Panama Canal Transit Tips: What You Need to Know

A ‘nest’ is preferred option for the locks

In March, Allison and Derek Parkes transited the Panama Canal on their Tayana 47 Arielle. Allison offers no-nonsense advice for those following in their wake.

Use an Agent or DIY?

That is the key question many cruisers are discussing. Agents’ fees range from US$350 – $575+ extras, but just how easy is it to organize your own transit?

As long as you have access to the Internet and a phone, it is simple and can be quicker because you are dealing directly with the canal authorities, who all speak perfect English, not through a third party. Below are a few easy steps to organize your transit, north to south.

Organize the Boat Measurement

The email to send form 44055 is:[email protected] Include in the email a scan of the permanent crew passports and boat registration.

The next day you can call to measurement. The number is: 4432298. This can take place either at Shelterbay marina or at ‘the Flats’ anchorage, Colon. The measurer will enlist your help in measuring the boat and give you three options for entering the locks:  Side-tied to a canal tug; Side-tied to the wall (not advised), or in a ‘nest’, i.e. two or three yachts tied alongside each other. This is best option.

Panama Canal Transit Tips
Admeasurer is collected by pilot boat on the Flats anchorage after completion of measurement and paperwork

Payment

Once the boat is measured you can pay the deposit + fee of $1875 in cash at Citibank, Colon. Transit toll $800 (up to 50ft). Buffer $891 + Measurement fees + security charge (total $1875). The officer who measures the boat will provide and complete all the necessary paperwork. This measurement is valid for 60 days thus enabling a later transit date if desired.

Transit Date

Once payment is made you can phone after 6pm on the same day to schedule the transit date. The number is: 2724202. Waiting time depends on time of year. In February it was one week.

Line Handlers

Next step is to organize four line handlers. Cruising friends are normally queuing up for the experience. Before you go through on your own boat it is helpful, but not essential, to go as a line handler to get to know the procedure. It is also a lot of fun.

Panama Canal Transit Tips
Tyres and lines delivered to marina by Mr Tito

Lines and Fenders

Last step is to organize 4 X 125ft lines and tires, which involves one phone call. Several people offer these rentals. We used Tito who delivered them to the boat at the marina.

$15 per line and $3 per tire, $20 delivery charge. If you have good enough fenders, you won’t need tires.

Spending a few nights in Shelter Bay Marina prior to the transit enables you to pick up line handlers and tires and ropes. The marina also runs a daily bus into Colon and will deposit you right outside Citibank.

One day prior to transit, phone the canal to confirm a time to arrive at the Flats anchorage, where your ‘advisor’ will be delivered to your boat by one of the many skilled pilot boat captains.

Panama Canal Transit Tips
You will be mixing it with the big boys!

How Easy Was That?

A possible advantage of using an agent is that you do not have to pay a deposit and some agents take credit card payments. For DIY transits it takes two to three weeks to refund the deposit.

Agents will also offer to organize your check in/out for an additional fee. DIY Checking out on the Pacific side is simple and quick. It can all be done in one building next to the Playita anchorage for the princely sum of about $6

Transiting the Panama Canal ought to be included in ‘100 things to do before you die’, so even if you don’t do it in your own boat, if the opportunity arises to line handle, go for it!

QUESTION: Have you transited the Panama Canal?  We’d love your input in the comments below…

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4 comments

  1. I always recommend using one… There are other permits and paperwork required all in Spanish. Good to have a back up in case of a problem in the canal. If you can afford a yacht you can surely afford a local reputable agent and help the local economy, not only the Panama Canal and the marinas. It 8s like having insurance.

  2. We just transit canal. Agent promise 3-10 days after measurement. In reality after measurement, 4 of May he say – our date for crossing is 19 of May. Then he shift it to 14, then to 15 of May. Price is higher, then in Suez and very long time waiting. I think, they do not have enough advisors. When we cross – there were space in lock for at least couple more boats.

  3. Excellent article. I would Like to add one more advantage of using an agent… should you break down in the transit process and additional charges are required, your agent can take care of this for you and possibly void the penalty fees. Without an agent, you and your crew are NOT allowed to leave the vessel and must pay the penalty fee ($800 in this case) in cash. If you do not have cash on boat, you must make all arrangements by telephone getting cash and having delivered to canal authorities. Now this could have changed but was an experience of acquantances in 2016.

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