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, as opposed to a barge canal intended to carry barges and other vessels specifically designed for river and/or canal navigation. Because of the constraints of accommodating vessels capable of navigating large bodies of open water, a ship canal typically offers deeper water and higher bridge clearances than a barge canal of similar vessel length and width constraints.

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.

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.[1]

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.

In the modern era, canals in the UK are typically associated with the Duke of Bridgewater, who hired the engineer James Brindley and had the first canal built that ran over a flowing river.[2]

In the USA, 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.[3] 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 inaccesible to canals. These features include locks, which allow a ship to move between different altitudes, and puddling, which waterproofed the canal.[2]

Important ship canals

Canal Length Lock depth Dimensions Location Notes
White Sea – Baltic Canal227 km (141 mi)3.5 m (11 ft)135 m × 14.3 m × 3.5 m Russia
  • Opened in 1933, is partly a canalised river, partly an artificial canal, and partly some natural lakes.
  • Shallow depth limits modern vessels from using the canal.
Rhine-Main-Danube Canal171 km (106 mi)4 m (13 ft)190 m x 11.45 m x 4 m Germany
Suez Canal193.30 km (120.11 mi)No locks, but 24 m (79 ft) deep.205 m (673 ft) wide Egypt
Volga-Don Canal101 km (63 mi)3.5 m (11 ft)140 m x 16.7 m x 3.5 m Russia
Kiel Canal98 km (61 mi)14 m (46 ft)310 m x 42 m x 14 m Germany
Houston Ship Channel80 km (50 mi)14 m (46 ft)161 m (528 ft) wide United States
Panama Canal77 km (48 mi)25.9 m (85 ft)
Original locks:
320 m x 33.53 m x 12.56 m
Third set of locks:
426.72 m x 54.86 m x 18.29 m
  • Opened in 1914 with two sets of locks; larger third set opened in 2016.
  • Links the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, creating a shortcut.
Danube-Black Sea Canal64.4 km (40.0 mi)5.5 m (18 ft)138 m x 16.8 m x 5.5 m Romania
Manchester Ship Canal58 km (36 mi)8.78 m (28.8 ft)170.68 m x 21.94 m x 8.78 m United Kingdom
Welland Canal43.4 km (27.0 mi)8.2 m (27 ft)225.5 m x 23.8 m x 8.2 m Canada
Saint Lawrence Seaway600 km (370 mi)8.2 m (27 ft)225.5 m x 23.8 m x 8.2 m Canada
 United States

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:[4][5]

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[4]
Class Va1,500–3,0002.5–2.895–11011.45.2–7.0–9.1Large Rhine[4]
Class VIb6,400–12,0003.9140159.1[4]
Class VII14,500–27,0002.5–4.5275–28533.0–34.29.1[4]

See also


  1. "History of canals in Great Britain". Retrieved 2018-10-30.
  2. "Canals 1750 to 1900 - History Learning Site". History Learning Site. Retrieved 2018-10-30.
  3. "The Canal Era []". Retrieved 2018-10-30.
  4. "European Agreement on the main Inland Waterways of international importance (AGN)" (PDF). 2072, I-35939. United Nations: 343. Retrieved 2008-11-30. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. previous ref apparently broken (May 2016): alternative reference to document with the same name containing similar tabular information at
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