Due to the construction of the dam, ships must be lifted or lowered over 300 feet (91.4 meters). Because of this height, the water pressure required for a single lock would be too much for one gate to withstand. Instead, the dam uses five locks, each raising or lowering the vessel about 65 feet (19.8 meters).
The two sets of staircase locks, one moving downstream and the other upstream, each consist of five stages and each can handle vessels weighing up to 10,000 tons. Passengers on Yangtze River excursions starting from or terminating in Yichang have the opportunity to pass through the locks with a transit time of two to three hours.