Have you ever dreamed of crossing the Panama Canal…crossing Central America in one or two days by boat through this storied feat of modern engineering? I’ve already done it once, but we’re ALL getting excited as we get closer and closer to the Canal. THIS is our Panama Canal preparation primer as we prepare to cross to the mighty Atlantic Ocean side of Central America. Wanna go on the journey with us?….we’ve already solicited for crew but you can go along as friends via our website….keep reading:
The country of Panama is the land bridge that links North and Central America to South America, via a narrow piece of jungle land that has never been tamed. Believe it or not, there is no road or railway from Panama through to Colombia via the Darien Gap. Nope, NO WAY to drive through to South America, you can only take get there by air, water or walking the dangerous Darien Gap. Panama became a country in 1903 when it declared independence from Colombia, strongly supported by the United States. We (the US) then immediately started work on the third iteration of the Panama Canal; two French Companies had already tried and failed for various reasons. Ten years and $400 million dollars later, it was completed. (1).
For a very, very good history of the Panama Canal and it’s various iterations, I suggest you read the very complete work by David Mccullough, titled The Path Between The Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914.
Tulum-5 will go through the Panama Canal as a “Y-Job” or first timer, but the excitement and memories of transiting this famous canal will stay with us for life. We’ve already started the myriad of paperwork that goes along with the transit, probably more paperwork than we’ve done in the last three years of cruising.
Small boats like us (cruisers/deliveries) have the option of either using an Agent to assist with all the regulations and paperwork or you can do it all yourself upon arriving in Panama. We opted to use a recommended, bonded agent for a myriad of reasons. Firstly, if you use an agent, the canal authority doesn’t require you to put down the buffer fee (deposit) of $800.00. Next, the agent is assisting us with check-in to Panama, all the paperwork and logistics for Canal crossing and answering all of our dumb questions. To go through the Canal, you must do an army of paperwork, have the money to do it, have appropriate large fenders (tires are no longer allowed apparently) and four 120-ft lines in good condition. We simply don’t have the line or very large fenders…so getting those from the agent is great as they are provided as part of the overall price we’ve gotta pay. Then there’s the requirement for line handlers. Line Handlers must be adults over 18 years old who are physically fit enough to serve as line handlers, can take direction and be able to have fun as we go. Most small boats will need four line handlers, in addition to the Captain/Helmsperson and the pilot. Tulum will need three additional line handlers; we can get three “professional” line handlers from our agent for $100 dollars a day….but we hope to have friends or fellow cruisers who can handle the lines if we can.
So getting there? Tulum will leave Costa Rica and cruise northwestern Panama to Punta Mala, where we’ll go across to the Perlas Islands before we head to Panama City. Here’s a quick map:
Once in Panama City, we’ll sit in a marina for 4-5 days to get fully checked into Panama, do additional paperwork with our agent (and get our lines and fenders) and get “Admeasured” by the Panama Canal Authority. Then we’ll get a rough crossing date….and then a final crossing date within a week or so of the measurement. The Panama Canal runs 24/7…we won’t know our exact transit date or time until after we get our measuring done, but we’ll have a rough idea. And…Tulum could get through the Canal in one day or we may be told that we have to take a mooring overnight in Gatun Lake, to start early the next day and make it a two day transit. Here’s a great map of the Canal below, with many of the historic places marked:
To give you an idea of info we’ve received from our agent and the paperwork we have to do to transit the canal, here’s an excerpt from the official email we receive from our agent, with the requirements we have to fill….in advance:
Waiting time for inspection 2-3 days week day only
Transit after inspection 4-5 days
This is a process that we must follow for canal inspection and transit:
Send me by email: Clear copies full page
– Last Port clearance prior Panama
– Crew list with name, rank, date of birth, nationality , passport number
– Passport copies
– Boat Registration
– Complete Vaccine certificate with name product name dates
– Please complete Health form sign and return each one – attached
We have to obtain authorization from Health department to check you in.
