Panama - Profile
- For details on the Canal transit see here.
- The country is dominated by the Panama Canal and the surrounding Panama Canal Area, which were incorporated fully into Panama on 31 December 1999.
- Balboa on the Pacific and Cristobal in the Caribbean are the two main ports and gateways to the canal. The port of Cristobal incorporates the town of Colon.
- The main cruising attractions in Panama are the 365 San Blas islands off the Caribbean coast, a popular destination for yachts. A cruising permit is required to visit these islands, but the local Panamanian officials usually treat yachts arriving from the east on their way to the mainland with a certain degree of tolerance. See this excellent San Blas Islands cruising report. Note that charting is inaccurate in the San Blas and most charting software is out by 200 yards West and 100 yards North. Navigate here with caution.
- On the Pacific side, the Las Perlas islands are another unspoilt cruising ground popular with boats en route to the Galapagos and South Pacific islands. Like in other isolated parts of the world, sailors are advised to only stop in a remote anchorage in the company of another boat.
- If you are entering the Bay of Panama from Costa Rica, go straight to the Perlas Islands and come up on the current. It is a longer distance but much quicker than trying to sail against the current. The shorter route from Punta Mala to Panama or Vacamonte is shorter, but the very strong current makes it a hard long sail.
- Although the Balboa Yacht Club received a new concession from the Panama Canal Commission and built a new clubhouse, the buildings of the Panama Yacht Club at Colon were demolished.
- From the 1st February 2010 all persons or companies offering maritime services to ships or yachts must be in possession of an "Operation Licence". See Noonsite Report. Cruisers are advised to check that anyone offering them such services has a valid licence, but should be aware that this provides no guarantee of the quality of the service being offered.
- Getting work done: Yachts coming from the Caribbean planning to spend longer in Panama to underake re-fit work should research carefully options available to them before arriving (and ideally before leaving the rich sources of chandlery and services in the Eastern Caribbean). It is not easy to find parts or skilled workers in Colon and Panama; some are located in Portabello or Panamarina and there are various liveaboards in Shelter Bay Marina who have diesel and mechanical skills. It is better to get serious work done in Trinidad/Martinique/St. Martin, prior to coming to Panama.
- Note: Most brands of lifefraft cannot be serviced in Panama. Be sure to get this organised beforehand.
- Provisioning: Good choice of large supermarkets. Excellent choice and value for money. If crossing the Pacific from here, this is the last good provisioning option. Be sure to stock up on non-perishables and alcohol.
- Cruisers have reported half sunk logs on the passage from Porvenir to Portobelo. Care should be taken around the Panama coastline for such hazards.
SOURCES OF PANAMA INFORMATION
There are two Yahoo e-mail groups on the Internet specifically designed for cruisers to share information. Both groups have cruisers worldwide.
Cruisers Network Online - Caribbean Side of Panama
Cruisers Network Online’s website is http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Cruisers_Network_Online/
To subscribe to Cruisers Network Online, email Cruisers_Network_Onlinefirstname.lastname@example.org
Southbound Group - Pacific Side of Panama
The Southbound Group’s website is http://groups.yahoo.com/group/southbound_group/
To subscribe to The Southbound Group, email Southbound_groupemail@example.com
Contact in Panama for Danish Ocean Cruising Association (DOCA), Swedish Oceanseglingsklubben (OSK), Swedish Jorden Runt Seglar Klubben (JRSK) and Ocean Cruising Club. Can assist yachts with information and advice covering cruising Panama, Panama Canal transits, facilities etc. Note: Karsten does this as a hobby.
Cruisers Net Panama Colon: The Colon side of Panama has a VHF Net conducted each morning at 8am, except Sundays on Channel 81A. This used to be on Channel 74 but was moved in 2013 to 81A due to too much local traffic on 74.
Panama City Cruisers Net: Serves the boating community on the Pacific side of Panama inclusive of Panama City, Balboa, Las Brisas, Flamenco and Tobago. Due to congestion and continuous interference on CH74, this Net now hails and meets at 08:00 on CH68. Future frequency changes may be required if congestion grows on CH68.
Last updated April 2015.
Several serious robberies/attacks that were reported last year at Punta Chame (20 nm SW of the Balboa anchorage), Bocas del Toro and Colon and reports of stolen dinghies in Las Perlas, highlight the security situation in Panama. Along with other countries in this area, Panama is experiencing an increase in crime, partly relating to the drug trade, which is also affecting maritime activities. See security reports adjacent for further details.
Nowhere in Panama should yachts anchor at night in remote areas without being accompanied by other yachts.
In March 2014 a yacht anchored in an isolated area to the south of Taboga Island, Balboa, was boarded by armed pirates. See report here.
Unfortunately conditions in Colon have not improved in the last 10 years. Colon remains a risky place for tourists; snatch-and-run as well as hold-ups are all too common, even in daylight. One should avoid walking anywhere outside of the port and all shopping should be done by taxi.
The anchorage at Club Nautico, Colon, is not patrolled by the Panama Canal Police boats and a boat was boarded and robbed at night there in March 2012. This is not a recommended anchorage.
Cruisers report that the police in Panama City are quite adamant that you do NOT carry your original passport, but only a copy while travelling around within the City. The police are seriously concerned about theft.
Free Cruising Guides have completed the Caribbean Security Index (CSI) review of 2013 and updated the country ratings. The latest update of the CSI contains new information that may be important to you to “route around crime.”
See this report athttp://www.noonsite.com/General/Piracy/caribbean-crime-caribbean-security-index-csi-review-of-2013
The Caribbean Safety and Security Net (firstname.lastname@example.org) gather information by anchorage or by island, so sailors can plan their cruising in the Caribbean with an eye to appropriate behaviour and precautions wherever they decide to go. Should you have information about a security incident, as well as contacting Noonsite please also forward details to the Caribbean Safety and Security Net, as theirs is the most comprehensive source of Caribbean security incidents against sailors on the net. Please be sure to include boat name, date of incident and anchorage/port where the incident took place.
Last updated February 2014.
The climate is hot and very humid, although cooled by the prevailing easterly winds. The dry season is January to April, and rain can be heavy in October and November. Panama is not affected by hurricanes.
For links to free global weather information, forecast services and extreme weather information see the Noonsite Weather Page.
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