The Panama Canal

The 48 mile-long international waterway known as the Panama Canal allows ships to pass between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, saving about 8000 miles from a journey around the tip of South America at Cape Horn.


Operation of the Panama Canal

The canal has made the trip from the east coast to the west coast of the U.S. much shorter than the route around Cape horn at the tip of South America prior to 1914. Today many oil supertankers and military battleships and aircraft carriers can not fit through the canal. There’s even a class of ships known as “Panamax,” those built to the maximum capacity of the Panama canal and its locks.

It takes approximately about hours to traverse the canal through its set of three locks, about half the time is spent waiting due to traffic. Ships passing through the canal from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean actually move from the northwest to the southeast, due to the east-west orientation of the Isthmus of Panama.


Panama Canal Expansion

In 2007 work began on a $5.2 billion project to expand the Panama Canal. It’s expected to be complete in 2014, the Panama Canal expansion project will allow ships double the size of current Panamax to pass through the canal, dramatically increasing the amount of goods that can pass through the canal.