So, how does the canal function? The Panama Canal functions as a "water bridge," with ships lifted 85 feet (26 meters) above sea level by a succession of locks. Ships crossing from the Atlantic to the Pacific enter the approach channel at Limon Bay, which stretches approximately 11 kilometers to the Gatun Locks. From there, they pass through the first set of locks and emerge into the Pacific Ocean.
The second set of locks carries the ships across the Isthmus of Panama. After passing through both sets of locks, the vessels arrive at their destination, either in the Pacific or the Caribbean. The trip from the Atlantic to the Pacific has been called the "shortest route between New York and San Francisco."
In addition to serving as a water bridge, the canal also provides access to inland waterways that could not otherwise be reached by ship. One such area is Central America, where ports lack depth enough to allow large vessels to dock. The only exception is at Panama's capital city, Panama City, but it can only be accessed by ferry boat.
Another important factor in the canal's success is its history of maintenance and repair. The original canal was built from 1904 to 1914 by the United States under the supervision of John Stevens Henshaw. It was later improved and expanded by the Panamanian government under the direction of Carlos Antonio Guardia and Richard Kilty. In 2010, work on the canal began again after 50 years of absence.
The Panama Canal is a man-made canal that links the Atlantic and Pacific seas across the Panama Isthmus. Panama owns and manages it, and it stretches 40 miles from coast to coast. Ships may pass in either direction, and the journey takes roughly 10 hours.
Built between 1881 and 1914, the canal cuts right through the center of the isthmus, which connects North America to South America. It allows ships to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans without having to go around Cape Horn at the southern end of South America.
Ships can reach their destination by following a route called the Canal Route, which goes through the Panama Canal. This route saves time because it avoids going south of Cape Horn. However, only large vessels can use this route because the canal is too narrow for most cargo ships to fit through.
In addition to shipping, the canal also plays an important role in providing access to markets in North America and abroad. In fact, almost one out of every five containers shipped worldwide passes through the canal.
It's been said that the Panama Canal is so big that even if it were closed, another way would be found around it. But it has been done before, and it will be done again. The world's biggest ship, the SS Titanic, was built with all modern safety features and survived an iceberg in April 1912.
The Panama Canal locks (Spanish: Esclusas del Canal de Panama) are a lock system that raises ships 85 feet (26 metres) to the main elevation of the Panama Canal and then lowers them again. The original canal featured six steps (three up, three down) allowing a ship to pass through. The new canal features only two lifts, one for cargo ships and one for passenger vessels.
The maximum height above sea level for ships entering the Pacific Ocean side of the canal is 9 meters (29 feet). Ships must lower their heights by 9 meters to 7.6 meters (25 feet 10 inches to 26 feet 2 inches), which allows enough room for other vessels to pass. Ships need to raise their heights by 9 meters (29 feet) to reach the Atlantic-side canal from December to March when the water levels are low enough for them to pass.
The maximum height above sea level for ships exiting the canal on the Pacific Ocean side is 9 meters (29 feet). Ships must lower their heights by 9 meters to 5.5 meters (18 feet 3 inches to 6 feet), which allows enough room for other vessels to pass. Exiting ships must also lower their heights by 9 meters (29 feet) to reach the Atlantic-side canal from December to March when the water levels are low enough for them to pass.
The maximum height above sea level for large cargo ships is 42 meters (137 feet). Smaller ships can go higher.
The canal itself is 32 feet (10 m) deep, and it was dug out by hand with only occasional help from mechanical excavators. It was completed in 1914 after more than a decade of work.
The canal's two sets of locks allow large vessels to pass through, while its five swing bridges allow small craft to cross over its channel.
Locks like these were first built for canals in Europe, but they are also found on other waterways around the world, including the Ohio River Valley Waterway, where they form part of the National Historic Landmark District in Kentucky. These locks raise and lower boats between high water levels for canal traffic and low water levels for river navigation.
In addition to their use in the Panama Canal, these same locks could be found raising and lowering merchant ships at both ends of the canal. One set of locks would take ships from the Pacific to the Atlantic, while the other set took ships from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This arrangement allowed ships to pass through the canal in either direction without having to stop.
The canal employs a lock and compartment system with entrance and exit gates. The locks act as water lifts, raising ships from sea level (the Pacific or Atlantic) to the level of Gatun Lake (26 meters above sea level), from whence ships cruise the route over the Continental Divide. The system has nine locks, each about 100 feet wide and 50 feet deep. Each lock carries a vessel by means of an elevator made up of large sluices called "panama doors." As the ship rises through the locks, the panama doors open, allowing seawater to flow into the lock chamber to maintain the proper level of water in the canal.
Lock chambers are closed areas within the canal-lock buildings where the water level is maintained at a constant height. They consist of an outer wall with a door at its end opposite from that which opens into the corridor leading to the next set of locks. This inner door is of special construction; it can be opened from the outside but cannot be closed except from the inside. It is this feature that prevents boats from entering any other than the intended one. The floor of the lock chamber is also made of concrete, laid in heavy blocks. The walls and ceiling are of steel girders connected with cross members. The entire structure stands on tall brick pillars that were originally located near the shore and were brought into the center of town when the locks were constructed. These days, they're used mainly for storage purposes.
The canal is equipped with a water lock mechanism that functions as a large elevator. When ships enter the locks, they are elevated by lake water. Each lock elevates the ships to 85 feet above sea level. They then make their way over Gatun Lake. This part of the canal is 9 miles long and 30 feet wide. Ships can pass through one lock every 30 minutes during peak hours.
There are no locks in Panama City itself. However, there are several bridges across the city river that are only 20 feet wide. These narrow bridges were not built for traffic today; they were designed for paddle-wheel steamboats.
Locks are used in the canal's transportation system to raise or lower vessels down the sides of steep hills or across broad valleys. Locks also provide protection from intruders. The canal uses three types of locks: vertical lift gates, horizontal sliding doors, and vertical turntables. Vessels using these methods must be wider than the gate or door they use because it is impossible to enter some spaces entirely by boat.
Each type of lock has its advantages and disadvantages. Vertical lift gates are the most efficient but they can only be used on vessels up to 40 meters (130 feet) long. Horizontal sliding doors can be used on any vessel but they can only be opened from the top down.