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More than 14,000 vessels under the flags of some 70 countries use the canal each year.
Canal administration requires captains to turn over control of their ships to canal pilots for the duration of the transit.
A boat traveling from New York to San Francisco saves 7,872 miles by using the Panama Canal instead of going around Cape Horn.
Most ships take 8-10 hours to traverse the canal, but the U.S. Navy hydrofoil Pegasus has the record for the fastest transit at 2 hours and 41 minutes.
Each of the canal's locks is 1,000 feet long and 110 feet wide, dimensions that have governed shipbuilding since the canal's completion in 1914. The massive Panamax ships that move most cargo through the canal are designed to carry as much as possible while still fitting into the locks.
For each large ship that passes through the canal, 52 million gallons of fresh water are used by six locks, and more than one billion gallons of water flow from the canal into the sea every day. (It's a good thing the canal was built in a rain forest.)
At this writing the highest toll for Panama Canal passage is $375,600, paid by the cruise ship Norwegian Pearl in July 2011.
The lowest toll on record was the $0.36 paid by Richard Halliburton, who swam the canal in 1928. Halliburton's record is safe for posterity, since tolls have risen considerably since then.
Shipping companies may reserve transit slots up to one year in advance and must do so a minimum of four days ahead. Tolls—it's cash only, no credit—must be paid prior to arrival.
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