheel. Actually just a group of 10 hydraulic motors located in the central spine that produces only 1.5 kw of electricity is enough to trigger the whole.

See explanatory video:

Click to enlarge


Click to enlarge

The Construction

Many parts of the Falkirk Wheel were built and assembled like a giant game set in Butterley Engineering's Steelworks in Derbyshire.

At the factory, was complete the pre-assembled process of the 1200 tons of steel, adjusting the pieces with a margin of error of only 10mm, ensuring perfect fitting end.

In the summer of 2001, the structure was dismantled and transported in 35 trucks to Falkirk, where final assembly was carried out on the floor of the five major sections, and later it is lifted with a crane to be placed in its final position.

The gondola, with a total of 800 tons (by adding water +net weight + boat), imposes enormous stresses in the structure when moving around the central spine. The normal steel welds would be susceptible to fatigue induced by this stress, then to make the structure more robust, the steel sections were bolted together. Were used more than 15,000 bolts.

Technical Information

Client: British Waterways
Arquitect: RMJM Scotland Ltd
Structural Engineering: Butterley Engineering
Civil Engineering: Ove Arup & Partners
Landscaping Ash Consulting Group
Constructor: Morrison Construction Ltd & Bachy Soletanche

Project Team
Wheel: Tony Kettle, John Marshall e Tony Fan
Visitor's Center: Paul Stallan, Alistair Brand, Patrick Wilson e Paul Jamieson