An ACP Canal Advisor will be on board throughout the transit, usually a different one on each day. They are there to help with the process and communicate with the Lockmaster and other ACP personnel, including talking with pilots on big ships as necessary (they bring their own UHF radio to communicate on the Canal operating frequencies).

It is essential that you listen to the Advisor as there is a huge amount of local knowledge that no yacht Captain can be expected to know, particularly because the water behaviour is unique once in the lock chambers

  • Canal Advisors are sometimes pilots but are often ACP personnel with another day job such as tug Captain, security boat Captain, Canal guide, surveyor or other such position
  • The Advisor is not working as a pilot, so he does not take over the Captain’s responsibilities
  • Helping out on yachts is a side-job for which they are well paid
  • Advisors have been known to rush the process such as wanting you to move out of the lock quickly, but you should not throw lines off until you are ready
  • There is a story of an Advisor who was upset about the courtesy flag in poor condition and wanted to prevent the transit
  • Even if you have waited hours for the Advisor to turn up, he is likely to be in a hurry once he finally climbs on board, so make sure you are ready to go
  • You may have to remind the Advisor which type of lockage you requested or refused
  • Canal Advisors are not entitled to receive tips or money from Captains. Gifts are welcome but it is not a common practice, and they should not be requested.

Usually the Advisor’s first question after boarding will be about the speed of your vessel. Let him know how fast you can reliably motor as he needs to calculate the time of your lockage. Your engine will run for several hours during the lockages, and then for up to six hours as you cross Gatun Lake and go through Culebra Cut.

The Advisor will often ask how many of the crew have completed previous transits, which is where having experienced linehandlers is a big plus.

Care and Feeding (Advisors and Linehandlers)

Horror stories abound about feeding the Advisor but they are usually very reasonable people who just want something for mealtimes, with snacks and water during the day, and the all-important coffee in the morning!

  • Prepare to feed a minimum of 6 people (captain + 4 linehandlers + Advisor). You may have to feed a trainee Advisor as well.
  • There are stories of boats that did not provide food, in which case a “lunchbox” was ordered via VHF. The meal only costs about US$10 but the water taxi to bring it out costs US$350+! Yes, it has been done!
  • Once you start the lock procedure you will be busy for about two hours, so plan your mealtimes around the schedule as it gradually becomes clear
  • If you finish in the evening the Advisor is often in a hurry to go home, but some like to have a quick meal, or take a plate away with them
  • The trip across the lake is usually very hot, especially when heading south, so keep plenty of water handy
  • On occasion the Advisors have been known to demand bottled water with unbroken seals, and the Admeasurer sometimes checks
  • Panamanians like their Coca-Cola

On to Equipment or back to Transit the Canal