Transit Operations


The tolls are the fees paid by the ship to use the Canal.  These are determined by ship measurement parameters or by its container carrying capacity, depending of the type. Tolls differ based on the type of market (type of vessel) and cargo condition (if ballast or laden).

The tonnage measurement system used in the Canal is known as Panama Canal Universal Measurement System (PC/UMS), following the rules of the 1969 International Convention on Tonnage Measurement of Ships. To determine net Canal tonnage, this system applies a mathematical formula for the measurement of total ship volume.  A net Panama Canal ton is equivalent to 100 cubic feet of volumetric capacity.  The appropriate rate is applied depending on whether the ship is laden or in ballast (empty). (See Tolls table).


Marine Services

The marine services are a variety of transit-related and complementary services that supports the canal transit of a vessel. Transit-related services are tug assistance, line handlers and locomotive service.  Admeasurement, pilotage, vessel inspection, channel usage, among others are complementary-related services.

Some of the marine services are compulsory for all vessels transiting the waterway, and some others are based on the ship’s dimensions, such as tug services.  Pilotage, channel usage, launch and admeasurement are marine services applicable only upon vessel’s requirement or request, and it is not necessarily for every case that the ship arrives to the canal.

A more detailed list and cost of these marine services are accessible at

Booking Module

The Panama Canal has a transit reservation system that allows vessels to reserve (book) in advance a particular date for transit for an additional charge.  Under normal conditions, the canal offers every day 17 reservation slots for vessels with beam greater than or equal to 91 feet (known as Super vessels), 8 reservation slots for vessels with beam less than 91 feet (known as Regular vessels), and one slot is offered through an internet auction for vessels of any size.

The Panama Canal offers a daily throughput capacity of about 70%.  Those vessels that hold a reservation slot receive a premium transiting service bypassing the waiting queue.  Vessels that do not hold reservation slots have to wait in queues at both ends of the Canal.  The traffic is managed in a “first comes, first go” system, according to vessel restrictions.

The Panama Canal is committed to booked vessels securing that:

  • It must begin its transit on the day of its reservation
  • The time interval between arrival to the first lock and departure from the last lock should not exceed 18 hours.

If these conditions are not met, the booking fee is not charged.

Scheduling of Canal Traffic: Semiconvoy system

In order to maximize the utilization of the waterway, the Canal establishes a scheduling process for the passage of vessels by using a semiconvoy system .  This system allows that a maximum number of transits are achieved each day maintaining the safety of the operations, and minimizes the impact of transit restrictions such as clearcut and daylight transits.  For the scheduling process, several elements are taken in consideration: dimensions of the vessels, type of vessel and/or its cargo, and other special requirements.

           Source:  Georgia Tech Panama Logistics Innovation and Research Center

Generally, the semiconvoy strategy operates as follows:

  • Two set of convoys are coordinated to depart in two different schedules:  early morning for Large vessels and early evening for Regular vessels .  Both shifts are organized based in the same scheduled manner.  The most critical transits are for the Large vessels due to their sizes and restrictions throughout the route.
  • A northbound  convoy commences its transit early in the morning. At the same time, a similar southbound  convoy of vessels transits through the Gatun locks and wait at the Gatun anchorage until the northbound convoy clears the cut. Gaillard Cut is one of the main restrictions; therefore most of the large vessels need to transit the Cut in a special condition known as clearcut daylight (CCDL) .
  • The southbound convoy is scheduled to enter the Cut when the last northbound vessel clears it.
  • As the southbound convoy transits the Cut and reaches Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks, the northbound convoy completes their transit through the Gatun locks heading to the Atlantic Ocean.
  • The next shift of regular (smaller) vessels begins the same routine.

Changes in the transit pattern and schedule are highly dependent on the day’s condition (e.g. restricted visibility due to weather) and the number of CCDL northbound and southbound vessels. For each day, the Panama Canal completes a detailed scheduling process.


