Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

The Ultimate Cruisers' Planning Tool


You are here: Home / Users / sue / Shelter Bay Marina: Feedback from Cruisers & Marina Info.

Shelter Bay Marina: Feedback from Cruisers & Marina Info.

By Sue Richards last modified Jul 10, 2017 10:38 PM
Comments from cruisers about their experience at Shelter Bay Marina, Colon, Panama, as well as comments from the marina themselves. More recent comments can be found at the bottom of the report, by cruisers who have registered on the site and used the noonsite "comment" function.

Published: 2017-06-10 01:45:00
Countries: Panama

Shelter Bay Marina: Feedback from Cruisers & Marina Info.

This image shows SY Danish Blue on the Reef.

Reported 10 June, 2017
Not a Bad Place to Wait for your Transit
From Hugh Pilsworth, SY Blue Flyer

I was last here in 2008 with the first World ARC. Then it had 2 walkways, but good facilities.
Now it has 5 walkways and still has good, if not better, facilities, including new washing machines.
On my way in there was someone tracking me on AIS, fortunately. I was quickly told to head for the small green navigation buoy that I hadn't seen! Then I was allocated a berth to suit my electrical plug on the shore power, a simple but excellent service and much appreciated. There is 110 and 230 volt available and it is all 60 Hz only.
I was met at the dock by 2 helpers and efficiently secured and plugged in. There is no charge for water or electricity that I could see. As I'm on E dock the marina charge is $1.10 per foot length per day, so reasonable. There is also a free minibus service to Colon twice a day. Internet is $10 per week for unlimited use, not the best internet but OK.
Check in with the office is quick and easy, only 3 forms, one of which is of course signing any rights you may have away. No cost either.
There is an on site chandlery, tiny, a grocery shop, small and a gym and a swimming pool. Also there is a reasonable restaurant and small hotel in the same building as the office, as well as a crew room with book swap.
All in all not a bad place to wait for your transit.

Hugh Pilsworth - SY Blue Flyer


Posted 15 March, 2016
From Christian and Vibe, SY Danish Blue

We want to warn other sailors of the reef just outside Shelter Bay Marina, Colon, Panama. It is not marked and it is very dangerous for sailors arriving at night.

In Shelter Bay Marina we have been told that our sailboat Danish Blue is just one out of 12-13 sailboats, which have hit the reef within the last 3-4 years. Danish Blue has now been hauled out for almost 4 months to be repaired after lying on the reef for 12-13 hours. A few days ago, another sailor hit the reef. The reef is not marked physically in any way. It can be seen in daylight, but when arriving at night, it is impossible to see the reef.

Also, we have several charts of the area around Shelter Bay Marina, one chart is Eric Bauhaus'. None of the charts state that there is a reef just outside Shelter Bay Marina. Instead, the charts state that there is 4,5-5 meters depth on the specific place of the reef.

The position of the reef is: South to north: 09 22.1895 N 079 56.7121 W - 09 22.2948 N 079 56.7436 W. East to west: 09 22.2767 N 079 56.6413 W - 09 22.2612 N 079 56.7996 W.

Be aware to follow the small green buoys parallel to the breakwater on port side when entering into Shelter Bay Marina - they are not visible on the charts and they are difficult to see at night. All the green buoys have to be followed on port side when arriving from the Panama Canal. The depth on the other side of the green buoys cannot be trusted.

On behalf of all sailors visiting Shelter Bay Marina in the future, we have asked Shelter Bay Marina to mark the reef with a lighting danger-buoy or a cardinal buoy. Also, we have asked Eric Bauhaus to update his charts with the reef and with the green buoys.


Posted 29 September, 2014
From Olivier of SY Mary Ann

We are now on the Pacific side of Panama, having turned back from a first attempt to head for Ecuador (boat problems again...), and I think an update on what's happening at Shelter Bay and generally in Panama is in order, considering my previous input:

1) Shelter Bay remains a very expensive marina particularly if hauling out is required, and for boats coming from either Trinidad or the Eastern Caribbean, it is is still advisable to do the work in Trinidad, Martinique (despite the cost) or Saint Maarten for those planning to cross into the Pacific.

