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The Nicaraguan Ecocanal is a proposed project in Nicaragua to build a shallow-draft waterway connecting the inland Lake Nicaragua with the Caribbean Sea via the San Juan River in the south of the country. [1] [2] The main aim of the waterway is to provide a maritime alternative to the lengthy overland journeys that are presently required to import and export containerised cargoes through the ports of Puerto Cortes in Honduras and Puerto Limon in Costa Rica.

Nicaragua Country in Central America

Nicaragua, officially the Republic of Nicaragua, is the largest country in the Central American isthmus, bordered by Honduras to the northwest, the Caribbean to the east, Costa Rica to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the southwest. Managua is the country's capital and largest city and is also the third-largest city in Central America, behind Tegucigalpa and Guatemala City. The multi-ethnic population of six million includes people of indigenous, European, African, and Asian heritage. The main language is Spanish. Indigenous tribes on the Mosquito Coast speak their own languages and English.

Draft (hull) The vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull (keel)

The draft or draught of a ship's hull is the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull (keel), with the thickness of the hull included; in the case of not being included the draft outline would be obtained. Draft determines the minimum depth of water a ship or boat can safely navigate.

Lake Nicaragua largest lake in Central America

Lake Nicaragua or Cocibolca or Granada is a freshwater lake in Nicaragua. Of tectonic origin and with an area of 8,264 km2 (3,191 sq mi), it is the largest lake in Central America, the 19th largest lake in the world and the tenth largest in the Americas, slightly smaller than Lake Titicaca. With an elevation of 32.7 metres (107 ft) above sea level, the lake reaches a depth of 26 metres (85 ft). It is intermittently joined by the Tipitapa River to Lake Managua.



Construction of the waterway will allow the passage of ocean-going barges that can be loaded at a new lake port to be built in the Lake of Nicaragua and discharged at upriver ports, like how the United States takes advantage of its extensive inland waterway system. An exploration concession Ley 319 for the project was unanimously approved by Nicaragua's National Assembly in 1999.

Barge flat-bottomed boat, built mainly for river, canal transport of heavy goods, usually pushed by tugboats

A barge is a shoal-draft flat-bottomed boat, built mainly for river and canal transport of bulk goods. Originally barges were towed by draft horses on an adjacent towpath. Today, barges may be self-propelled, usually with a slow-revving diesel engine and a large-diameter fixed-pitch propeller. Otherwise, "dumb barges" must be towed by tugs, or pushed by pusher boats. Compared to a towed barge, a pusher system has improved handling and is more efficient, as the pushing tug becomes "part of the unit" and it contributes to the momentum of the whole.

The economic advantage of the project is that it will eliminate transshipment costs at import and export ports, as well as the long road journeys to reach these ports, thereby offering significant cost savings in the overall freight charge. Barges can be loaded directly close to the point of manufacture, and discharged within a couple of hundred kilometres of the final point of delivery. Transport cost savings are estimated at more than US$1,000 per FEU (forty-foot equivalent container).

Transshipment Shipment of goods or containers to an intermediate destination

Transshipment or transhipment is the shipment of goods or containers to an intermediate destination, then to another destination.

Twenty-foot equivalent unit Unit of cargo capacity, TEU

The twenty-foot equivalent unit is an inexact unit of cargo capacity often used to describe the capacity of container ships and container terminals. It is based on the volume of a 20-foot-long (6.1 m) intermodal container, a standard-sized metal box which can be easily transferred between different modes of transportation, such as ships, trains and trucks.

The San Juan river is 200 kilometres long. The total waterway length from a lakeport in the vicinity of Granada/Tipitapa on the northern shore of the Lake of Nicaragua, to the outlet of the San Juan river at San Juan del Norte, is some 360 kilometres. The principal obstacles to navigation are six sets of rapids along the river, and sand bars in shallower parts of the river. Average channel depth in the river during the dry season is around six feet (1.83m), with variations from around one foot (0.30m) to over 30 feet (9.14m). The average width of the river is some 200 metres.

To make the waterway navigable requires the construction of three locks to bypass the rapids and the dredging of the largest sandbars in the river. No dam construction is contemplated as the 8,000 square-kilometre lake of Nicaragua provides a sufficient reserve of water to maintain navigation depth and to operate the locks throughout the different seasons of the year, once the locks and dredging are complete.

