Ship canal

A ship canal is a canal especially intended to accommodate ships used on the oceans, seas, or lakes to which it is connected.[1]

The Panama Canal, a shortcut from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea, bypassing a circumnavigation of the Americas
The Suez Canal, a shortcut from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, bypassing a circumnavigation of Africa


Ship canals can be distinguished from barge canals, which are intended to carry barges and other vessels specifically designed for river and/or canal navigation. Ships capable of navigating large bodies of open water typically have more draft, and are higher above the water than vessels for inland navigation. A ship canal therefore typically offers deeper water and higher bridge clearances than a barge canal suitable for vessels of similar length and width constraints.[2]

Ship canals may be specially constructed from the start to accommodate ships, or less frequently they may be enlarged barge canals or canalized or channelized rivers. There are no specific minimum dimensions for ship canals, with the size being largely dictated by the size of ships in use nearby at the time of construction or enlargement.[3]

Ship canals may be constructed for a number of reasons, including:

  1. To create a shortcut and avoid lengthy detours.
  2. To create a navigable shipping link between two land-locked seas or lakes.
  3. To provide inland cities with a direct shipping link to the sea.
  4. To provide an economical alternative to other options.


Early canals were connected with natural rivers, either as short extensions or improvements to them.[4]

One of the first canals built was the Grand Canal of China, which was developed over a long period starting in the 5th century BCE.[5] In the modern era, canals in the United Kingdom are typically associated with the Duke of Bridgewater, who hired the engineer James Brindley and had the first canal (the Bridgewater Canal) built that ran over a flowing river.[6]

In the United States, the canal that brought about an age of canal building was the Erie Canal. It was a long-sought-after canal and connected the Great Lakes to the Hudson River.[7] This canal initiated a half-century-long boom of canal building and brought about many new features that allowed canals to be used in different areas previously inaccessible to canals. These features include locks, which allow a ship to move between different altitudes, and puddling, which waterproofed the canal.[6]

Notable ship canals

Canal name Year
Length Maximum boat length
x beam x draft (m)
Start point End point
White Sea–Baltic Canal1933227 km (141 mi)443 x 47 x 4 Russia: Lake OnegaBaltic Sea in Saint Petersburg
Rhine-Main-Danube Canal1992171 km (106 mi)190 x 11 x 4 Germany: Main at BambergDanube at Kelheim
Suez Canal1869193.3 km (120.1 mi)Unlimited x 78 x 20 Egypt: Port SaidPort Tewfik
Volga-Don Canal1952101 km (63 mi)141 x 17 x 4 Russia: VolgogradTsimlyansk Reservoir
Kiel Canal189598 km (61 mi)310 x 42 x 14 Germany: BrunsbüttelKiel
Houston Ship Channel191480 km (50 mi)305 x 161 x 14 United States: HoustonGulf of Mexico
Panama Canal191477 km (48 mi)366 x 49 x 15 Panama: Caribbean SeaPacific Ocean
Danube-Black Sea Canal198464.4 km (40.0 mi)138 x 17 x 6 Romania: Danube at CernavodăBlack Sea at Agigea
Manchester Ship Canal189458 km (36 mi)183 x 20 x 9 United Kingdom: Eastham LocksSalford Quays
Welland Canal193243.4 km (27.0 mi)226 x 24 x 8 Canada: Lake Ontario at Port WellerLake Erie at Port Colborne
Saint Lawrence Seaway1959600 km (370 mi)226 x 24 x 8 Canada: Port Colborne Canada: Montreal

The standard used in the European Union for classifying the navigability of inland waterways is the European Agreement on Main Inland Waterways of International Importance (AGN) of 1996, adopted by The Inland Transport Committee of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), which defines the following classes:[8][9]

ClassTonnage (t)Draught (m)Length (m)Width (m)Air draught (m)Description
Class III1,000
Class IV1,000–1,5002.580–859.55.2–7.0Johann Welker[8]
Class Va1,500–3,0002.5–2.895–11011.45.2–7.0–9.1Large Rhine[8]
Class VIb6,400–12,0003.9140159.1[8]
Class VII14,500–27,0002.5–4.5275–28533.0–34.29.1[8]

See also


  • Frederick Augustus Porter Barnard, Arnold Guyot (1883). Johnson's New Universal Cyclopædia. A. J. Johnson & Company. p. 1160. Retrieved 15 June 2020.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  • Finch, Roy (1925). The Story of the New York State Canals (PDF) (booklet). p. 11. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  • Engineering News and American Railway Journal. Engineering News Publishing Company. 1897. p. 317,320. hdl:2027/uc1.e0000401679. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  • Harrington, L. (1974). The Grand Canal of China. Bailey and Swinfen. p. 11. ISBN 9780561002163. Retrieved 4 July 2020.


  1. Johnson's 1883, p. 1660.
  2. Finch 1925, p. 11.
  3. Engineering News 1897, p. 317,320.
  4. "History of canals in Great Britain". Archived from the original on 8 October 2019. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  5. Harrington 1974, p. 11.
  6. "Canals 1750 to 1900 – History Learning Site". History Learning Site. Archived from the original on 30 October 2018. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  7. "The Canal Era". Archived from the original on 7 March 2016. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  8. "European Agreement on the main Inland Waterways of international importance (AGN)" (PDF). 2072, I-35939. United Nations: 343. Retrieved 30 November 2008. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. "UNECE Homepage". Archived from the original on 15 May 2020. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  • Media related to Canals at Wikimedia Commons
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