Panama Canal Data for Current Operations

Overview of the canal1

The Panama Canal and its locks cover a route of about 80km between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. An artificial lake called Gatun Lake sits in the middle of the canal at 26 meters above sea level. As a result, three locks are needed to raise ships to lake level and three more to lower ships to sea level.

Panama Canal Structure

Path and locks of the Panama Canal

Ships pass through the Gatun Locks on the Atlantic side of the canal and the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks on the Pacific side. Due to the increasing volume of traffic and size of ships, the canal was expanded, opening on June 26, 2016, and consisting of the Agua Clara Locks on the Atlantic side and the Cocoli Locks on the Pacific side. The original locks have a two-lane configuration whereas the new, expanded locks have one lane. Consequently, the original locks are called numbers one and two and the new locks are number three.

Size of Panama Canal locks: number 1, 2 and 3

The Panama Canal today2

1) Number of ships and tolls

Every year, approximately 13,000 to 14,000 ships transit the Panama Canal. This traffic generates annual tolls and other fees of about $2.6 billion. After adding other revenue associated with the canal, total canal revenue in 2020 was $3.4 billion.

Number of ships and tolls3

2) Ship and cargo categories (only ocean-going vessels)

Dry bulk carriers rank first in terms of the number of cargo ships however, containerships rank first based on the Panama Canal Universe Measuring System (PC/UMS), which is the canal’s own system for determining tolls. The reason is that the increasing size of containerships, as outlined in section 3, has caused a significant increase in demand for the use of the new Panama Canal by neo-Panamax containerships, which are too large to transit the original Panama Canal.

Tonnage measurement (PC/UMS): The Panama Canal Universal Measurement System (PC/UMS) is used to measure tonnage (in millions of tons) for determining canal transit tolls.4

Neo-Panamax ships (transits of the new Panama Canal in 2020)

Transits of the new canal account for 55% (1,408 ships) of all containership transits in the above table . Furthermore, there were 419 LNG carrier transits in 2020 and 406 (97%) of these ships used the new canal. The addition of the new canal was a very important event with respect to the creation of a new business model for trade in which containerships and LNG carriers travel back and forth between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Neo-Panamax ships_transits of the new Panama Canal in 20205

Origin and destination of cargo (top 10 in 2020)

By far the largest volume of cargo passing through the Panama Canal is cargo originating in the United States that is subsequently transshipped for deliveries to final destinations in other countries. This list also includes countries in Asia and South America.

Origin and destination of cargo_top 10 in 20206



1Embassy of Panama in Japan

2The figures used in section 2 were prepared by the author of this document based on data of the Panama Canal Authority.





Captain Hiroshi Sekine

Senior Loss Prevention Executive