Famous Shipping Canals and the History Behind Them

Image Courtesy: Marinas

Wikipedia defines a shipping canal as follows:

“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 canalised or channelised 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.”

Canals are created and designed for various reasons. These include:

  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

Below is a look at some of the longest shipping canals in the world and why they were built:

1) The biggest shipping canal is the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal. It is the oldest and longest man-made canal in the world –  1,794 kilometers (1,115 miles) long with a history of over 2,500 years, and it starts at Beijing in the north and ends at Hangzhou in the south, running through Tianjin, Hebei Province, Shandong Province, Jiangsu Province and Zhejiang Province along its way. The Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal links five great rivers, the Hai River, the Huai River, the Yangtze River, the Yellow River and the Qiantang River.

Image Courtesy: China Highlights

The Grand Canal was built in 468 BC, and it went through renovations and enlargements three times in history, which were in the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC-476 BC), the Sui Dynasty (581-618) and the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) respectively.


2) The Erie Canal is a canal in New York that is part of the east–west, cross-state route of the New York State Canal System (formerly known as the New York State Barge Canal). The original Erie Canal traversed 584 km (363 miles) from Albany on the Hudson River, to Buffalo, at Lake Erie.

Image Courtesy: Marinas

It was Built between 1817 and 1825. It was the longest artificial waterway and the greatest public works project in North America. The canal put New York on the map as the Empire State—the leader in population, industry, and economic strength.

3) The Göta Canal was one of the largest civil engineering projects ever undertaken in Sweden. The canal stretches from Sjötorp on Lake Vänern to Mem on the east coast. It has a length of 190 kilometres and a total of 58 locks. Of this distance, 87 kilometres were dug by hand.

Image Courtesy: Joie de Vivre Magazine

Göta Canal is one of the largest construction projects ever in Sweden. The following are a few facts about it:

• Charter: King Karl XIII greenlighted the project
• Commissioned by: Baltzar von Platen
• Constructions started: 1810
• Completed: 1832
• Crew: 58,000 conscripted soldiers, 16 regiments
• Days’ of work: About 7 million effective days’ work at 12 hours a day
• Technology: Metal-reinforced wooden spades

Sea News Feature, February 5