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Clearing Out of Panama at Balboa

By Val Ellis last modified Feb 21, 2011 10:44 AM

Published: 2011-02-21 10:44:04
Countries: Panama

The following clearance information is provided to help cruisers entering and leaving Panama. This information is based on two U.S.A. citizens on the 42 foot catamaran "YOLO" with no pets.

We originally cleared into Panama at Bocas Del Toro on 17th Jan 2011 and all related fees totalled $331 U.S. dollars. Next we cleared into Colon, Panama and transited the Panama Canal, south-bound, which cost us and additional $990 USD. Clearing out of Balboa and Panama (on 2nd Feb 2011) cost $13.50. This document covers our third and final Panamanian port of call.

On Exiting the Canal
Shortly after exiting the last Panama Canal lock you will see the commercial port of Balboa on your port side. Next, you will travel under the Bridge of the Americas. As you pass the Bridge of Americas you should call "Flamenco Signal Station" on VHF channel 12 or 16. Flamenco Signal coordinates and tracks all traffic in the Balboa waters, especially vessels in the channel leading to the Panama Canal.

Flamenco Signal like to know your anchorage location if you plan to drop the hook in the Balboa area. The Flamenco Signal employees speak English and Spanish, and monitor the radio 24/7.

Balboa Yacht Club
After passing under the Bridge of the Americas we briefly stopped at the Balboa Yacht Club fuel dock to drop off one of our canal line handlers. The Balboa Yacht Club was on our port side a brief distance from the bridge. The cost of renting a mooring buoy is 65 cents per foot per day at the yacht club. The cruising guides are incorrect, there is NOT an initial $25 USD membership fee to moor at the club. This location is exposed to ship, tug, and pilot boat traffic 24/7, so be prepared to rock all day and night. The club sells diesel only, no gasoline, to vessels staying at their club for $3.32 per U.S. gallon. If they have a surplus of diesel they MAY sell you fuel if you are not staying at the club.

La Playita
We then traveled several miles south in the Balboa channel, turned to port, and dropped our anchor in 30 feet of water at 08.54.515 north and 79.31.453 west. This location is known as "La Playita" and it is located between Isla Culebra and Isla Flamenco. The tide in this bay exceeded 16 feet during our brief stay. This location protects you from strong winds and waves from the north and east, yet you are continuously exposed to the wake of transiting canal vessels and their related work boats. The La Playita De Amador Marina is located about 100 meters away. The marina usually charges $5 USD per day to use their dingy dock, or $110 USD per month. The daily fee for our vessel to stay at the marina was $1.50 USD per foot, 20 cents per kilowatt of electricity, and free water. They have a minimum electricity charge of $5, which is seldom reached during a 24 hour visit. Their diesel fuel was $3.25 per US gallon (cash), or $3.30 if paid by credit card. They do not sell gasoline.

To make a reservation call 314-1730 during business hours which are 0730 to 1700 seven days per week. La Playita De Amador Marina monitors VHF channel 9. After one night of Balboa channel noise and wake, we moved over to the east side of the Amador Causeway between Isla Renco and Isla Naos after contacting Flamenco Signal. We anchored at “Las Brisas” at 08°55.176 N and 79°31.915 W in mud and 30 feet of water. Most cruisers use this anchorage and during our stay it had over 50 vessels

Balboa Clearance
No agent was required. We took a bus down the Amador causeway and walked to the Balboa commercial port area, the container port you see just after exiting the Panama Canal. The large sign over the entrance of the port reads, "Panama Ports Company, S.A." We walked among numerous cranes, trucks, lifts, and containers before finding the "Autoridad Maritima de Panama" (AMP - Port Captain's office) in the heart of the container port. As far as we could tell, his building has no signage so just keep asking port employees for directions as you walk around the large complex. A small sign on the building states, "Recibo De Mercancia." This was our third Panamanian port-of-call. The zarpe from our last Panamanian port (Colon) was required when clear-in to and out of Balboa but not the zarpe from the previous country vsited.

Business Hours
The AMP Balboa Port office is open 24/7. To avoid paying overtime changes go to the office during regular hours which are 07:00 to 15:00, Monday through Friday, 07:00 to 12:00 Saturday and Sunday. The port captain told us we could have cleared at the Flamenco Yacht Club which has an AMP, Customs, and Health officials working 24/7. And, the Balboa Yacht Club has an Immigration official working 24/7.

Clearing Out of Panama
Balboa was our last major port of call in Panama. After clearing out we had a brief visit in the Las Perlas islands (Panama) before heading to the Galapagos. The AMP officer noted both Las Perlas and Galapagos on our Zarpe. We visited the following offices to clear out of Panama:-
Recibo De Mercancia in the Balboa Container Port area. They required one photocopy of our crew list.
Autoridad Maritima de Panama (AMP) office in the Balboa Container Port. They required one photocopy of our crew list.
There is an Immigration office at the Balboa Yacht Club. They required one photocopy of our passports, the Zarpe received from the AMP office, and the crew list.
You can get photocopies for 25 cents from the hotel located next to the Balboa Yacht Club.

