Cristobal (Colon) - General Info

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Colon is Panama’s second-largest city and is located on the eastern shore of Limon Bay at the northern/Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal. The city is considered an unsafe place to visit and reports a high crime rate and drugs problems. Despite the crime, many tourists are required move through the city to access cruise ships. The port is busy and places to anchor are limited and subject to frequent change.

Shelter Bay is 2NM away on the western edge of Limon Bay near Fort Sherman. The marina is a quieter, more remote place but it is a long way from most services. That said, with the new bridge over the Panama Canal it is now only 50 minutes from Panama City.

Cruiser Highlights:

Customs; Immigration; airport; provisioning; tourism options; medical service; boat storage; Canal access.

Cruisers VHF Net – Caribbean side of Panama: VHF Channel 77 daily at 07:30.

Cruiser Resource Guide for Panama City
The guide is updated several times a year and contains a great many useful business listings, tips and advice by cruisers. Author: Debi Shaimas – SV Serenity.

Entry Notes or Cautions:

Contact Cristobal Signal Station on VHF Channels 12 or 16 before entry into the harbour. Boats will be directed to the designated yacht anchorage, or to Shelter Bay Marina (VHF channel 74). (Note: advance reservations are recommended for Shelter Bay Marina).

A daylight arrival is strongly advised as although well buoyed, the main entrance channel is hard to follow at night.

Also beware of the shoal ground extending 200m east from the southern side of the Marina entrance which is not accurately depicted on some charts.


09° 22’47″N, 79° 55’52″W (Shelter Bay approach channel)

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Cristobal (Colon) was last updated 5 months ago.

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  1. March 13, 2019 at 7:43 AM
    Data Entry3 says:

    Thanks very much. How do I contact them before arrival to `sbm

  2. August 30, 2018 at 10:35 PM
    Data Entry3 says:

    The issues in Colon are real, the city itself is a mess, construction of new sewers and water lines have most streets torn up, It causes flooding and creates a permeant traffic jam. Crime remains an issue as it has in the past.

    Garbage collection is hampered by the construction and the list goes on. We are expanding our services for canal transits to ensure that none of our customers has to go into Colon.

    The Canal has moved anchorage F, the designated anchorage of small craft. “Normally 300ft or less”, it includes just about anything too small to anchor outside the breakwater. As the event described by Captain Ben (below) occurred. the Canal was in the process of dredging a new anchorage F, closer to Shelter Bay Marina, to 8 meters.

    Consequently, vessels were temporarily directed to the anchor of the City of Colon in a very unpleasant anchorage exposed to the swells and near the public dock, which has numerous security issues.

    A month ago, the new anchorage F was opened for use, close to Shelter Bay Marina. Needless to say, we are concerned about the security issues this presents. The anchorage will be used by commercial vessels as well as yachts. Until now we have had very few dinghy visits, only this one, and none from the tenders of the merchants and the vendors to these small vessels.

    So, let me address both issues mentioned by Captain Ben: Dinghy Dock Fees and Fuel.

    Dinghy Dock Fees:
    We are in the process of constructing a Dinghy Dock to be able to offer a proper docking spot for the tenders arriving from the new anchorage area. Along with it, some packages are being revised in order for customers that arrive via tender can use our services and facilities.

    Going from SBM to Colon in a cab has a $50.00 back and forth cost, so I understand a $25.00 daily fee for use of our bus for up to 2 crew (depends on availability), is not as exorbitant as Captain Ben comments on in his review. Packages being developed will give access to our Bus Service, Bathroom facilities, showers with hot water and a Wi-Fi code. In addition line handlers, lines and fender pick up will be included in the Dinghy Dock Fees.

    As you know we have Port Captain and Immigration Offices on Site to better serve SBM customers, these operations are in part being funded by SBM so the Dinghy Dock Fee will cover their arrival to clear as well. The charge being established may even be waived if the customer consumes a minimum at our facilities, in the Bar, Restaurant, Mini Market or Chandlery.

    This anchorage being closer to SBM will be an opportunity for us to provide additional services to current and new customers and get to know a more budget oriented Cruiser group.

    We believe the vessel in question pumped 10 gallons of diesel at our facilities. Diesel was pumped directly to his tank as per our records and a sample of diesel pumped to his vessel was provided to him and another was sent to the lab for additional testing. This procedure is carried out for every fuel pump that is performed to vessels directly to their tank.

    We only pumped 10 gallons, so the issue that arose on his vessel has to be related to the bad sea conditions he may have endured in his trip from Cartagena and motoring 200 miles. He only pumped 10 gallons so it’s difficult to attribute the damage to us.

    In the end Captain Ben is not blaming us, but just mentioning we serve bad fuel is definitely a killer for us. SBM in the last year served more than 900 vessels and this is the only issue reported. I contacted the 5 previous customers and the next 5 customers and none of them reported any issue. So, I am 100% certain we have not provided dirty fuel. In addition, it is the same fuel we use in our equipment and we have not had any problems.

