Being Led Through the Canal

Under the old lock system at Panama Canal, tugboats’ engagement with ships has been limited to guiding them in open waterways and to the entrance of the locks, where powerful locomotives known as “mules” take over, latching on and keeping the vessels in place as the water level is raised or lowered.

There are no mules in the new locks setup. Instead tugs approach a ship, latch on at both the bow and stern and accompany it inside the 1,400-foot locks. With the lock doors closed on a 1,200-foot New Panamax, there’s little room to operate for the roughly 90-foot tugs positioned both fore and aft.

The shipping vessels run on their own propulsion throughout, and are under the control of a canal pilot who goes on board to steer. Communication between the tugs and the pilot are key.

A tugboat gently guides a large ship through the Aqua Clara Lock, Panama Canal

Being Led

Being Led

Entering the Lock

Entering the Lock

Pulling Away

Pulling Away

Locks on a Hazy Day

We visited the Agua Clara Locks, Panama Canal on a rainy, hazy day but still got fairly good knowledge of how the locks work.

Haze at Aqua Clara Locks

Haze at Aqua Clara Locks

For each of the three chambers in the Agua Clara and Cocoli Locks, there are a total of three water-savings basins, bringing the total to 18 basins for the new locks. Each of the basins is massive, having a surface area equivalent to 25 Olympic-size pools. And each utilizes state-of-the art technology which allows the Canal to reuse 60 percent of the water used per lockage, saving seven percent more than the existing locks do.

Holding Tanks

Water Basins