Water has been a critical part of man’s existence, and not just for sustenance. Ever since the inception of even crudest of boats, man has used various bodies of water for transportation, travel, luxury, business, food, and more. What we’ll be looking at in this article as some of the waterways, whether artificial or natural, used for the shipment of goods.

Shipping goods is all about making sure the load gets from point A to point B in the shortest time possible with the least amount of risk. When shipping by water, navigating around landmasses adds a massive amount of time to any journey. To this end, man has constructed various canals to serve as alternate routes. Whether it’s to save time or avoid dangerous waters, the following canals have served a critical role in shipping goods over the course of their existence.

Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal

The canal popularly known as the Grand Canal is the longest and oldest canal in the world. This UNESCO World Heritage Site contributes heavily to China’s economy, linking the northern and southern parts of the country. The canal connects the Yellow and Yangtze rivers, going through several provinces and even connecting with several other rivers.

The logistical significance of this canal is clear; the connectivity it provides allows for shipping opportunities that may otherwise cost far more. About 100,000 river vessels transit on the canal each year, carrying about 260 million tons, mostly construction material. That is three times as much cargo as is carried on the Beijing-Shanghai railway; the canal not only connects the north and south parts of the country, but offers an alternative for a scale of goods that couldn’t be accommodated by other transportation methods.

Suez Canal

The Suez Canal links the Mediterranean Sea with the Gulf of Suez. It provides the shortest maritime route between Europe and the regions which share a border with the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific Ocean. This extremely crucial shipping canal is one of the most heavily used shipping routes in the world.

The Suez Canal, located in Egypt, has been recognized as a maritime route to remain open at all times, irrespective of global conflicts.  In 2020, nearly 19,000 ships transited the Suez Canal, averaging 51.5 per day. It saves thousands of nautical miles in travel; up to 9,891 in the case of the Jeddah to Piraeus.

Corinth Canal

The Corinth Canal Connects the Gulf of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. Although it is less important in modern times, due to its incapability to accommodate modern ships, it still serves a purpose in aiding seafarers to avoid the dangers of sailing 700 KM around the treacherous southern capes. The canal does serve 15,000 ships from 50 countries.


Panama Canal

The Panama Canal is a critical waterway for the US. In 2020, it saw 13,369 vessels carrying 475.2 million tons of cargo. It Connects the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans through the Pana isthmus, a narrow strip that separates the Caribbean Sea from the Pacific Ocean.

The Panama Canal eliminates the need for ships to take the much longer, and more dangerous, route around the tip of South America, essentially saving a continent’s worth of travel. The journey is shortened by about 15,000 KM. Such a distance can make or break logistics operations, and would make many previously impossible endeavors easily feasible.

Kiel Canal

The Kiel Canal is another waterway that saves a lot of time and distance. Connecting the Baltic Sea with the North Sea, the Kiel Canal passes through the German province of Schleswig-Holstein. As of 2019, this canal has seen annual traffic of about 30,000 ships, saving them from taking the alternative route that passes via Denmark; a route that is not only considered unstable, but being able to bypass it also saves an average of 250 nautical miles.

There is a common theme with the canals we have mentioned, as well as the many more that exist globally: they give us efficient shipping routes. Logistics companies, whether dealing with land or naval routes, are always on the lookout for ways to cut distances and minimize risks, and canals serve both purposes, allowing for more effective bulk shipping by boat.

On the other hand, the heavy reliance on these canals was highlighted recently by the Suez Canal’s blockage, caused by the massive Ever Given. It is estimated the it caused e-commerce firms globally about 4 billion pounds because of the disruption to supply chains and increased shipping costs. Busy ports and terminals elsewhere, to where traffic may have been redirected, may not have berths for ships arriving outside their originally scheduled windows. Although the fault of the incident can be placed on the Ever Given’s massive size rather than the Canal itself, we are shown just how invested the logistics industry is in to shipping by boat.

Despite this incident, canals are unlikely to be shunned, as the routes they provide are far too valuable. Throughout history they have seen heavy use, and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.