    Russ Goedjen
    Director Shelter Bay Marina

  3. August 10, 2018 at 2:46 AM
    Data Entry3 says:

    This is advice to everyone who thinks about a stop in Cristobal – Colon: My advice does not stop there. We knew before we go how dangerous city it is, but this out of the question.

    We stop there as we need fuel to continue our trip towards Bocas. We refuelled in the only marine still alive there: Shelter bay. The other one was already closed, good situated and reasonable prices… but there is instead a cargo terminal. Club Nautico do not allow us even to get in through the doors…

    After getting refuelled, we set sail to Bocas. After a night our injection pump stopped to work. We asked for refuge in Colon bay returning back as our only chance at this moment, asking to get into the bay with sails.

    Very bad decision. They refused to allow me to get in with sails, and after I had to remind them there is an old custom to help any boat from the sea looking for refuge with problems in the engine, they finally accepted.

    They command me to anchor in “la playa”. The worst place in the city, close to the worst slum among the bad slums. There is no possibility to go ashore from this place, as there is a private dock and they don’t allow you to use it, as other guys paid for that exclusive business to carry with people from/to the boats.

    The only way is to pay 20 dollars to some guys in a dinghy each time they pick you-you up and back, using the same dock forbidden to your dinghy. Do not trust in them. If you have a problem better go out, even you are in a bad position.

    The whole city is surrounded by a breakwater with big stones, so it is impossible to disembark with the dinghy. Any facility to cruisers. Only a small beach, in the north of the city, very far from la playa. Anyway, the place can scare on this own. It is close to club Nautico, that’s why I reached it, but they refuse even to let me in. I asked them to go inside and they told me “I don’t have problems!!”

    After a few days sleeping in my cockpit as a sentinel, I move the boat towed to shelter bay anchorage, before asking for authorities, trying to find a little more kindness within my pains… Just a few days after that, some yacht was boarded by thieves in la playa. It was in the local newspaper, they were captured.

    In Shelter bay, anchored outside, we wanted to go ashore to the marina to have a drink, use their bus or buy something we needed in their shops, as we were still working on the broken engine. We didn’t go to use the facilities without pay. We know everything has a cost and someone should support that, but we are surprised that cost, in my opinion, was too much expensive.

    They asked us for 25$ every day we go there, every day of a week, or 35$ if it is for a single day. This is my first time in my cruiser days, I was anchored outside a marina and I should pay half the price of dockage. In all the rest of marinas

    I visited before, they understand you are going to make expenses surely so they will profit on it, so they don’t have this thinking.

    But the key point is I was there not because I wanted to, but because of a problem, I hadn’t before I went to this place… So I can’t prove the fuel for shelter bay is bad but I have some facts to say here:

    – Last time I refuelled in Cartagena, full tank. After that, I make about 200 miles at engine without problems. I checked filters and they were ok in Portobello.

    – I take fuel from Shelter Bay, and in about 15h of working the engine it stops to work, my filters dirty and full of water.

    – I went to pump mechanics. The pump was full of debris, mud, sand and water. More than 500$ to fix it.

    – I picked up some of that fuel to a jerry can, out of the fuel tank, and filter again with a funnel filter, and I could see (I have a video)that there was debris at the end, more than the normal case.

    – Afterwards, I bought other fuel outside the marina, in a petrol station, in Colon. I did the same check with the funnel. There wasn’t debris. Very clean.

    – Some guy living in the marina said me he never refuel there as in his opinion that fuel comes from big boats and it is not so good as small boat needs. Maybe it is the only gossip…
    but the fact is in shelter bay they don’t have a petrol station itself, they use a patrol boat, an external company, not always there.

    Anyway, I´m not stating again, the problem is or not is in the Shelter bay fuel station. It could be debris and water already inside my tank and mixed with old fuel and with bad weather and big waves this night. I just give this info to you, to know what happened to me, to be cautious,
    take care and use pre-filters funnel or somehow, and check your filter at your engine before and after refuel.

    Even it could be also Club de Pesca in Cartagena, the previous refuelled place. But sure one out of the two gives me the bad fuel.

    I haven’t submitted an official complaint because I have not firm evidence about the issue.

    This is not a revenge, only advice for others, you should keep an eye and in the event, they have the same problem can help me to know more. Also, for the company to have more test or procedures to avoid such situations. I have already spent 1000$ dollars in the problem, and still not finished.B besides the money waste, the time and money not earned, and our… lifetime.

    I have more and more things, most of them bad, to say about Colon and what happened to us there… just one thing more: better not go to AMP in Colon to make papers: in our case, a corrupt civil servant asked for extra money as I wanted the paper that Friday and he blackmailed me refusing to do it, or if not pay, I should wait until Monday. So better not go on Friday and with the rush…

    My impression is they are Lahore a river of gold “cruising” close to their noses, but for any reason, they don’t care about us.