Tap Bottle water for pilot
Air horn compressed in can
Toilet with lavatory closed door for pilot
Proper meals for pilot
Mask n95 or surgical mask , Alcohol Gel, temperature meter, water and soap for lavatory
Holding tank for toilet
Un-compliance will create cancellation of transit and high penalties by the canal authorities
Advance information will be required to register your boat with the Canal Authorities and commit with us. (email back to me)
> Have you transit before and Sin number:
> Name of Yacht:
> Reg Length:
> Reg Beam:
> Gross Tonnage:
> Nett Tonnage:
> VHF Call sign/letters:
> Freeboard distance water line to boarding deck:
> Registration number/Country/expiration date:
> Hull Color:
> Type of sailing boat:
> Hull material:
> Last ten ports (10) with estimate departure date:
> next port:
> Boat builder Name / Country / Year:
> How many engines / Brand / Horsepower:
> Serial number of each:
> Hull number:
> Type of hull:
> Number of propellers:
> Type of propeller rotation:
> Owners address and telephone:
> Captain: name: date of birth: nationality: passport no.
> Crew on board date of birth nationality passport no:
Confirm all crew onboard are Healthy and free of covid:
I here to anticipate the proforma and scenario .
Transit tolls $1,600.00 up to 65ft
Transit inspection 75.00
Transit Security fee 165.00
Canal EDCS 75.00
Fenders & lines rental 75.00 (no tires)
Bank charges 60.00
Agent service Fee
Cruising permit $235.00
Line handlers for transit $100 each (1 captain + 4 line handlers over 18 years old)
Once the above information is re-submitted to the canal authorities (electronic data collection system) an update registration of visit will be created, with an arrival time register I may order the Canal Admeasurement inspector to measure your boat at La Playita anchorage between Isla Culebra and Isla Flamengo West towards the channel way, See picture attached
Inspections are done Monday through Friday and they are not done daily due to other commitments with merchant vessels. They are mostly done on tuesday/wednesday/thursday. However I will be pushing to obtain an inspection as soon as possible, therefore, could be two to three days for an inspection or if we are lucky the following day of your arrival if it’s Monday-Friday.
Inspection done at La Playita and Flamenco Marinas.
Upon completion of admeasurement inspection a transit can be obtained for between 4-5 days currently.
Once you get admeasured then I will collect funds, Transit tolls and agent fee by Credit card or cash, in order to Guarantee your transit.
No Buffer (Deposit) fee is requested unless you have a deficiency.
Very important to give your real speed to the admeasurement inspector and read forms you are signing, also, positions chosen are your election at the end and normally will be center chamber , nested to another yacht, alongside a tug boat (they have big rubber fenders), and you will reject the sidewall if you are mast yacht. Other information is the basic characteristics of your boat and the inspector will give you an overview of canal rules and procedures.
Then I will provide 8 Mooring Fenders and 4 sets of lines 125 ft long 7/8 or higher for transit .
Transit pilots are assigned from 5:00 to 7:00 am daily and you will transit up to Gatun lake and then resume the following day about 1200hrs and complete passage about 3pm.
If they have a merchant vessel to tandem you in the last locks of Gatun by the time you get there, you may complete the same day.
Meanwhile at the lake no one is allowed to swim or land dinky, a high penalty by the canal authorities.
You will need 4 people as handliners for canal transit + the Captain steering, recommend obtaining assistance from other yachts who are willing to help and get experience beforehand. Or I will provide at a cost of $100.00 each for the one or two day passage, payable in cash to each one after transit.
I will only accept other sailors from other yachts or incoming friends/family of yours to be handliners, no other local who is not authorized by me.
Once you complete transit you will come to Shelter bay Marina or anchor outside and bring equipment/handliners in your dinky boat, marina charges $8.00 dinky boat and $25.00 for fenders and lines.
Please note this is the only place I will collect equipment. Colon city is a dangerous area.
To checkin and checkout, please ensure to have 4 copies of passport/crew list/boat registry/cruising permit, and It will be done at Flamengo duty free building Autoridad Maritima and immigration.
Check in – no charge. It can be done as well with immigration at the Balboa yacht club once we check you in with the Port authority, however we will need the Vaccination or antigen test to be included in the process.
Check out to obtain consent to depart and clearance out in Flamengo, through the canal electronic data collection system EDCS
Cruising permit will be requested by us.
Compulsory when entering marinas or navigating our local islands.
Please ensure to have a Panama flag in good condition and yellow flag up upon arrival.
Tulum has already provided the info and we’re excited to be heading south to Panama to go through the Canal, mid-July…ish. Keep reading and go through the Canal with us via our posts!
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- The Panama Cruising Guide by Eric Bauhaus, pages 45-67. This is another highly recommended book if you are a cruiser or traveler to Panama….it is the Bible for cruising in Panama currently and is about as current as you can get.
- Eric Galvez Email dtd 17 May 2022