Archimedes and a Boat Lift: the Falkirk Wheel
Archimedes and a Boat Lift: the Falkirk Wheel

This is the Falkirk Wheel, and it’s one of
the greatest bits of modern industrial design in the world. On the top of that hill is the Union Canal,
and down here is the Forth and Clyde Canal. And the traditional way to get boats between
them was a flight of locks, which’d take about a day to get through, and besides, they were
dismantled here in the 1930s. The solution: the world’s only rotating boat lift. Now boat lifts aren’t a new thing. They’ve
been around for centuries. Most of them, like this, have two caissons, which is the technical
term for the tubs that the boats sit in, although usually they’re next to each other rather
than rotating round a central point. And the reason for two is this: to lift 500 tonnes
of water 24 metres up, you need a minimum of 32 kilowatt-hours of power. That’s about
what an average British house uses in three days, or an average American house in one
day. And that’s before friction, that’s just the potential energy you need to put into
the system to raise it up that far. But: if you’re also having the same weight of water
descend at the same rate, at the same time, then you’re not adding any potential energy
at all. On average, nothing is going up or down. You’re just getting a really heavy thing
moving, and then stopping it again. Because of that, this wheel only needs one and a half
kilowatt-hours for one lift: less than a twentieth of what it’d need otherwise. There are even some boat lifts in the world
powered entirely by gravity, where local conditions and the architecture permit it: you just fill
the top one with a bit more water, let it go, and then apply the brakes when you need
to. Bit tricky with something that’s as fancy as this though. It has to be massively reinforced,
there is an incredible amount of momentum there. And here’s the really clever bit: remember
Archimedes’ principle, the Greek bloke with the bathtub. A floating object displaces an
amount of water equal to its weight. An object that sinks, sure, that displaces equal to
volume, but a floating object like a boat displaces water equal to its weight. When
they’re full of water, those caissons weigh about 500 tonnes. You add ten tons of floating
boat into one of them, then ten tons of water flows out into the canal. Which means this is balanced no matter how
much is actually floating in it. [Translating these subtitles? Add your name here!]

100 thoughts on “Archimedes and a Boat Lift: the Falkirk Wheel”

  1. Steampunk VaporyLounge says:

    Lovely subject, fascinating. What I love more is how short, sweet and to the point this video was. Less than 3 minutes and I have everything I ever wanted out of this and more. THANK YOU!

  2. 0virus00 says:

    Hi Tom
    We are on a trip through scotland right now and because of your video we took a trip on a boat passing the Falkirk Wheel. For an Engeneer this was an absolute blast.

    Keep on making these amasing videos.


  3. WilliamAncich says:

    Ah yes, the Greek bloke with the bathtub. I also like the Italian guy with a telescope and the English dude with the falling apple.

  4. Markus Poremba says:

    I love love love short informative videos

  5. jolo jones says:

    By £8.6 million from the European Regional Development Fund.

  6. wulkanat says:

    Uhm, actually, the same principle is used in other Boatlifts too. Maybe not the designer solution as there, but for example the "Schiffshebewerk" in Niederfinow, Germany is based on the same principle, only that it uses concrete weights on the other side to balance it out.

  7. Piano tile Master says:

    I’ve been on this

  8. Kandela Brown says:

    Eh. Too slow. Needs 6Kwh motor.

  9. TheAero1221 says:

    Bruh, some desktop computers draw 1.5kW… and that can power this lift?!

  10. Isaac Aren says:

    Saw this on the front of a science textbook

  11. Alex Paulsen says:

    1 1/2 KWh is 3 e-bike batteries. Those little black bricks that power a relatively lightweight and small bicycle around…

    A Tesla Model S has up to 100Kwh and only weighs 2 1/2 tonne or so… go figure.

  12. Alex says:

    Wow great job with explaining!

  13. Darrin Donze says:

    You need 32 Kwh, not 32 Kw. Kw is a measurement of power, Kwh is energy.

  14. Iraq says:

    Most of the time I am a troll on YouTube but this is very interesting 👍🏻

  15. Adolf Galand says:

    Does my poop displace water in the toilet bowel

  16. Billy Highfill says:

    Wow. Genius. Thank you!!!

  17. davido117 says:

    ive been there

  18. Foreign Name says:

    Talk talk talk talk but no illustration or any pointer.

  19. The Other Side says:

    I want to understand this structure well. This video is too short.

  20. Doran Martell says:

    0:45 ROASTED

  21. tyrone boboo says:

    not industrial design, but civil engineering!!!!

  22. dungoist says:

    0:50 finds a way to take a dig at Americans. Still cant get over the fact that they wanted nothing to do with your faggy little circle jerk commonwealth? Awww.

  23. Daniel says:

    Nice! I understand.

  24. DigitalYojimbo says:

    well in theory they could generate electricity, it's just a matter of balance or imbalance; allow some of the water to drain from the bottom carrier while going up.

  25. Your friendly Neighborhood Dealer says:

    20 logs? Tf speak English

  26. Shiwunan Cheng says:

    Thanos approves

  27. Chris Newman says:

    Our average daily KWH usage is 14.2.

  28. RED says:

    Been there twice, never realised how cool it actually is

  29. Justice Warrior says:

    I never seen such a such amount of money spent on a useless pathetic thing!!

  30. Alex Kent says:

    Perfectly balanced how all things should be

  31. J K says:

    Is there a law in Britain that they all must take pot shots at Americans?

  32. Saosaq Ii says:

    All I see is an fidget spinner that can carry boats

  33. Man Ransom says:

    Trust the Scottish to build something so awesome in the middle of nowhere.