  4. November 20, 2017 at 9:38 PM
    Data Entry3 says:

    Reported by CSSN – Theft:
    DATE: 2017-11-01 23:00
    Location Detail: Ft. Sherman Shelter Bay Marina
    DETAILS: Whilst moored at B dock in Shelter Bay Marina, a black folding bicycle was left (set up) and on its stand in the vessel’s cockpit, unlocked. At some point during the night, the vessel was boarded and the bike was stolen.

  5. June 14, 2016 at 9:25 PM
    Data Entry3 says:

    We would like to recommend Thorsten Boehnke and his girlfriend Laura. Thorsten is a thorough and competent person who will help you with most boat repairs. He helped us A LOT with fibreglass work and refitting our keel after a grounding. Thorsten does things right and in a professional manner.

  6. June 2, 2016 at 10:50 AM
    Data Entry3 says:

    Posted on behalf of CDElahunt (who posted this on the main Panama page):
    Shelter Bay Marina now has an excellent Sail Loft, that is able to undertake all sail and canvas repairs. They also make dodgers(sprayhoods), biminis, covers and all things canvas.

    Speak to April she is a very helpful Canadian/Brit, who understands your needs and works to tight deadlines. A great place to get everything sorted Sail and Canvas wise before crossing The Pacific.

    The marina has also recently announced that it wants cruisers to paint their boat names on The old Theatre Building and leave a permanent reminder, much like Las Palmas and The Azores. It seems like a good idea as it is often the last place boats stop in The Atlantic, before transiting the Canal and crossing The Pacific.

  7. May 11, 2016 at 4:22 AM
    Data Entry3 says:

    Thorsten Boehnke

    Shelter Bay Marina – liveaboard We had an excellent experience with Thorsten and Laura who are multilingual, talented, helpful and have a real ‘can do’ attitude. Really nice people who care about doing a good job and go that extra mile to get things sorted. The main job was fitting a hydrovane but they also help sort a few other issues too. Can highly recommend them.

  8. March 5, 2015 at 11:54 PM
    Data Entry3 says:

    Need an agent for a Panama Canal transit? I recommend Olivier Van Neste (contact via Ninfa Pitters [email protected]) Olivier arranged the transit, lines, and tires (for fenders), and accompanied us on a perfectly painless transit. He is very easy to get along with and his fees were very reasonable. I was very happy with his services.

  9. November 11, 2014 at 2:21 PM
    Data Entry3 says:

    October 2014: New Ferry Service Begins Operating Between Panama, Cartagena, and Bocas del Toro. Full details at:
    Phone: (507)380 0909 in Panama.

  10. August 18, 2014 at 5:48 PM
    Data Entry3 says:

    Hi Jack, advice from a cruising contact of ours in Panama is that there is nothing to be gained by advising the authorities on arrival that the yacht will be shipped out. It’s better to arrive and clear in as normal and leave the option open where airline tickets can be purchased.

    Regulations in Panama are a somewhat grey area and often vary from port to port.
    The recommendation is to clear in on arrival as normal (as if leaving by sea after a stay in Panama). You cannot avoid having to obtain a cruising permit and the Immigration formalities. When ready to ship the yacht, clear out with Port Captain and Immigration and at that time airline tickets should be on hand.

  11. August 15, 2014 at 1:47 PM
    Data Entry3 says:

    Our crew are departing in Panama and flying home. The boat is being shipped to Canada. Is it required / advisable to have airline tickets? One member is waiting until the boat is loaded before coming home and does not yet have a ticket.

  12. April 15, 2014 at 3:15 PM
    Data Entry3 says:

    Posted on behalf of D. Laurin, S/Y Vimy:

    I want to inform the yachting community about a top notch Electrical Engineer who is working both in Shelter Bay Marina (Colon – Panama) and out of Panama City/Balboa.
    He is the first seriously professional electrical trained person that I have encountered in many years of cruising. This is the first time that I have bothered to make a comment about a Trade here or anywhere.

    Name: Tom Valentine
    Company: Marine Electric
    E-mail: [email protected]
    Tel: 507 -6666 2598

  13. January 16, 2014 at 2:24 PM
    Data Entry3 says:

    Comment from SV Gentle Rain: Jan 11, 2014
    I stored my boat at Shelter Bay Marina from April 2013 to Dec 2013.
    Arriving back I found my new 9.9 hp Yamaha 4 stroke engine and one of my solar panels stolen.

    The boat was in their “secure” yard surrounded by an electric fence.
    We checked the fence and it is NOT connected to the electricity – I have photos to prove this.
    Not a great recommendation. I don’t want to leave my boat there again.
    Catherine, S/v Gentle Rain

    Reply from Shelter Bay Marina:
    We acknowledge that we have a serious issue to deal with to ensure that vessels are properly protected. The electrical fence is fully functioning once again with additional measures to avoid tampering.