Panama Canal Transit and Information
The Panama canal joins the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, it was opened in 1914 and is still one of the greatest engineering feats in the world. Several attempts to build the canal were made by both the French and the Americans and by the time the canal opened 27,500 men had lost their lives in its construction, the majority during the french attempt.
The canal is 50 miles long and vessels take about 8-10 hours to transit, but the saving in time and possible cargo damage is enormous. For example a ship travelling between New York and San Francisco has a passage of about 6,000 miles instead of the 14,000 miles needed to round Cape Horn. For sailing vessels the route through the canal is a lot less treacherous than attempting the circumnavigation of South America but the voyage through the canal is not without its dangers.
Arriving at the Panama Canal
The pre-registration of visiting vessels is now being enforced for yachts. This requires details about the yacht and its crew to be sent to the Authorities (AMP) at least 48 hours before arrival at any Panamanian port. This information may be sent by email or by filling in the on-line form. AMP understand that this may not be possible, and in such cases, the information will need to be provided on arrival. The on-line form is available at AMP website
Yachts arriving from the Caribbean can no longer clear immigration at the mrina at Panama Canal Yacht Club as it has now been demolished, but must visit the office in Colon or use the Shelter Bay marina. When arriving from the Pacific, clearance is also completed at the offices ashore. After immigration, one must clear with customs and the port authority, both of which are within a short distance.
At both Balboa and Cristobal, arriving yachts may be boarded by Panamanian officials. At Cristobal they may complete all the initial clearance formalities. When the captain goes ashore to complete clearance procedures, all others must remain on board until clearance is complete. Yachts coming from the Caribbean should make sure they have the proper port captain clearance paper. If employing an agent, it is helpful for them to be present during any inspection or official visit.
Procedure for transiting the Panama Canal
See Panama Canal web site for the latest information and transit forms and for the latest detailed information for small craft.
After clearing into Panama, the captain must call the Admeasures Office by calling, on the Pacific side, Flamenco Signal Station on Channel 12 or direct by telephone 272-4571, or, on the Atlantic side, Cristobal Signal Station or telephone 443-2293 to make arrangements for an inspection of the boat.
Transit fees are based on LOA. See Panama/Fees for the latest information on fees.
Part of the cost includes a contingency deposit, paid either in cash or by electronic bank transfer, as well as a security charge and an Admeasurer fee. An indemnity will also have to be signed, releasing the Canal Company from any liability due to the yacht not conforming to the Canal Authority's requirements for transiting vessels.
Fees may now be paid only at Citibank in either Cristobal or Balboa, and no longer direct to the Panama Canal Commission. In Cristobal, the office is on the second floor, Administration Building, No. 1105, and in Balboa, first floor, Building 729. An appointment will be made to visit the boat.
The captain must then report to the Canal Operations Captain's Office (Building 910, La Boca on the Pacific side and Building 1105, third floor, Cristobal Administration Building). This officer will explain the requirements needed for the transit, which include four mooring lines not less than 120 ft (40 m) long and not less than 7/8" (22 mm) rope, four line-handlers (in addition to the captain), adequate fendering, and the yacht should be able to maintain a minimum of five knots under power. If it becomes apparent at the start of the transit that the yacht is doing less than five knots, it will have to return to the starting point and will be charged for an aborted transit. Yachts with no engines can be towed through the Canal by a Commission launch, all towing charges to be paid by the yacht owner.
The captain will be given a provisional pilot time for the transit. This must be confirmed or changed by calling Marine Traffic Control Tel. 292-4202 or VHF Channel 12. Final arrangements must be made no later than 24 hours before the scheduled transit time. Transits can be arranged earlier and if reconfirmed or cancelled the day before the transit a delay charge will not be made. Yachts normally make the transit in two days, spending a night at Gamboa. The pilot arrives early in the morning, and leaves the yacht for the night, returning the following morning to complete the transit. The yacht will be charged a delay fee if the transit is not cancelled before the close of working hours on the day before the scheduled transit or if the yacht is for any reason unable to commence transit. Yachts are required to maintain their transit schedule regardless of weather conditions. The cost of a Panama Canal tug is between $145 and $1650 per hour depending on circumstances.
Types of lockage
There are three different types of lockage in the Canal, and all vessels must be capable of making a centre chamber lockage. Other types are sidewall or alongside a Commission tug. Whether a yacht is assigned a sidewall or centre chamber lockage is decided by the admeasurer who will ask the preferred type of lockage, but the final decision will be made by the course adviser as this will depend on the situation at the time of lockage. This depends on hull configuration, protruding railings, awnings, high masts, and anything that could be damaged if made fast to the chamber walls.
Centre chamber lockage: The vessel is held in the centre of the chamber by two bow and two stern lines. Yachts are sometimes rafted together.
Sidewall lockage: Only two 120 ft (40 m) lines are required; lots of fenders as well as suitable spring lines will be needed as the walls are rough concrete. Care should also be taken of the rigging which may hit the walls in the turbulence.
Alongside a tug: Two 50 ft (15 m) lines will be required. This type of lockage is not safe when uplocking.
Each yacht must have four line-handlers in addition to a helmsman. All lines, chocks, cleats should be inspected to ensure they are in good condition, as they will be under heavy strain during the transit. The area around the fittings must be clear of gear so that the lines can be efficiently handled.
Match Shipping Management, Tel: +507 66158157 (24 hours) firstname.lastname@example.org
Triton Ship Supplier, S.A, Tel: (507) 314-1493, E-mail: email@example.com
Tina McBride, Transcanal Yacht Services, Tel: mob. +507 6637 2999, Fax +507 314 0977 www.panamacanaltransits.com/panama.html
Stanley Scott Tel: 6-680-7971 mostly Southbound yachts
Enrique Plummer Tel: 6-674-2086 mostly northbound yachts
Panama Yacht Services, Tel: (507) 226-4053
Agencia Naviera Servimundo, Tel: 505-227-3320
Pete Stevens, Delfino Maritime Agency, Tel: (507) 261-3554