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.
- It should be noted that whilst quite a few Marina projects have been announced both on the Caribbean Coast and the Pacific Coast, many presently have limited facilities and are mainly
for local use. Others announced are far from the stage indicated in the announcements, either under initial construction or not even started.
- 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). Whilst costs are definitely lower than the Caribbean, parts and skilled workers are harder to find; some are located in Portabello or Panamarina and there are various liveaboards in Shelter Bay Marina who have diesel and mechanical skills.
- 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_Onlineemail@example.com
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_groupfirstname.lastname@example.org
Cruisers VHF Net - Caribbean side of Panama
Shelter Bay Marina
VHF Channel 77 every morning at 7.30am
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.
See the Communications section for a list of SSB Radio Nets.
Panama Cruisers Facebook Group
San Blas Cruisers Facebook Group
Last updated August 2016.
Several serious robberies/attacks that were reported in 2103 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 boats have been boarded and robbed here in the past. 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 traveling around within the City. The police are seriously concerned about theft.
Sadly in the San Blas Islands cruisers have experienced burglaries this year.
The Caribbean Safety and Security Net (email@example.com) provides 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 suffered a boarding, robbery or attack on your yacht or have information about a yachting-related security incident, go to the CSSN homepage and click on the "Report an Incident" icon. The associated form is quick and simple to complete and ensures that all the necessary details are reported. The CSSN is the most comprehensive source of Caribbean security incidents against sailors. Remember, it is every cruiser's responsibility to ensure that incidents are reported. Also cruisers can subscribe to e-mail alerts, follow on facebook and twitter and listen to the SSB Voice Service.
The Caribbean Security Index (CSI) is a a tool to assist cruisers in assessing the probability of crime at ports and anchorages throughout the Caribbean. The CSI provides a means of assessing risk in a given area.
Also be sure to check the noonsite Piracy & Safety Pages
Last updated September 2015.
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.
Panama Weather (in Spanish)
For links to free global weather information, forecast services and extreme weather information see the Noonsite Weather Page.
* indicates port of entry