What determines the quantity of ships in the Panama Canal’s daily programming?

The quantity of vessels that the programming includes are basically a mix of the ships available for transit (types and sizes of the vessels), draft (ships with grater draft require more time in the locks), the Canal conditions (resources and equipment availability), the vessel’s restrictions (if the vessel has to transit on a specific time or the queue). For these reasons the quantity of vessels that cross the Panama Canal varies from day to day.

What determines the order in which the ships begin and end the transit through the Panama Canal?

For the vessels without reservation, the time in which they arrive to the Canal area determines the order between all the vessels without reservation. The vessels with reservation are arranged in a certain way the transit takes the correspondent 18 hours. Also, the ships that have some sort of priority due to international treaties are taken into consideration for the Canal’s daily programming. Once the order is decided, the programmers must arrange the vessels in the best way possible to optimize the Canal’s capacity and resources taking in consideration the time of arrival, the time in which the vessel is ready for transit and the restriction of each individual vessel. For these reasons, the order in which a ship begins its transit may not be the same order in which it ends the transit.

Why does a ship that arrived later than other one can begin transit before the one that was already there?

In general, this happens with ships that have reservation.  The reservations system allows a ship to begin its transit in a specific date without the need to wait in line based on the time of arrival. There are other considerations like the ship’s restrictions or another ship transit.

Why do ships anchor in the Gatun Lake or are tied to the tie-up stations?

Some vessels are restricted to transit only on day hours and/or not have any other vessel coming in the opposite direction in some areas of the Canal. For this reason and to ensure the 18-hours transit for the vessels with reservation, regularly some ships are scheduled to anchor o tie up in different areas of the Canal. The usage of anchorage, buoys and tie-up stations allows a more efficient utilization of the locks, therefore the Canal’s capacity.

The Panama Canal is an inter-oceanic navigation path between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean that crosses Panama in the narrowest part of the Isthmus.

Since its inauguration on August 15, 1914, it has shortened in time and distance marine communications, invigorating the commercial and economic exchange between two oceans due to a short and relatively economic transit, and being a major influence in world commerce patterns, boosting the economic growth of developed, developing countries and other remote areas as well.

In 2012, United States, China, Chile, Japan and South Korea were the top 5 main customers of the Canal

Before its opening, the natural ways that ships used to cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean were the Strait of Magellan and Cape Horn, both located in the southern part of America.