2) The new thing is that the marina at Shelter Bay is trying very hard to put together a package of competencies to service boats. It now has a good on-site sail maker (Vladmir, on board Kafeoli), a very competent electronics guy (Pieric), and still has one of the best diesel mechanics I've met anywhere, Greg (the "engine whisperer"), AND he works independently from the marina, which means his cost is very acceptable. The marina is also building carpentry capability. The "manana" mentality is of course a problem generally, but Greg and Pieric, being European, are reliable.

3) Once across the canal, things get even worse, as the only marina is extremely expensive and not interested in the sailboat business (Flamingo Marina), and the anchorages (Balboa Yacht Club, La Playita and Las Brisas) all have major inconveniences, either being very rolly, or having no dinghy dock to speak about.

4) Bringing in parts into Panama is no problem at all. One can either order directly from suppliers overseas, using Fedex or DHL, or go via Marine Warehouse, which is very efficient here, both via courier companies or ocean freight from Miami. No taxes, no hassle (but then the same applies to Trinidad, except my Marine Warehouse experience there was quite bad).

Olivier - SY Mary Ann

June 4th, 2014 - Sheter Bay Marina Pricing Structure
The following from John Halley, Manager at Shelter Bay Marina, which was posted on [Cruisers_Network_Online] Panama cruiser forum.

As most cruisers probably know, we see a transit population of well over 1000 boats per year. We have stated policies with regards to fees and safety rules, which are necessary to ensure a safe operation and to make sure vessels can be accommodated with certainty.

Our pricing policy  is applied consistently based on the Length overall of a vessel (LOA) = length between the extremities of a vessel including items that are fixed to vessel fore and aft.  We do not measure every vessel that arrives, most of our guests supply the requested LOA dimensions.

Just for clarification the LOA measure is applied because this (together with beam) determines the appropriate slip.  If LOA (or beam) is
understated we might allocate a slip too small for the vessel where it exceeds the designed 25% overhang reducing the fairway (clear water between the 2 docks), making life difficult for others.

Vessel registration dimensions (waterline length, length on deck, bow to sternpost (Classic British Registration measure)) do not tell us what we need to know. Most modern marinas with alongside berthing price, space occupied by the vessel, is usually defined by LOA and beam.

We feel it is appropriate to apply our rules and policy consistently.

Marina manager, SBM

Posted 12 March, 2013 - Update February 2013
From Suzie and Robin Roots, S/Y True Blue 1

Yachts continue to receive a great welcome at Shelter Bay Marina, currently the only option for secure berthing prior to undertaking a north-south transit of the Panama Canal. John, the marina manager, offers outstanding service and support to yachts, and his presence greatly enhances a stay in remote Shelter Bay. Additionally, the marina hotel and restaurant is ably run by Chris; cruisers greatly enjoy his excellent food, very reasonable happy hour prices and frequent special events (Australia Day celebrations were a huge hit recently).

Yachts planning to spend longer in Shelter Bay marina 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). Lyman Morse, the firm which took over the yacht maintainance operation in Shelter Bay, withdrew from the marina this week, and there are currently no plans for any other firm to take over. Yachties should be aware that it is not easy to find skilled workers in Colon and Panama; some are located in Portabello or Panamarina (some miles distant) and there are various liveaboards in the marina who have diesel and mechanical skills.  By far the easiest way to source spare parts and even large items is to use the excellent services of Marine Warehouse in the USA; we had a fridge shipped in and delivered directly to Shelter Bay at West Marina prices and without fuss; most yachts contact Tom (tom@)  His local representative, Arturo, delivers to Shelter Bay Marina once the goods arrive in Panama; no extra taxes are due and freights costs are reasonable unless express services are required.

Shelter Bay Marina, hard-standing issues: We had determined that a de-humidifier is essential in the Panamian climate, so we entered into a contract with Shelter Bay marina for dehumidifier rental and monthly inspection. The current monthly fee for this is $55; you could save money by buying your own unit, but in this case there would be no way of checking whether the unit had re-set itself after one of the frequent power black-outs. Be aware, boats without a de-humidifier will be covered in mould and have ruined furnishings within days during the rainy season!

