The Panama Canal Authority places great emphasis on providing world class, reliable services to all its customers.  Amidst current challenges, the authority is taking proactive measures to ensure its competitiveness and operational capacity for today and the future. Chief among these challenges is the critical issue of freshwater availability for both the population’s consumption and the transit of vessels.

Since the previous drought in 2019-2020, the Canal has been implementing procedures to improve water efficiency in its operations while conducting studies to identify long-term solutions to climate variability.  Yet, current severity and its recurrence has no historical precedence.

Accordingly, the Panama Canal is constantly assessing the situation with respect to current and expected reservoir levels to ensure the necessary adjustments in terms of maximum draft, capacity and reservation slots available are duly communicated to clients.

In response to the unpredictable weather patterns and the need to ensure reliable and sustainable service, the authority aims to maintain a draft of 44 feet or 13.41 throughout the remainder of the current year and part of 2024, unless significant changes occur in weather conditions from current projections. Consistent with this draft, during this period, 32 vessels per day will be transiting the Canal, down from an average of 36 in normal circumstances.  It is worth noting that Neopanamax transit capacity will remain largely unchanged at an average of 10 daily transits.

We informed our customers that effective August 8, a new Booking Condition, namely Condition 3, came into effect for the utilization of the Panamax locks. It’s important to note that the standard offering of reservations comprises 23 booking slots for these locks. Under Condition 2, in scenarios involving a substantial reduction in capacity (such as lane closures for maintenance), the allocation is reduced to 16 booking slots. Meanwhile, under Condition 3, as currently being implemented, the booking slots are limited to 14 in total (comprising 10 slots for super-sized vessels and 4 slots for regular-sized vessels).  To this day, reservations for the Neopanamax locks remain unaffected.

This adjustment, effective until August 21, 2023, has been introduced to alleviate congestion for ships already in queue to transit or in route, who were unable to secure reservations beforehand.

We’ve had long lineups of ships before. Global events such as climate variability like this year’s, seasonal fog in the Culebra Cut, scheduled maintenance outages, and peak season are the usual causes for increased waiting times.  Despite current limitations and measures taken, demand remains high, hence the increased waiting times.

For the benefit of its customers, the authority emphasizes that those with existing reservations will not be impacted by these temporary measures. It is highly encouraged for customers to reserve ahead of time, as this will ensure a seamless experience.

For permanent updates, please refer to the information provided here: Advisories to Shipping; and for vessel statistics and transit information within the Panama Canal, please refer to the resource available at Vessel Statistics and Transit.

The Panama Canal appreciates the continued support and cooperation of all parties involved as we work collectively to navigate these operational challenges while maintaining acceptable standards of service.

“Communication is a cornerstone of our relationship with customers. Considering changing circumstances, we maintain an open line of communication to keep our customers informed about booking slot availability. Through regular updates, transparent dialogue, and close collaboration with shipping lines and stakeholders, we strive to manage expectations and provide real-time information that enables our customers to make informed decisions”.

Ricaurte Vasquez Morales, Panama Canal Administrator