  34. Sam King says:

    Bless those amazing Scottish engineers!

  35. Haymaker ubettalookout says:

    No such thing as gravity whiteeey

  36. fire304 says:

    Mind blown!

  37. AGMT says:

    "[…] Kilowatt-hours of power"

    Naughty naughty, using a unit of energy in the context of power? Someone skipped physics

  38. groMMit1981 says:

    wow that's cool

  39. maggs131 says:

    Oh thank god the british people are here to save the earth from disgusting wasteful Americans

  40. pacnite says:

    5 minute drive from my house

  41. Jagor Jurekovic says:

    Thats what an avarage british house uses in 3 days or what an american house uses in 1 😂

  42. 3ds max says:

    Sooo it takes 6 hours to move……..

  43. EL SCIENCE says:

    No video of you taking a ride through it?

  44. Dirk Diggler says:


  45. kevin g says:

    I love your videos, you remind me of data from Star trek, as a compliment.

  46. stephen wedderburn says:

    That's not far fae Edinburgh and it's an amazing bit of engineering, Scotland is a great place to be! 🤗🤗🤗🤗🤗🤗🤗🤗🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

  47. Christian O. Holz says:

    it uses the same principle as an elevator

  48. penguinista says:

    Maybe they could dump water from the bottom bathtub as they begin slowing it down and then dump the same volume of water from the top one as it comes to a stop. Gravity assisted braking.

  49. Lunch says:

    Less time talking, more time showing the boat lift in action

  50. double00shotgun says:

    Them American sure do use alot of electricity

  51. Yo Mama says:

    My brain hurts

  52. Grainne Gowen says:

    You learn something new everyday

  53. Texas Jack says:

    And it will pay for itself by A.D. 3256. Brilliant.

  54. Andrew Steffen says:


  55. red Buoy says:

    We learnt about Mrs Archimedes at school, I forget her name.

  56. spiddyman007 says:

    I’m proud to be an American

  57. Darren Starr says:

    That was a great video very succinct well-prepared and interesting. Thank you very much from a new subscriber

  58. JackforUltimate says:

    I remember seeing this thing on some CBeebies show

  59. Carl Trotter says:

    I live like 10 miles away from this, never knew it was so impressive.

  60. Callyn says:

    Wtf i live here

  61. Georgy Boy says:

    Only works on a flat earth 🌎😂water cannot bend over hills it simply only lays flat. Or please do prove otherwise
    P. S gravity is a theory so don't use that nonsense

  62. Baz Robb says:

    Went there once very enlightening .

  63. Bill Hopen says:

    horrid subtitles block half the screen

  64. D S W says:

    It's impressive but booooooring as hell… The ride i mean.

  65. Mike Oudt says:


  66. Nemo Krada says:

    Americans use more electricity because they're more technologically advanced and have more money. I wish I lived there instead of the UK.

  67. Itaperuna CoH says:

    i've been there in november 2018.

  68. Luke Busby says:

    Fascinating… shame this is so badly filmed. Not very clear at all how it works…

  69. Simply Human says:

    Amazing. Let's apply that kind of creativity to solving/preventing global warming.

  70. Pharking Angry says:

    I've got one of these at my place.

  71. Cornelius Tacitus says:

    Seems inefficient.

  72. Itsya Boy says:

    Dont want to know the production costs

  73. hombre1968 says:

    What if my ex girlfriend jumps from the boat when it's at the top ? That will displace 20 tons.

  74. So Fly says:

    Learned something new! Oh those Brits such clever Bloks

  75. louis Lauzet says:

    I struggle to see how this structure would make economic sense

  76. 匿名P4tr1k says:

    This guy looks exactly how a young tom hanks, its almost creepy

  77. Mike Eugonim says:

    People can be so smart! Wow

  78. Ex Essex says:

    Coulda mighta shown it in action?

  79. Merryoldsole says:

    Hooray for science my good peops!

  80. frank white says:

    Coolest ever

  81. SomeThrillingHeroics says:

    I guess I'm very late to the party here, but for another world-unique feat of engineering on the British canals, are you aware of the Barton Swing Aqueduct?

  82. CS: GOPNIK says:

    I've been on the Archimedes 3 times, amazing holiday, love Falkirk, great escape room in Falkirk.

  83. dominic williamson says:

    Shot fired at :52

  84. Michael Davies says:

    I live in walking distance to this thing

  85. Filipolis says:

    "Perfectly balanced, as all things should be"

  86. Mark Turner says:

    Ahh flerfs would love this – water finding it's own level….

  87. Saiki K. says:

    Railgun to save earth

  88. Idris Rees says:

    I've been there and it was epic

  89. Tiny Reid says:

    Very cool tom

  90. Jwd1 says:

    Dat guy look like

    isac newton

  91. ZACHARY FRENCH says:

    When I read the title I thought it was a giant archemedian screw

  92. Hand Solo says:

    The kW/h is not a measure of power, it's a measure of energy. Your script writer needs a foot in the arse.

  93. BiG LuLz says:

    Recommended in 2019 anyone? 🤔

  94. Dreaming Dreamer says:

    I have to say this is an extremely cool engineering feat! I am in awe of the people who have the kind of brains to figure this stuff out!

  95. psammiad says:

    Why do Americans use three times the water that British people do?! I know Americans produce three times the rubbish we do!

  96. Nomecla Absorber says:

    Tom please go easy on us Americans

  97. Silent Human says:

    Damn, Americans use a lot of electric in one day 0-0

  98. TooManyChoices1 says:

    Love it 😊 ‼️More of these videos ‼️

  99. Driveway Developments says:

    I literally heard my brain fart at the end of this video

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