- Vessels less than 38.1m/125’ transit the canal as “handlines” and do not use locomotives/mules
- 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
ACP refers to the Panama Canal Authority – Autoridad de Canal de Panama in Spanish.
When planning your transit of the Panama Canal, things you need to prepare include:
- Clear into Panama
- Decide if you need an agent or want to go it alone
- Book your transit
- Arrange an Admeasurer inspection
- Pay the fees
- Schedule the transit
- Arrange linehandlers (need 4 + Captain)
- Check your equipment
The ACP website has a page with the forms you will need:
- ACP 4352 – Procedures for Securing a Handline Transit of the Panama Canal
- ACP 4405 – Necessary Information to Create a Visit for Small Craft
- ACP 4614 – Admeasurement Clearance and Handline Inspection
- ACP 4627 – Handline Lockage Request
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.
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.
(1) Clear into Panama
An excellent resource can be found at the Noonsite cruisers forum – Panama Formalities.
If you plan to use an agent for your transit, they will often help with clearing into Panama and many other things you might need.
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.
On January 8th 2023 the yacht Rua Hatu cleared into Panama on the Pacific side and posted this guide to their experience.
(2) Book your Transit & Admeasurer (More Info)
Book your transit 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 4405 – Necessary Information to Create a Visit for Small Craft.
Arrange an Admeasurer with form 4614 – Admeasurement Clearance and Handline Inspection
Email the 4405 and 4614 forms to [email protected] or go into the Admeasurer Office in Cristobal. Include a copy of the captain’s passport and your boat documentation.
Note that use of an agent is optional.
(3) Admeasurer Inspection (More Info)
Dictionary.com defines Admeasure as: to determine the dimensions, capacity, weight, and other details of a vessel, as for an official registration, documentation, or yacht handicap rating
An Admeasurer will board your yacht with a pile of paperwork, a tape measure, and lots of questions. You will end up with an SIN (Ship Identification Number) and a form you need to take to the bank for payment.
The contact number for the Admeasurer office is +507-443-2298
(4) Pay the Fees (More Info)
The costs (US$) to transit the Canal in a yacht less than 50 feet will typically be:
- $1760 Transit Tolls (As of Jan 2023)
- $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 if you use an agent
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 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