Posted 4 March, 2013
Lyman-Morse yard in Shelter Bay, Panama

Lyman Morse are no longer running the repair and maintenance facilities at Shelter Bay Marina.

Message from John Halley, Manager of Shelter Bay Marina:
Currently we are running the repair and maintenance facilities ourselves. Nothing new for us!  The services available have if anything been enhanced since the departure of Lyman Morse with new and capable contractors coming into the picture. We are looking at all possibilties to make progress here.

Message from Cabot Lyman, Owner of Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding:
Lyman-Morse has decided to discontinue operations in Panama for many reasons, but it ultimately came down to the fact we could not provide the quality service we felt lived up to our name, and also could meet cruisers' needs. We are sorry to not be able to help the transiting boats, as there is a definite need in Panama for skilled and knowledgeable professionals.  Besides the shortage of skilled labor,  it is difficult to entice employees from Maine to go to Panama for the simple reason that Maine is such a nice place to live and work.

Posted 16 October, 2012
Seven Weeks at Shelter Bay (Two weeks in July, then 14th August to 6th October 2012).
From Anthony Swanston - SY Wild Fox

This marina is well named, total shelter, perfectly calm.
Staff are friendly and helpful under the management of John Halley who lives aboard.   Floating pontoons in good condition with water (free) and 110 and 220 volt electricity (metered). Wifi, sometimes good sometimes not.
There is a big book exchange in the air conditioned lounge which also has a wide screen TV.
Good laundry, excellent mini-mart run by friendly Carol.  Very limited chandlery.  Good gym, good pool. Showers and toilets getting a bit dated and some routine maintenance not being done, e.g. broken lights and fans. This is not due to lack of money as the marina is currently undergoing a major expansion.
Fuel is available but you have to pay in advance at the office and then go to the fuel barge and take what you paid for.  It makes it difficult to fill up completely if you are heading off.
The jewel in the crown is the Dock – dollar beers from 1700 to 1900 (except Sunday).  Under the management of Chris Young the restaurant is the best value dollar for dollar of more than 50 places I have been in in the Caribbean.  Daily specials sometimes for as little as $9.99.  All food is excellent.

Lyman Morse, the famous marine firm in Maine, have just taken over all of the shore based facilities including the haul out yard.  There are major, major teething problems.
Greg is the diesel engineer and has been at Shelter Bay for nearly two years – first class mechanic and a refrigeration guru.  A pleasure to have on the boat.  Tom the electronics man is good but they charge him out at $75 per hour.  
Sanding seems to be good, but all of the other work is diabolical.  The canvas shop has no canvas and no sample books.
I had a new box made for propane bottles.  The lid does not close properly as it is too low.  The new propane installation was checked for leaks using a cigarette lighter!  When I checked it with soapy water I found a leak INSIDE the boat.  These are just two of a catalogue of errors.  
When I left Lyman Morse had sent somebody down to resolve the quality issues.

By all means go to Shelter Bay for Greg's engineering or Tom's electronics – remember, they were both there before Lyman Morse and at a much lower price.  But do not go for Lyman Morse's other services until you hear more positive reports.

Response from Cabot Lyman, owner of Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding.

Starting a service yard in a foreign country with a shortage of yacht service options and the associated skilled labor it requires has been difficult.  An extraordinary volume of work has been done (and continues daily) to get the operation up and running.  As with any new endeavour, there will inevitably be a few missteps.  We have stepped up to correct them, and have had success in helping many boats get on their way.  It is unfortunate that someone had a negative experience at LM Panama and we are working to make sure it was an isolated situation.

Heidi and I have fifty years cruising on our Seguin 49’ and we have had an incredibly positive experience with the cruising fraternity. It has been an eye-opener running and starting a business in another country with limited infrastructure.  In addition, we have never seen the cruising community in such turmoil – I theorize that perhaps there is just too much equipment on boats today, which ramps up the anxiety level in many cruisers' lives.  Shelter Bay Marina is a lovely place - great hiking, birding, tropical flora and fauna all within a five minute walk.  There is a regular bus service to both Panama City and the big shopping centers in Quatros altos. SBM is a large investment and a world class facility.

