Panama Canal Locks

The Panama Canal is a 77 kilometer ship canal that extends across the Isthmus of Panama and joins the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. The canal cuts across the lowest point in the continental divide and also through one of the narrowest points between the two oceans.

The Panama Canal was one of the biggest and most difficult engineering projects to ever be undertaken and has had a huge impact on international shipping. The canal is a much better alternative to the long, perilous route through Drake Passage and Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America.

The Panama Canal Locks

The Panama Canal Locks are able to lift ships up to 25.9 meters (85 feet), right to the level of the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal Locks are an engineering marvel, especially considering they were constructed between 1904 and 1914. In fact, no other concrete structure of a comparable size had been ever undertaken until the building of the Hoover Dam in 1930.

Along the length of the Panama Canal are three sets of locks named Gatun, Pedro Miguel and Miraflores. The Gatun set of locks is the largest of them and boasts two parallel sets of locks, each of which consists of three flights. This set of Panama Canal Locks are constructed in excess of 1.53 million cubic meters of concrete, the majority of which came from the excavated rock at Culebra.

The Gatun locks were initially designed to be 28.5 meters wide. However, in 1908 the United States Navy requested the width be increased to 36 meters to allow for the passage of US naval vessels. As a compromise, the locks were finally constructed with a width of 33 meters.

Each one of the locks is 300 meters long and the walls range in thickness from 15 meters at the base to three meters at the top. Between the parallel locks of Gatun lies a central wall with a thickness of 18 meters and height of 24 meters. The lock gates are constructed out of steel and on average are two meters thick, 19.5 meters in length, and 20 meters in height.

The Pedro Miguel set of locks are the smallest of the Panama Canal Locks and have only one flight that raises or lowers ships 10 meters. In comparison, the Miraflores locks have two flights that raise or lower by 16.5 meters.

The single flight of locks at Pedro Miguel, as well as the twin flights at Miraflores, are constructed and operated on the same lines as the Gatun locks, though each has different dimensions.

The total length of the Panama Canal Lock structures is over three kilometers, including the approach walls.