Why does the Panama Canal have locks?

The Panama Canal locks are a series of water “steps” which lift ships 85 feet above sea level, and then lower them back down to the ocean at the other end of the canal.

The Panama Canal is a kind of water “stairway” that crosses the isthmus of Panama and connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.


A series of locks, or water-filled chambers, raise and lower ship enters a lock from the Atlantic side, huge gates close behind it and water is let in.  The ship is raised till it floats at the same level as the next-higher lock.  Then the gates are opened and the ship is pulled to the next locks, and so on.

The licks raise the ship a 28-foot step at a time up to 85 feet above sea level.  When the ship reaches the upper lock, it sails across a large lake, which supplies water for the locks.  Locks on the Pacific side lower the ship to sea level.

Before this shortcut was built, ships had to sail around the tip of South America, a journey of thousands of miles.  A ship can pass through the 50-mile canal in just hours, instead of taking many days for the longer route.–Dick Rogers

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