We’re working hard to build the labor force, satisfy cruisers’ needs, and learn the intricacies of operating in a foreign country. We want everyone to expect the same level of service at Lyman-Morse Panama that they would find at our main facility in Thomaston, Maine.

Cabot Lyman

Posted 7 May, 2012
From David Kory

I contacted Shelter Bay Marina about 5 weeks before me anticipated arrival, as they recommend reservations. I received an immediate response and confirmation via email from John. During my passage from Buenos Aires to Panama, I emailed weekly updates to him as to my expected arrival date, and they were always quickly acknowledged.

I arrived into Shelter Bay Marina at 3am (they dont recommend this), and as they knew I was singlehanding, Frank came out to catch my lines and give me a hand- even at 3am. He checked me in, showed me the great showers, and made me feel very welcome.

I ended up choosing a transit date about 2 weeks later, so I could fly home for a bit, and the marina staff were always very friendly, accommodating and helpful.

The facilities are very modern, with wide concrete docks, power and water at every slip, Wifi everywhere, swimming pool, showers, a well-stocked mini-market, a small chandlery, laundry facilities, an air conditioned lounge with sofas, tables, chairs, TV, books and games, and a surprisingly good and not expensive restaurant. Upstairs in the main building they run a small hotel. They also offer a free daily shuttle to a shopping center about 30 minutes away, with a large supermarket, hardware store, restaurants, etc.

Yes, it costs more to stay in the marina than anchoring in the flats- a very long dinghy ride away- but I felt it was well worth the price, and would return again without hesitation.

Posted 30 June, 2011
From Jon Hill

We recently spent several days in the Shelter Bay Marina preparing for a canal transit.

Nice marina, although a little expensive, with a great restaurant on site. The marina was no help with the customs/immigration entry procedures, but with a little Spanish it wouldn’t been too bad as customs and immigration have an office nearly on the marina grounds.

The only problem was a marina part owner, Russell, who appeared to be the dockmaster on our arrival. Helpful while getting us in, but nearly delayed our canal transit because of a long time feud with our agent.

Ed: Shelter Bay Marina have informed us that they make no charge for Panama canal approved agents to assist with transits (they do not recommend those that are not approved). In the past they charged a nominal fee of 10US per visit - but this is no longer the case. John Halley, the new marina manager at Shelter Bay, assures noonsite that he intends to "make some improvements so that all our visitors can feel comfortable during their stay here with a receptive, able and sympathetic staff."

Posted 4 July 2011
From Liz

We visited Shelter Bay June 16-19 and had great service from Frank the Dock Master, John the Manager and Andrew from the hotel/restaurant.

All parties were professional and helpful and it was a great stopover on our way to the Galapagos - the internet was flawless and Frank even changed out the power receptacle to accommodate our 50 amps.

From what we were told to expect this was an unexpected oasis!

Posted 16 December 2010
From T McCarroll, SV Virgos Child

Shelter Bay Marina, Panama, is a very safe and secure place to leave your boat. The docks are good, the staff efficient and the haulout crew expert. The new manager is doing a great job of getting the place back on track after a lot of ill feeling amongst yachties from previous bad experiences. In fact we had been advised by several boats not to go there. We ignored those warnings and did go and we were pleased to find that it was not as bad as we had been told.

However there is one issue that they do need to sort out, and quickly. That is the electrical problems, firstly the frequent power outages and low voltage both of which are not their fault but causes major problems for yachties. ie your 110 volt refrig does not like running on 50 volts.

The second issue is the huge discrepancies in power useage. My boat has only a battery charger and an elect fan, everything else is 12volt except the stove which is gas. My large solar array keeps everything running so my battery charger only runs perhaps 6 hours at night. So imagine my surprise when I was told that I had been using between 30 and 40 kilowatts per day and received a huge bill for it. In my house I only use between 3 and 5 kilowatts per day with all the normal house hold appliances, elect stove , elect hotwater, refrig, tv etc except ac. So you can see why I was shocked at this huge amount. I disputed this bill and the manager reduced the bill to a more acceptable amount which compares to what I usually pay in marinas elsewhere.

