Panama: Canal Transit Information
Outline of the procedure for a handline transit of the Panama Canal. Find out what to expect, the paperwork required and how to transit with or without an agent, the equipment and time you will need and most importantly the costs.
Published 5 months ago, updated 2 months ago
Small craft vessels up to 38.1 meters (125 feet) in length overall normally transit the Canal as handlines (they do not use locomotives in the locks). Handlines under 20 meters (65 feet) will normally transit the Canal with a transit advisor; while handlines of 20 meters (65 feet) or more will normally require a pilot. See the official Procedures For Securing a Handline Transit document for more detail.
GENERAL PROCEDURES (details below)
1) Clear into the country of Panama (see Formalities).
2) Obtain an agent or make your own arrangements. See agent information at the bottom and a list of Clearance Agents in Panama Formalities.
3) Submit your information at least 96 hours in advance of arrival in Canal waters.
4) Arrange an Admeasurer inspection.
5) Pay transit fees.
6) Obtain your transit schedule.
7) Arrange line handlers (need 4 + Captain).
8) Check or rent your equipment.
9) Collect your Transit Adviser.
11) Collection of equipment.
The Panama Canal Authority requires 96 hours advance notification of arrival for vessels wishing to transit. This is done by filling out the form 4405-I Handline Inspection (http://pancanal.com/common/maritime/forms/4405-Eng-20181023.pdf) and emailing it to the Data Office along with your yacht registration documents:
Southbound – Cristobal: [email protected] (507) 443-2298
Northbound – Balboa: [email protected] (507) 272-4571
Note: Call the data office soon after sending the form to ensure it was received and the information is correct.
If you do not have a computer aboard, the Admeasurement Offices at Balboa and Cristobal have computers available for this.
After your forms are submitted you will be told when to expect the Admeasure officer (you can also follow up directly with the Admeasure office):
Balboa Admeasurement Office: (507) 272-4571
Cristobal Admeasurement Office: (507) 443-2298
Waiting time is normally 2-3 days after arrival in Panama.
Inspections are completed between 07:00-14:00 local time Monday-Friday.
There is a fee for inspections outside normal working hours.
The inspection may require you prove you have a toilet and holding tank, bottled water, a working horn and the ability to maintain an appropriate speed (see restrictions further down).
When the inspection is complete you will receive your Panama Canal Ship Identification Number (SIN) which is good for the life of the vessel and an Admeasurement Clearance and Handline Inspection form, which is good for up to six months.
On July 12th, 2022, following the recommendation from the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), the Cabinet Council of the Republic of Panama officially approved modifications to the Canal Tolls structure. This means from 1 January 2023 yachts transiting the Canal will see an increase in tolls for each of the next three years. See details below.
As soon as possible after the Admeasurer inspection, arrange your payment.
Payment can be arranged through a local bonded agent or paid in cash directly at Citibank.
Tolls may be paid between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. from Monday to Friday.
You must present the proper Admeasurement Clearance and Handline Inspection form.
Payment in cash only (US dollars only). Return deposit to your bank of choice.
You can also wire transfer the funds to the ACP account, writing to the Accounting Division at the [email protected] to request the wire instructions.
The Citibank in Colon is closest to the commercial port. If staying at Shelter Bay Marina the daily bus service will drop you right outside Citibank.
On the Pacific side, the closest Citibank is in Niko’s Plaza in Balboa. There is no ATM at the Citibank in Balboa.
Contact the scheduler at (507) 272-4202 after 1800 hours the day of the payment to confirm payment and your tentative transit date.
- Less than 19.812m (65ft): $1,760
- 19.812m-24.384m (65-80ft): $2,640
- 24.384m-30.480m (80-100ft): $3,850
- More than 30.480m (100ft): $5,000
- Less than 19.812m (65ft): $1,935
- 19.812m-24.384m (65-80ft): $2,905
- 24.384m-30.480m (80-100ft): $4,235
- More than 30.480m (100ft): $5,500
- Less than 19.812m (65ft): $2,130
- 19.812m-24.384m (65-80ft): $3,200
- 24.384m-30.480m (80-100ft): $4,660
- More than 30.480m (100ft): $6,000
TVI inspection charge:
All vessels $75 (this increased from $54 in April 2021)
All vessels $165 (this increased from $130 in April 2021)
All vessels $891.00
- Approx $100 for the rental of lines and fenders/tires.
- Transport costs for volunteer line handlers.
- Food and drink costs for the group.
- Agent (optional) $400-$500 for an agent (plus $100 each for “professional” line handlers). Note no buffer deposit is required.
Additional costs for larger yachts:
- Vessels over 20 meter (65 feet) in LOA must have an AIS, otherwise, the Panama Canal Authority will provide a portable unit and a rental fee of $161 will be assessed.
