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Canal Functioning

The Panama Canal is 50 miles (80 km) long from deep water in the Atlantic to deep water in the Pacific  and runs from northwest to southeast, with the Atlantic side entrance around 33 miles (54 km) North and 27 miles (43 km) west of the pacific mouth.  The straight-line distance between those two point would only be 43 miles (69 km).

A ship takes approximately 8 to 10 hours to pass through Canal while being lifted step by step to a height of 85 feet (26 m.) in three sets of locks - Gatun, Pedro Miguel and Miraflores. Each lock chamber is 110 ft. (33.53 m.) wide and 1,000 ft. (304.8 m.) long.  Most of the trip through the canal is done with nature´s help, as the ships are lifted up by water from sea level to the lake, from where they are lowered to sea level again.  Ships going from the Atlantic to the Pacific approach the Canal through Lemon Bay passing the Cristobal breakwater.  This span is 6 miles (10 km) long and 450 ft. (152 m.) wide and takes you through some sea level mangroves.


Click if you will like to visualize the Canal Profile

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Gatun Locks

Gatun Lake, through which ships travel for 23 miles is one of the largest man-made lakes in the world.  It covers an area of more than 163 square miles (425 km˛) and was formed by an earth dam across the Chagres river.   When navigating the lake you can see scores of small islands, wich really  are the tops of former jungle hills.  The level of the lake is controlled by use of 14 gates in the Gatun  Dam spillway. 
A hydro-electric plant at the dam provides part of the energy needed by the Canal. The operation of the locks consumes a prodigious amount of fresh water.  Each time a ship passes through the waterway, about 52 million gallons of water, mostly from Gatun Lake, must flow into the locks and out to sea.  In all Panama Canal locks, chambers are filled and emptied by gravity, water flowing through a series of 18-feet diameter tunnels allowing the filling and emptying of a chamber in 10 minutes.

The workforce of the Panama Canal Commission is made up of approximately 9,000 U.S. and Panamanian citizens.

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