Although a boat inspection is required, according to the port captain, our vessel was never visited.

Fees
Fees can be paid in United State dollars, which is the currency of Costa Rica. Bocas Del Tora has one bank and several ATMs and they dispense U.S. Dollars. There is no charge for clearing into Balboa. For clearing out of Balboa and Panama:-
Recibo de Mercancia office : $12 USD was paid for our zarpe.
AMP Port Authority office: $1.50 USD was paid for the "cashier fee."

We were told that overtime charges would be $25 USD or more per agency if clearance was required on a Saturday, Sunday or public holiday.

Documents Required
Ships papers
Crew list
Despacho/zarpe for last port
Passports.

Security
We felt that security issues were low in the Las Brisas anchorage area. This area is a significant distance from Panama City. We were warned to lift and lock our dingy by long term local cruisers. Parts of Panama City, like all large cities, were reported to be very high risk areas during the day and night.

Goods and Services
Balboa and Panama City: Panama is less expensive than most Caribbean islands/nations. You can find just about anything in this large metro area. Getting to it, or having it delivered, will be the challenge. Many cruisers over-night critical boat parts from the U.S.A. to Panama to save money. If you use the national postal service your deliveries will be significantly delayed at best, or never delivered.

A U.S. gallon of gas was $3.36 and diesel was $3.15 USD. A 2 liter bottle of Coke was $1.85, a loaf of wheat bread was $1.73, and a liter of milk was $1.08 USD. A case of local beer (24 cans, 12 oz.) was less than $10 USD. We purchased 65 pounds of propane for $37 U.S. dollars. There are numerous coin laundries which charge 50 cents per washer. Or, you can send your laundry out to have is washed, dried, and folded for $4 per load.
Trash disposal: Use the large trash drums located along the Las Brisas dinghy dock.
Dinghy Dock: Most cruisers use the Las Brisas floating dock located at the southeastern corner of the anchorage.
Potable Water: You can get free water at the Las Brisas dingy dock or when purchasing fuel at the Balboa Yacht Club, La Playita De Amador Marina, or Flamenco Marina.
Local Communications: Most cruisers in this area monitor VHF channels 16 and 74. At 0800 the local cruiser net uses VHF channel 74.

Additional Comments
You have the option of staying at the Flamenco Marina which is between Isla Flamenco and Isla Perico. Most of the time they do not have slips available, unless you made reservations well in advance. To make a reservation call Jessica King at 314-1980 during office hours which are 0800 to 1700 Monday through Saturday. The quoted rate for our catamaran was $3.50 per foot per day, with a three day minimum stay. The cost of electricity was .22 per kilowatt and water was free. A US gallon of diesel sold for $3.15 USD at the marina, and they also sell gasoline. This large marina is packed with beautiful and expensive local power boats.

Panama City is truly a maze. A well worn taxi will take 2 cruisers from the anchorage to downtown Panama City for a negotiated $3 USD, a nicer cab will take two people for $5 USD. Make sure you agree on the price before you enter the cab. You can get to the closer shopping district, Plaza 5 de Mayo, by bus for 25 cents. Car rentals can be had for $16 USD per day. Be prepared to sit in a great deal of traffic regardless of the mode of transportation.

The clearance fees associated with visiting Panama are the highest in the Caribbean Sea, based on our experience of visiting over two dozen countries. We paid a total of $313 USD just to clear into Panama! This amount is the minimum you will pay, whether you are visiting for one day in transit or are staying for 90 days. The fees for our second port-of-call (Colon) and transiting the canal totaled $990. The cost of clearing into and out of our final Panamanian city (Balboa) totaled $12.50 USD.

During the first few months of the year it is easy to find line handlers in Balboa who will to travel northbound through the canal. Also, there is no need to rent fenders/tires when traveling northbound. Look around and you will see a pile of canal tires near just about every dock. If you are traveling to the South Pacific you can easily pick up crew members in Balboa. Many land based backpackers and crew members jumping off other ships are free for the taking.

We picked up several tourist magazines. Several articles extensively covered ecological movements in Panama, rain forest issues, and gave details on how to make monetary contributions to save the jungle. In reality, the marine governmental agencies produced a mountain of paperwork during our three port visit. We left Panama with over 40 pages of government forms in hand, and Panamanian offices had two or three copies of each form in their files.

The Immigration officer during our clear-out process did not want to honor the Tourist stamps in our passports. He want us to pay him $30 US dollars for a second set of stamps. We refused and he then asked for $25 US dollars to clear out of Panama with Immigrations. We pointed out that Panama Immigration does not charge for clearing out of the country and we paid our Immigration fee when we cleared into Bocas Del Toro, Panama. After a brief discussion he told us to leave without making any payments to Immigrations.

Jason and Karen Trautz
S/V "YOLO" (You Only Live Once)

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