In 1983 the Canal adopted an optional transit reservation system, which allowed for a daily limited number of transit bookings in exchange for a fee. When the system was first introduced only a small percentage of Canal capacity was assigned to booked transits. Nowadays a large percentage of the Canal capacity is made available for reserved transits through the booking system.
The reservation slots for booked transits are available in various periods.
It starts with passenger ships which are eligible to book two years in advance of arrival. Some reserved slots are also offered through auction late in the process. These last-minute offerings have managed to attract significant interest and can sell for large sums of money, particularly in times of congestion.
Due to the complexity and dynamics of the reservation system and the Canal transit scheduling system, we encourage our customers to consult our experts in the very early stages of voyage planning, to fully understand the risks, convenience and advantages, of securing an advance reservation as well as the best timing to apply.
Request for transit reservations must be presented to Marine Traffic Control within one of the periods designated on a special form which also provides a guarantee of payment of the fee.
The specific daily order of transit for booked vessels is determined by the Canal Authorities and does not follow a priority of either request or arrival time.
The Canal does guarantee that the vessel will transit on the day for which it is booked, insofar as it will arrive at the first set of locks prior to 2400 on that day and will move through the Canal within an 18-hour period.
Once booked, large and other restricted vessels which do not arrive at the Canal by 0200 hours on the day of transit and all other vessels which do not arrive by 1400 hours on the day of transit, as well as vessels which are not ready to proceed at the time fixed for transit, forfeit the booking fee and lose the booked transit. These vessels will then be placed in the regular transit schedule as if they had not been booked. In addition, a schedule of fees applies in the event of cancellation.