Apparently electrical discrepancies at Shelter Bay have been a sore point with a number of yachties since they opened and many yachties have just paid up and sailed away to complain about it at sundowners. I hope the marina can do something about this problem because it is a really nice place and with a bit of fine tuning, and if the proposed services are initiated, it will be a perfect base for the Western Carribean.

Shelter Bay Marina sent this response:

We would like to respond the email sent by T. McCarroll on August 23rd, 2010 from SV Virgos Child.

The power outage is an unfortunate problem in Panama, but is totally out of our hands and it is generally rectified by the electrical company fairly quickly. In the instance of this particular boat, the meter was found to be faulty and an adjustment was made to his account. We like to assure the potential visitor to our Marina of our best attention at all times to make their stay a pleasant one.

Francia O'Donnell - Marina Manager

Posted 13 December 2009
In Praise of Shelter Bay Marina
From Michael Pass, SY Blue Sky

Shelter Bay marina is easily the most convenient and comfortable place to stay at the Caribbean end of the Panama Canal. Some cruisers appear to be concerned about the cost, though this compares very favourably with similar facilities and indeed is much more competitive than many. This, despite the monopoly position which Shelter Bay enjoys.

For your berthing fee you get a well designed and well maintained marina with high quality floating concrete docks, choice of electrical connection and good water quality and pressure. There is a good bar/restaurant with free pool table, a great clean swimming pool and hot tub, a large cruisers common room with internet points and satellite TV and of course the free shopping bus to Colon. Good WiFi covers the marina for $10 a week. The bathrooms are large, clean individual suites and there are plenty of working laundry machines. Security in the whole area is excellent.

If you're planning on work on the boat, there's a large travelift and you're welcome to use the workshop facilities - much more comfortable than struggling on the pontoon.

And the thing I like about Shelter Bay is that they do try hard to get it right. The owner walks the docks regularly to solicit feedback from cruisers, and if there's any problem, it does get fixed

boatbill61 says:
Dec 04, 2015 04:34 PM

Arriving at Shelter Bay Marina with a new (to us) boat, we discovered a small leak in one of the port stowage lockers. SBM declared it to be a salt water leak due to corroded thru hull valves in the head. I tasted the water and found it to be fresh, not salt. I looked at the thru hull valves, and decided to haul out to replace them. After hauling out, it was discovered by the marina that the valves could be reconditioned. The next day, the repair manager informed me that my hull was completely poxed (blistered) and would have to be repaired. I asked for a quote on the repair for the hull, and was quoted $7,899.00. Since the rest of the boat was in fairly good condition, we decided to go with the blistering repair.

Over the next 6 months on the hard, they ground off the gelcoat and three layers of blow-in chop fiberglass, used four different techniques to dry the hull, testing with two different moisture meters, and eventually managed to just put the boat in their shed, and re-glass it. They tried, air drying in tropical Panama, using an alcohol wash, using power washing, skirting the hull with heavy plastic sheets, and eventually placing household dehumidifiers under the sheets. After 6 months, the moisture numbers came down to a workable reading of between 14-18.

During this time, I was charged $143.50 per week for the space in the yard,and $105.00 per week to live aboard my own boat in the yard, plus electricity and water. Unable to cook aboard, I had to eat in the marina restaurant.

The boat was finally taken to the shed during the rainy season so they could reglass the hull. After another month in the shed, she was splashed and taken to her slip. Two days back in the water, we discovered the head not working, and the head sink not draining. After searching for the cause of this issue, we suspected they might have, incredibly, fiberglassed over the thru hull outlets. When we suggested this, they re-hauled her and found exactly that. In fact, they had glassed over the mushrooms, too. They needed then to drill out the holes, replace the thru hull valves, cut out the buried mushrooms and replace them, and refinish the new bottom again, which was done in unmatched patches. The marina manager offered us a discount for the four days of work done on our boat after they had fiberglassed over the thru hulls themselves.