Panamax and New Panamax

Panamax are the mid-sized cargo ships that are capable of passing through the lock chambers of the Panama Canal which are 1,050 ft (320.04 m) in length, 110 ft (33.53 m) in width, and 41.2 ft (12.56 m) in depth. These limits have influenced the ship building companies to build Panamax vessels strictly in accordance with the dimensions (width, length and depth) of the lock chambers and the height of the Bridge of the Americas. A Panamax shouldn’t exceed the dimensional limit of 294,13 m (965 ft) in length, 32,31 m (106 ft) in width and 12,04 m (39.5 ft) draught wise in order to easily and safely fit to the lock chambers and the height of the Bridge of Americas at Balboa. Panamax ships are in operation since the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914.

Ships passing through Panama Canal

In 2009, the Panama Canal Authority published the dimensions for New Panamax. The authority has initiated the construction of the third lane of locks having bigger dimension of 427 m (1400 ft) in length, 55m (180 ft) in width and 18.3 m (60 ft) in depth, in order to accommodate larger ships called New Panamax. The new locks are expected to be operational from 2014. With this the Panama Canal will be equipped to handle large-sized New Panamax vessels with a cargo capacity of up to 13,000 TEU. Currently, Panamax vessels have a cargo capacity of up to 5,000 TEU only. The new bigger locks will also help in reducing the locking time and thus significantly reducing the traffic congestion and the travelling time for ships crossing the Atlantic into the Pacific Ocean and vice versa. The completion of new locks in 2014 is expected to double the tonnage capacity of the Panama Canal.

Ships passing through Panama Canal

New Panamax ships will have a dimension of 366 m (1,200 ft ) in length, 49 m t (160.7 ft) in width and 15.2 m (49.9 ft) in depth. They have been designed strictly in accordance with the dimensions of new locks at the Panama Canal.  Several ship manufacturing companies across the world are already following the new parameters for container ships to match the dimensions of New Panamax. They are also getting large orders for the New Panamax vessels from shipping companies.

Panamax vs. New Panamax
  Panamax New Panamax
Length 294.13 m (965 ft) 366 m (1,200 ft)
Width 32.31 m(106 ft) 49 m (160.7 ft)
Draught 12.04 m (41.2 ft) 15.2 m(49.9 ft)
TEU 5,000 13,000

However, even after the completion of new locks at the Panama Canal in 2014, some of the very large cargo vessels in the category of ULCC and VLCC won't be able to pass through the Panama Canal. Ships in Maersk E and Triple E classes are still too wide to cross the new lock chambers. These ships are categorised as Post Panamax.

Comparison of existing Panama Canal locks and new Panama Canal locks