Your Yacht

  • You can generally complete a transit in one day if you are capable of 8 knots
  • If you cannot maintain 5 knots, you might be denied transit or require a tow
  • You are not allowed to set any sails in the Canal
  • Your engine must be able to go in reverse (essential in the locks)
  • The Captain must be able to control the engine from the cockpit

Equipment you must have

  • Navigation lights in good condition and functional
  • Four mooring ropes
  • Adequate cleats to handle four mooring ropes
  • Minimum of four fenders
  • An anchor capable of being retrieved without delay
  • A whistle or horn that works independently of your electrics, and that is not blown by mouth (This might be used to get the attention of workers in the locks)
  • Four linehandlers plus the Captain
  • A working toilet with holding tank (you can rent one)
  • An awning over the cockpit
  • Hot meals and bottles of water available
  • Yachts over 65ft must have an AIS transponder
  • At any time you might be asked to tie up to another vessel or alongside, so you should have some extra mooring lines ready

Mooring Lines

  • Lock lines must be a minimum of 125 feet long and between 7/8” and 1 ½” diameter
  • These can be rented from agents or borrowed from yacht clubs
  • Typically costs up to $100 for enough lines and fenders, including delivery and pick-up
  • Smaller diameter ropes can upset the Canal Advisor, not to mention cause problems in the locks!
  • The agents sometimes provide incorrect ropes so make sure you check
  • Ensure there is a 3-foot eye in one end
  • Flake the lines out on deck so you are confident they will run freely
  • Ensure there are no knots or tangles
  • If you will use winches, ensure the linehandlers know how to operate them – in the locks is not the time for the Captain to get distracted with this
  • Be extra careful not to allow lines in the water in the locks
  • The linehandlers need to keep easing out or taking up the slack in the lines as it appears, but in general they should keep the lines secure most of the time
  • If you will be rafted to another yacht you might need extra mooring lines
  • Usually one yacht provides the bow and stern lines, (passing a loop across), and the other provides two spring lines
  • If you tie up to a tug or tourist boat you could use the lock lines


  • Agents provide fenders which might be car tires in plastic bags, but more recently are proper fenders
  • They are usually hanging on a light line which is a safety factor, in that if the tire snags on something the line will break rather than tear off your attachment point
  • You can of course use your own fenders, however the lock walls are pretty rough, and tugboat fenders are black rubber
  • It is always recommended to have a couple of “roaming” fenders for in the lock chambers
  • You can obtain tires from anywhere, but don’t just dump them when you are finished as they are a mosquito breeding ground
  • An agent will arrange to pick up tires that they have provided
2015 Stray Catz 122
Typical lines and fenders


  • Solar panels should be protected from the monkey’s fist on the heaving lines. Use some seat cushions or sheets of plywood, and don’t forget to take them off in the morning when you cross the lake!
Plywood protecting solar panels
  • The water in Gatun Lake is the water source for Panama City, so it is potable, and is a wonderful opportunity to wash the salt off everything
  • The temptation to swim when your vessel is moored is very great, but a good option is to rig up a deck hose using the lake water
  • Be warned – crocodiles up to six metres in length live in the lake!
  • Dinghies must be stowed on-board throughout the complete transit
  • Try to remove anything that sticks out such as outboards or kayaks, and have the decks as clear as possible
  • Your linehandlers might like to wear gloves to work with the lines
  • If you are thinking of using a drone during the transit, this needs to be cleared with the ACP in advance

Using the Mooring Buoys on Lake Gatun

  • There are several large mooring buoys in Lake Gatun
  • After clearing Gatun Locks the Advisor will have you motor south for 15-20 minutes
  • They are rubber coated so are safe to approach
  • Usually slip a bow line and stern line so departure is easy
  • Should be able to lasso the bollard, although sometimes someone will need to jump onto the buoy to secure the lines, especially if you are not the only yacht
  • Other yachts might raft up on the other side or alongside you
  • Some years ago the buoys were lit with a flashing white light, but they were annoyingly bright when tied up alongside so the light didn’t last long
  • You usually don’t anchor on Lake Gatun, partly because it is very deep (70ft), but mostly because there are a lot of old tree stumps etc.
2015 Stray Catz 51
Someone can jump onto the buoy to help secure lines

Tying up to the buoy

  • One yacht uses head and stern lines (blue)
  • Optional breast line (purple)
  • Second yacht ties up the same way
  • Add lines between bow and stern of each yacht
Mooring buoy

On to What Goes Wrong? or back to Transit the Canal