When you are planning your transit of the Panama Canal, these are the things you need to prepare
- Clear in to Panama
- Decide if you need an agent or want to go it alone
- Book your transit
- Arrange an Admeasurer inspection
- Pay the fees
- Obtain your schedule
- Arrange linehandlers (need 4 + Captain)
- Check your equipment
This information is obtained mostly from the official document ACP4352 – Procedures for Securing a Handline Transit of the Panama Canal, and from researching various yacht reports on the internet.
The Facebook group ‘Panama Cruisers’ provides up-to-date contacts and connections for linehandlers, agents and other needs in Panama.
The website shelterbaymarina.com has a video on the homepage called “A Guide for Your First Canal Transit.
The Eric Bauhaus Panama Cruising guide is also a valuable resource.
- Vessels less than 38.1m/125’ transit the canal as “handlines” and do not use locomotives
- A handline vessel under 20m/65’ will transit with an ACP Advisor
- A handline vessel over 20m/65’ will normally require a pilot
- An Admeasurer will inspect, measure and clear your vessel
- ACP personnel all speak English
The process is actually quite straightforward, however you might feel like you are getting the run around, as dealing with Panama bureaucracy is nearly always a little slow and frustrating. Make sure you have all your paperwork and information ready to go.
ACP refers to the Panama Canal Authority – Autoridad de Canal de Panama in Spanish.
(1) Clear in to Panama
An excellent resource can be found at the Noonsite cruisers forum – Panama Formalities.
Upon arrival you must contact the Signal Station at Balboa or Cristobal (VHF Channel 12). They will provide anchoring instructions and let you know any operational restrictions. There are a few rules for Canal waters as below.
(2) Book your Transit & Admeasurer (More Info)
This must be done at least 96 hours in advance, so you can be entered into the EDCS (Electronic Data Collection System). You need to provide the information as listed in the form ACP 4405 Transit Request.
This can be done online, via email, or at the Admeasurer Office at Balboa or Cristobal.
Note that use of an agent is optional.
(3) Admeasurer Inspection (More Info)
An Admeasurer will board your yacht with a pile of paperwork, a tape measure, and lots of questions. You will end up with a Ship Identification Number and a form you need to take to the bank for payment.
(4) Pay the Fees (More Info)
The costs to transit the Canal in a yacht less than 50 feet will typically be:
- $1600 Transit Tolls
- $54 Transit Vessel Inspection
- $130 Security Charge
- $891 Buffer (if no agent – returned when all goes well)
- Around $100 for Lines and Fenders (if no agent)
- Around $40 transport costs for volunteer linehandlers
- Whatever your food and drink costs for the group
If you choose to use an agent:
- $400-$500 for an agent which will include lines and fenders
- $100 each for “professional” linehandlers
- No buffer fee required
You must have paid the fees before you can ask for a transit! Later in the day after paying your fees you can call the scheduler to get a transit date.
- Usually you are told to call the Scheduler after 18:00 on the day of the Admeasurer inspection
- You must have paid the fees before you can ask for a transit
- Telephone (507)272-4202
- Call the scheduler again at 18:00 on the night before your transit
- If you have a few days before you transit, you might want to check in occasionally
Rules in Canal Waters
For yacht purposes, Canal waters are considered to be north of the Bridge of the Americas, Balboa (Pacific Side) and south of buoys 3 and 6 Limon Bay, Cristobal (Caribbean Side).
- The regulations apply whether a yacht is scheduled to transit or not
- Movement is restricted in Canal waters without a Canal Pilot or Advisor
- You can move yourself around in the the Canal entrances and anchorages, but you must report your movements to the Signal Station (Flamenco Signal Station Balboa and Cristobal Signal Station on VHF channel 12)
- You are not allowed to launch a dinghy or go ashore without permission
- You must stand by on VHF channel 12 while in Canal waters, unless the Advisor requests another channel
- Generally pleasure sailing and fishing etc is not allowed
- Discharge of any “dirty water” in the Canal area is prohibited (a holding tank is required)
- Transits will continue regardless of the weather conditions