The Panama Canal is a waterway of approximately 80 km (50 miles) that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans across one of the narrowest points of the American Continent.
The Canal uses a system gravity-locks and navigational channels to allow the safe and efficient transit of ocean-going vessels through the Isthmus of Panama. The locks serve as water lifts to raise vessels 26 meters (85 ft) from sea level to the level of Gatun Lake. After sailing through the Continental Divide, vessels are again lowered to sea level on the opposite side of the Canal.
The Canal reduces maritime distances, transit times and costs for vessels transporting goods between major production and consumption points. Because of this, the Canal influences the global transportation system by providing alternative routes between countries looking for more competitive ways to trade among regions.
The Canal represents about 5% of the world seaborne trade, and about 14,000 vessels transit every year this important waterway. Almost eighty five percent of the total oceangoing transits are Panamax type, the remaining are Neopanamax vessels, the largest vessels that the Canal can accommodate. Neopanamax vessels transit the Canal through the third set of locks that includes two additional three steps locks and widening of the Atlantic and Pacific access channels.
The Canal operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year providing transit and other related services to vessels of all nations supported by a work force of approximately 9,000 employees.