panama canal shipping 2

The Panama Canal: Will You Need Just-in-Time Arrival?

March 16, 2017

With continually increasing traffic at the Panama Canal, vessels that can plan ahead and optimize their arrival time avoid long wait times and hefty fees associated with missing a requested ETA. Learn how taking weather, currents and other factors into account can provide you with a 'just-in-time arrival' — getting there exactly when you want to.

panama canao construction

Construction of the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal is one of mankind’s great achievements, as it was created in a time when such construction projects relied greatly on manpower rather than mechanical capability. Over the 30 years it took to complete, more than 22,000 workers lost their lives due to disease and accidents. The original canal was officially opened on August 15, 1914 with the passage of the cargo ship SS Ancon. 

As a waterway, the Panama Canal continues to be developed and today can accept "Panamax" sized vessels that fit into the available locks at either end of the canal. These Panamax vessels come with maximum dimensions of Length 294.13M, Beam 32.31M and a Draft 12.04M.

A third new set of locks, opened in 2016, increase maximum vessel capability to Length 366M, Beam 49M and Draft 15.2M. In terms of container vessel capacity, this will see vessel size increase up to between 13,000 and 14,000 TEU — double the average size of container vessels transiting the canal previously.

This has greatly increased vessel traffic at the Panama Canal, bringing into view a need for just-in-time arrival services. Achieving the required arrival time is not the hard part — simply sailing at a high speed and arriving with plenty of time to spare can achieve this. The tricky part is optimizing the arrival time to achieve a ‘Just-in-Time’ arrival while consuming the least amount of fuel, thereby optimizing the efficiency of the vessel.

It is only with access to long-range, accurate weather, sea and current data combined with in-depth vessel performance criteria that such services can be achieved in a timely and cost-effective manner. Not only can StormGeo have the vessel arrive in time at the canal, thereby ensuring there is no cancellation fee to be paid, but can also ensure the vessel arrives using the minimum amount of fuel.

The Panama Canal Authority operates a booking system where companies can book a transit time in the canal for their vessel up to 365 days in advance. This system implements a sliding scale of costs that increase closer to the desired time of transit. The number of transits that can be booked are severely restricted, so that if there is no booking, vessels will be allowed through the canal on a first come first served basis.

The number of vessels waiting to transit is dependent not just on the number of vessels waiting, but can also be influenced by the weather conditions and canal maintenance. It is therefore vital that arriving vessels meet any booked transit slots, as a cancelled slot can result in costs between hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

StormGeo has been providing Route Advice Services for more than 20 years and often assist vessels in achieving a specific required time of arrival. If the required time is not met, heavy penalties will result. Our ship route planners take into account weather patterns, forecasts, currents and numerous other operational and environmental factors to provide captains and fleet managers with speed-setting guidance along an optimum route in order to safely and efficiently achieve the desired ETA.

Learn more about StormGeo Routing, ETA Service and see how we can help you meet your fixed arrival time at the Panama Canal.