The Difference Between a Strait & a Canal


Straits and canals both connect separate bodies of water, but they have key differences between them that you should know about. Well-known straits include the Bering Strait, which separates Alaska and Russia, and the Strait of Gibraltar, which is between Morocco and Spain and acts as a gateway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Well-known canals include the Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, and the Panama Canal, which connects the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean.


  • A strait is a natural geographic feature that is formed when two or more landmasses make a bottleneck for a body of water. For example, the Cook Strait, which separates the north and south islands of New Zealand, is formed by the space between the two islands in the Pacific Ocean. The ocean runs through them, creating a natural body of water between the two that is much smaller than the ocean around it but is larger than a river or lake.


  • A canal is usually a human-made connection between two bodies of water. Canals are usually created for economic reasons in order to make it easier to ship goods from one place to another. The Panama Canal, for example, makes a trip from Europe to Australia much shorter because the ship doesn't have to go around South America.

Strait Difficulty

  • Straits create more difficulties for goods to be transported from one location to another. It is easier, for example, to ship something from Spain to France than it is to ship from Spain to Morocco because the Strait of Gibraltar separates Spain from Morocco. Spain and France, by contrast, do not have any major bodies of water between them, thus rendering boats and ships unnecessary.


  • A strait is much larger than a canal because it is naturally created. Straits are often too large to see across. A canal, on the other hand, only needs to be large enough to accommodate ships; canals don't need to be much larger than the biggest ships that will use them.


  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images
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