One of our stores while on the cruise was to go through the Panama Canal. I’ve visited the Canal while on land and watched ships travel through the canal, however it is different being the one on the ship!

The Panama Canal Locks lift ships up to 85 feet, to the main elevation of the Panama Canal. The total length of the locks structure, including approach walls is nearly 2 miles.

Our approach, to the Gatun Lake locks, looking at the locks from our balcony on the deck 7.

panama canal

 Usually there is a North-South lane and a South-North lane. This morning, both lanes were North-South. You can see the second lane next to us in this photo.


A huge freighter was just ahead of us. Clearance of just over 2′ on each side!


As we passed next to the freighter, we looked down from the deck 10.


A tug boat tagged along and went through the locks after  freighter.

panama canal

The lock chamber closing.


Each lock chamber requires 26.7 million U.S. gallons to fill it from the lowered position to raised; the same amount of water must be drained from the chamber to lower it again.  Embedded in the side and centre walls are three large water culverts, which are used to carry water from the lake into the chambers to raise them, and from each chamber down to the next, or to the sea, to lower them.

The water is moved by gravity, and is controlled by huge valves in the culverts; each cross culvert is independently controlled. A lock chamber can be filled in as little as eight minutes; there is significant turbulence in the lock chamber during this process.


From the beginning Mules have guided the ships through the lock chambers. The mules run on rack tracks. With as little as 2′ of space on each side of a ship, considerable skill is required on the part of the mule operators.