The 2.44 m minimum depth after dredging, will allow the passage of shallow-draft barges, with cargo loads of up to 1,500 tons or 75 FEU at full draft of approximately 2 metres. The barges will be pushed by a towboat along the San Juan river and will be of an ocean-going design, with a protected and reinforced prow and ballasting capability for stability for crossing the open waters of the Caribbean. Such a design will allow the barges to be towed on the Lake of Nicaragua, and across the Caribbean Sea to different key points such as Panama, Jamaica, New Orleans or Key West, the latter two being entry points to the US inland waterway system.

The 2.44m navigation depth has been determined to be the most appropriate solution after modelling trade-offs between construction costs, capacity utilisation and scale economies. [3]

In 2013 the Nicaraguan Government announced abandonment of the San Juan River route, in favour of an inter-oceanic canal, which will fully compete with the Panama Canal and which is to be funded by the Chinese HKND Group. [4]

Nicaragua Canal proposed shipping route across Nicaragua

The Nicaraguan Canal, formally the Nicaraguan Canal and Development Project was a proposed shipping route through Nicaragua to connect the Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean. Scientists were concerned about the project's environmental impact, as Lake Nicaragua is Central America's key freshwater reservoir while the project's viability was questioned by shipping experts and engineers.

Panama Canal Large artificial waterway in the Republic of Panama, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans

The Panama Canal is an artificial 82 km (51 mi) waterway in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. The canal cuts across the Isthmus of Panama and is a conduit for maritime trade. Canal locks are at each end to lift ships up to Gatun Lake, an artificial lake created to reduce the amount of excavation work required for the canal, 26 m (85 ft) above sea level, and then lower the ships at the other end. The original locks are 34 m (110 ft) wide. A third, wider lane of locks was constructed between September 2007 and May 2016. The expanded canal began commercial operation on June 26, 2016. The new locks allow transit of larger, neo-Panamax ships, capable of handling more cargo.

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Canal Man-made channel for water

Canals are waterways channels, or artificial waterways, for water conveyance, or to service water transport vehicles. They may also help with irrigation. It can be thought of as an artificial version of a river.

Great Lakes Waterway System of channels and canals in the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes Waterway (GLW) is a system of natural channels and canals which enable navigation between the North American Great Lakes. Though all of the lakes are naturally connected as a chain, water travel between the lakes was impeded for centuries by obstacles such as Niagara Falls and the rapids of the St. Marys River.

Waterway Any navigable body of water

A waterway is any navigable body of water. Broad distinctions are useful to avoid ambiguity, and disambiguation will be of varying importance depending on the nuance of the equivalent word in other languages. A first distinction is necessary between maritime shipping routes and waterways used by inland water craft. Maritime shipping routes cross oceans and seas, and some lakes, where navigability is assumed, and no engineering is required, except to provide the draft for deep-sea shipping to approach seaports (channels), or to provide a short cut across an isthmus; this is the function of ship canals. Dredged channels in the sea are not usually described as waterways. There is an exception to this initial distinction, essentially for legal purposes, see under international waters.

Trent–Severn Waterway canal

The Trent–Severn Waterway is a 386 kilometres (240 mi)-long canal route connecting Lake Ontario at Trenton to the Georgian Bay, Lake Huron at Port Severn. Its major natural waterways include the Trent River, Otonabee River, the Kawartha Lakes, Lake Simcoe, Lake Couchiching and the Severn River. Its scenic, meandering route has been called "one of the finest interconnected systems of navigation in the world".

Pusher (boat) boat designed for pushing barges or car floats

A pusher, pusher craft, pusher boat, pusher tug, or towboat, is a boat designed for pushing barges or car floats. In the United States, the industries that use these vessels refer to them as towboats. These vessels are characterized by a square bow, a shallow draft, and typically have knees, which are large plates mounted to the bow for pushing barges of various heights. These boats usually operate on rivers and inland waterways. Multiple barges lashed together, or a boat and any barges lashed to it, are referred to as a "tow" and can have dozens of barges. Many of these vessels, especially the long distances, or long haul boats, include living quarters for the crew.