Transit Restrictions

The scheduling of transits through the Canal takes into account the specific restrictions applicable to each vessel. Restrictions refer to special limitations applied to a vessel as it transits  and are based on the vessel’s physical dimensions, the type of vessel and/or its cargo.  By complying with these restrictions, the Canal ensures the safety of transit operations at all times.

The most typical restrictions considered for a canal transit are:

  • Clearcut (CC): this indicates that a vessel cannot meet another vessel in Gaillard Cut. This restriction applies generally to vessels with beams greater or equal to 91ft.
  • Clearcut daylight (CCDL): a vessel cannot meet another vessel in Gaillard Cut and can only be in this passage during daylight. (Some CCDL vessels can be scheduled in the Cut in hours of darkness.  This is decided on a case-by-case basis by the Canal Port Captain.
  • Daylight transit (DL): a vessel cannot transit the locks or the Cut in the dark.
  • Complete daylight transit: A complete daylight transit vessel must make its transit from anchorage to anchorage in the daylight. If it is caught in the Canal at night, it must tie up or anchor.
  • Channel restrictions: certain vessels are not allowed to meet other vessels in certain parts of the channel if their combined beam exceeds often 51.8 or 54.9 m (170 or 180 ft), depending on the vessels and the section of the channel.

The Gaillard Cut and many other navigation channels have been widened throughout the years to allow for greater operational flexibility while maintaining safe transits. 

Characteristics Restrictions Tug Requirements
Length Beam

Clear Channel

Daylight Transit Daylight in Cut Clear Cut 800' Tandem Limit 800' (10) Handline Limit Locks Cut
In Out
900' & Over Any Yes (11/12) Yes Yes Yes - - 2 1 1
700' & Over - - - - - Yes 2 0 (1) 0 (3)
Any 100' & Over Yes Yes (8/9) Yes (5) Yes Yes Yes 2 0 (1) 1
95.0 - 99.99' Yes (11/12) Yes (8/9) Yes (5) Yes Yes Yes 2 (1) 1
91.0 - 94.99' Yes (11/12) Yes (8/9) Yes (5) Yes (7) Yes Yes 2 0 1
85.0 - 90.99 No No No No (6) Yes Yes 1 (2) 0 (3)
80.0 - 84.99' No No No No (6) Yes Yes 1 0 (3)
570' & Over 75.0 - 79.99' No No No No Yes Yes 1 0 0
Under 75.0' No No No No Yes Yes 1 0 0
Under 570' 75.0 - 79.99' No No No No Yes Yes 0 (4) 0 0
Under 75.0' No No No No Yes Yes (4) 0 0


  • (1) Tug out on Pilot request when laden, except out of Gatun southbound.
  • (2) Two tugs into Pedro Miguel southbound if beam is 87' or over.
  • (3) Tug in cut if mean draft is 64' or more.
  • (4) No tugs unless maximum authorized displacement is 25,000 tons or more when authorized by the Canal Operations Captain for specific vessels.
  • (5) Select vessels identified as complying with established criteria may be scheduled or permitted to pass the Cut during the hours of darkness.
  • (6) Clearcut at night if deep draft exceeds 38' and vessel has no other transit restrictions.
  • (7) Clearcut at night and clearcut during daylight if combined beams exceed 170'.
  • (8) Except when qualified for night transit using high mast lighting.
  • (9) In the event of schedule deterioration, the Canal Operations Captain may permit vessels to arrive at the last locks in daylight and clear in darkness.
  • (10) Commercial handline craft and tandem limited to 750' overall length.  ACP handline craft and single vessels limited to 850'; ACP handline craft and tandem limited to 800' overall length.  Commercial handline craft and single vessels limited to 800'.
  • (11) From Gatun Locks to Atlantic Channel Buoys 12 and 13 if combined beams exceed 180' and maximum draft of vessel is over 32' tropical saltwater.
  • (12) Vessels 900' and over, clear channel from Gatun Locks to Atlantic Channel Buoys 12 and 13.

Source: Panama Canal


The transit restrictions described above are for educational purposes only. The Panama Canal has a more detailed and updated list of restrictions which is provided to all users. For the complete list of restrictions, please refer to the Panama Canal Authority website.