Panama Canal Fun Facts

The Panama Canal is a lake-and-lock type canal connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Oceans through the Isthmus of Panama, in Central America. Construction began in 1881 and was completed in 1914. Here are some fun facts:

  • The length of the Panama Canal is approximately 51 miles (although some writings list it as 48 miles).
  • It’s nearly 8,000 miles shorter to traverse the Canal than to go around South America. That is a huge savings in fuel and time.
  • Excavation of the Canal was equal to digging a trench 10-feet deep by 55 feet wide from California to New York.
  • The Canal has a series of locks that control the amount of water in the canal and connected reservoirs.
  • There are 12 pairs of locks in the canal and each of the locks fills with 52 million gallons of water to accommodate the nearly 15,000 ships that cross the canal each year.
  • Sea level for the Atlantic and Pacific entrance is virtually the same. But since the tidal variation at the Pacific entrance can be up to 18 feet, a sea level canal would be faced with the problem of a current running northbound when the Pacific tide was high and a current running south bound when the tide was low. Thus a lock system solved the problem.
  • A lock is seven feet thick and each of the movable lock doors weighs 750 tons.
  • Tolls are calculated using the weight and size of the vessel and the cargo on board. The highest toll paid as of July 2011 was set in 2010 when the cruise ship the Norwegian Pearl shell out $375,600. The lowest toll ever paid was 36 cents by Richard Halliburton, who swam the Canal in 1928. His weight was only 150 lbs. Swimming is not recommended these days.
  • Due to the “S” configuration of Panama, the Atlantic entrance to the Canal is 22-1/2 miles west of the Pacific entrance. Hum… probably the only place on earth to see the sun rise in the west and set in the east.
  • In 1963 the Panama Canal for the first time started operating 24 hours a day, thanks to the introduction high mass fluorescent lighting.