Scarpe (river) river in France

The Scarpe is a river in the Hauts-de-France region of France. It is a left-bank tributary of the river Escaut (Scheldt). It is approximately 100 kilometres (62 mi) long. The source of the river is at Berles-Monchel near Aubigny-en-Artois. It flows through the towns of Arras, Douai and Saint-Amand-les-Eaux. The river ends at Mortagne-du-Nord where it flows into the Scheldt. Scarpe Mountain in Alberta, Canada, was named after the river. The navigable waterway and its coal barges also feature in the novels by 19th century author Émile Zola.

Panamax Class of ships of the maximum size that can pass through the original locks of the Panama Canal

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San Juan River (Nicaragua) river that flows east out of Lake Nicaragua into the Caribbean Sea

The San Juan River, also known as El Desaguadero, is a 192-kilometre (119 mi) river that flows east out of Lake Nicaragua into the Caribbean Sea. A large section of the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica runs on the southern bank of the river. It was part, with the lake, of a proposed route for a Nicaragua Canal in the 19th century. The idea of the project has been revived in the last decade, including the possibility of other routes within the country. The Ecocanal project has obtained a Concession from the National Assembly of Nicaragua to re-open the San Juan River to commercial barge traffic.

Industrial Canal canal in Louisiana, United States of America

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Inland waterways of the United States

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McClellan–Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System Part of the inland waterway system originating at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa and running southeast through Oklahoma and Arkansas to the Mississippi River

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The Waterways Journal Weekly is the news journal of record for the towing and barge industry on the inland waterways of the United States, chiefly the watershed of the Mississippi River and its tributaries and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Known as The Riverman’s Bible, the periodical has been published continuously from St. Louis, Missouri, since 1887. Published by H. Nelson Spencer, it is the only American maritime publication that focuses exclusively on the inland waterways of the United States, and is one of the few remaining family-owned, advertiser-supported trade weeklies of any description.

Voies navigables de France

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National Waterway 3 National waterway of India

The West Coast Canal or National Waterway No 3 is a 168-km stretch of this inland navigational route located in Kerala, India and runs from Trivandrum to Kasargod and was declared a National Waterway in 1993. In addition to the main stretch, Champakara and Udyogmandal canals are navigable and connect the industrial centers of Kochi to Kochi port Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) under the Ministry of Shipping is coordinating the task for developing, monitoring and administering national waterways. It is the first National Waterway in the country with 24-hour navigation facilities along the entire stretch.It has been extended to Kozhikode as per National Waterways Act, 2016.

History of the Nicaragua Canal

There is a long history of attempts to build a canal across Nicaragua to connect the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. Construction of such a shipping route—using the San Juan River as an access route to Lake Nicaragua—was first proposed in the early colonial era. Napoleon III wrote an article about its feasibility in the middle of the 19th century. The United States abandoned plans to construct a waterway in Nicaragua in the early 20th century after it purchased the French interests in the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal was built and that is now the main connecting route across Central America.

The Jefferson Seaway was a proposed deep-draft ship channel to be created in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, that would establish a route between the Mississippi River at Westwego and the Gulf of Mexico near Grand Isle. The Mississippi River provided the only deep-water access to New Orleans and its neighboring ports. In the mid-20th century, the creation of alternate routes was considered, including the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MR-GO), which was ultimately selected, funded and constructed. The Jefferson Seaway, sometimes referred to as the Arrow to the Americas, the Mississippi Valley Seaway Canal, the Tidewater Ship Canal and the Barataria Canal, was also under consideration but ultimately was never constructed as a deep-draft channel.


  1. Canal proposed to revive Nicaraguan waterway. Reuters newswire. 3 September 1998
  2. Crece idea de "Canal Húmedo". El Nuevo Diario, Managua, Nicaragua. 15 de Septiembre de 1998
  3. A Shallow-Draft Waterway in the San Juan River, Nicaragua. Tim Coone, Technical Director Ecocanal SA. 2009
  4. Arias, L. (14 May 2013). "Nicaragua says planned inter-oceanic canal won't be built on the San Juan". Tico Times. Retrieved 11 June 2013.