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Panama: Waiting Time for Canal Transits Increases

By Sue Richards last modified Mar 01, 2012 02:55 PM

Published: 2012-03-01 14:55:00
Countries: Panama

A number of sources in Panama have informed noonsite that the current waiting time for a Panama Canal transit (after transit arrangements have been made and payment received) is estimated at between two and three weeks (on average 17 days).

Small Craft Advisors are currently coming from the Dredging Division and the Tug Boat Division, both of which are heavily involved with the current large expansion of the Canal. There is therefore a shortage of Advisors, between 2-3 per day and up to 5-6 at weekends.

In addition, Carnival time with its associated holidays has meant less Advisors available and therefore a backlog with small craft transits. Over the last few weeks, on average, 5 yachts have arrived at Cristobal/Colon daily for transit.

Currently, the Canal Authorities are taking yachts all the way through the Canal in one go once they start transit, instead of a two-day schedule up to the Gatun lake the first day and resuming the following date. This is in order to minimise waste/loss of water in the locks as it is now the summer season.

On this basis, a boat may commence transit at 1500 the first day and complete at 0030-0100 the following morning (night transit). Yachts must meet the minimum speed of 8 knots as per canal regulations. They must also make lockage with the same merchant vessel as that in the first locks or with another boat from the same convoy. Boats unable to meet this criteria will be anchored/moored at the Gamboa station overnight and resume transit in the morning with the first boat locking down the last two set of locks.

If a yacht needs to transit urgently, they are entitled to request a special pilot assignment at a cost of $2,410.00 for the Pilot and $364.00 for the Pilot launch service. A transit will be programmed for 2 days after inspection.

Axel + Liz Busch of S/V Gudrun V reported their recent transit experience (February 22nd 2012);

"We started our canal transit Feb 22nd. After a night at anchor behind the Gatun locks the transit was scheduled to continue at 6:30am in the morning. We knew this from two previous transit that we had completed in the week before. This time no advisor showed up until 12pm, and then we had to go at 7kn to make our scheduled appointment at 4:30pm at the Pedro Miguel locks with a freighter.

"The two other boats that were at the anchorage with us were not able to maintain that speed and had to spend another night in the Gatun lake. They arrived at La Playita anchorage at 10am the following morning.

"On Feb. 25th the Canal Authorities responded to the lack of advisers by requesting boats that can maintain 7-8kn of speed to transit the Canal in one go without an overnight stay on the lake. Those boats start now at 3pm in the afternoon and finish the transit about 3am in the morning. Also, no more than three hand-line boats can enter the canal together due to lack of advisers. Previously up to six boats were able to enter the canal together, and within three days the waiting time for a transit increased from a few days to two weeks. This will probably get worse when high season starts in March."

Paul Badenhorst, currently waiting to transit, confirms the big delays;

We arrived on a 46ft catamaran on 28/02/12. Our agent met us later the same day and the next day the admeasurer also came around. We were told we could be transiting within the next day or two.

The agent however has now informed us that we have a booking for 22/03/12, a delay of 23 days! And yes, if we pay US$3000 we can get through within a day or two.

Apparently the lake has little water due to the drought and the locks are only opened once a day. We would thus depart at about 3pm and arrive on the other side at 3am. And yes, there are also not enough advisors/pilots available. Apparently the one transit a day started last week Friday.


Our thanks to SV Gudrun V for bringing news of the delays to noonsite's attention, and to Karsten Staffeldt and Erick of Centenario & Co. for providing further information.