How Long Does It Take to Sail Through the Panama Canal?

Sailing through the Panama Canal is a unique experience for any sailor or traveler. This engineering marvel connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, making it a crucial route for international shipping.

But how long does it take to sail through the canal? Let’s find out.

The Length of the Canal
The Panama Canal is approximately 50 miles long and takes around 8-10 hours to navigate from one end to the other. The time taken for a ship to sail through the canal depends on various factors like its size, speed, and the amount of traffic at that time.

The Lock System
One of the most fascinating features of the Panama Canal is its lock system. The canal has three sets of locks – Miraflores, Pedro Miguel, and Gatun locks – that help lift ships up to 85 feet above sea level and back down again. Ships enter each lock chamber and are secured in place while water is pumped in or out to raise or lower them.

Transiting Time
The total time taken by a ship to sail through the canal includes waiting times, transit times, and inspection times. The waiting time depends on how many ships are ahead in line, while transit time varies depending on ship size and speed.

  • Small vessels (less than 100 feet) can pass through in about four hours.
  • Medium-sized vessels (between 100-900 feet) take about eight hours.
  • Large vessels (more than 900 feet) can take up to 12 hours.

The Booking Process
Ships must book their passage through the canal in advance since only a limited number of ships can pass every day. The booking process involves filling out forms, submitting documents such as ship registration papers and insurance certificates, and paying fees based on the ship’s size and type.


In summary, the total time taken for a ship to sail through the Panama Canal depends on various factors. Small vessels can pass through in about four hours while large vessels can take up to 12 hours.

The waiting time also affects the total transit time. However, sailing through the canal is a unique experience that every sailor or traveler should have at least once in their lifetime.

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Michael Allen