- Vessels over 125 feet LOA will be subject to a Freshwater Surcharge which will include the following components: a fixed fee of $10,000 per transit and a variable fee ranging from a minimum of one percent to a maximum of 10 percent of the vessel’s toll will be applied depending on Gatun Lake levels at the time of transit (i.e. if the lake has a higher level, the percentage will be lower and vice versa). Also there are Disruption Charges, Suitable Conditions Charges and Green Vessel Classification Charges.
Extra charges or fines:
These can sometimes be incurred during transit, especially if you find yourselves with problems such as engine failure etc.. Some examples listed by Mad About Panama are:
- US$440 Delay of Transit for not maintaining your nominated boat speed, such as during a breakdown, or for requesting a stop-over in the lake.
- Admeasurer making the inspection outside of 07:00 and 14:00 (US$75 per hour with a two-hour minimum)
- Adviser’s meal including delivery by launch – this can be US$10+ for the meal and US$350 for delivery.
- A launch to bring out a late line handler was charged $364.
- You can pay US$2800 to request a next-day transit
The ACP will return your buffer into the bank account you detailed for them in Attachment to 4614. This can happen in a week but might take longer.
Southbound transits (Cristobal – Balboa): Normally start late afternoon, anchoring in Gatun Lake for the night and finishing the following mid-afternoon. Recently some yachts have transited the Canal during night hours and not stopped. This is partly due to the fact that insufficient lighting prevented small boat transits at night, however, the lighting has now been improved.
Northbound Transits (Balboa – Cristobal): Normally start around sunrise and finish the same day, late afternoon.
Yachts normally pass through the locks with small commercial ships.
During the months of February/March there is heavy small craft traffic due to the transiting of World ARC and Carnival Holidays (which means limited canal adviser availability). Yachts can expect a 5-10 day wait after the inspection before transiting.
Line Handler Procedure:
The ACP requires that you have four line handlers in addition to the Captain.
Note: It is highly recommended that you join someone else for transit before taking your own yacht through. See Mad About Panama for more details on how to find line handlers.
Most boats have to rent large fenders (normally tires wrapped in plastic) and long lines for their transit. If using an agent, this can all be arranged through them and they will collect all items after transit.
However, if using an unofficial agent, or no agent, the person you contract to rent equipment will most-likely only pick up the lines after transit. This has resulted in cruisers throwing away the used tires. Old tires are a mosquito breeding area; so cruisers are asked to make sure any tires and lines are picked up after transit by the person they came from, or to make arrangements to dispose of them properly.
Yachts transiting the Panama Canal should be aware that lines used in transit may well become oily, greasy and/or stained from rusty moorings and dirt from the locomotive railways. Agent Erick Galvez has brought this to the attention of the Panama Canal Authority urging a solution be sought, but yachts transiting should be aware that lines coming back from the wall, or moorings in Gatun, may bring unwanted dirt back to the boat, and appropriate precautions should be taken. All lines provided by the agent may look dirty, but should be clean and are simply stained.
The Adviser appointed by the Panama Canal Authority will be on board throughout your transit. It’s important to remember that the adviser is not a Pilot in command, but as the name suggests, an adviser. You may not necessarily choose to take all the advice you are given, but do note most advisers know what can go wrong and how to avoid it. The adviser needs to be given proper meals while on board and bottled water with unbroken seals. If your transit is overnight, he will not stay on board and may not eat an evening meal prior to departure, however be sure to confirm this in advance as if hot food is not provided he will order a meal box which can cost several hundred dollars for the meal and delivery (see notes above under Fees). You may get a different adviser on your second day of transit.
The optimum minimum speed to transit the Canal is 8 knots. The Canal Authority may deny transit if a handline vessel cannot maintain a minimum speed of 5 knots. However, a vessel may be towed through the Canal by another handline vessel if it can tow her at 5 or more knots, or the vessel owner can make arrangements to be towed, at their own expense, by a Panama Canal Authority launch.
The vessel must be equipped with a working whistle or horn. The vessel must have a toilet and holding the tank onboard (though the holding tank is not always checked). The vessel must provide the Pilot or Transit Adviser with a hot meal and bottled water, or there could be an additional charge to provide these items for them. An awning must be installed over the cockpit to provide the Transit Adviser and crew with shelter from the sun and rain. The vessel must maintain its schedule, regardless of weather conditions.
For further details see the official ACP Procedures For Securing a Handline Transit document.
Types of Lockages:
There are three types of lockages available to yachts: center chamber; sidewall, or alongside an ACP Tug.
All vessels will be required to be capable of making a center chamber lockage. The other two options will be at the discretion of the Canal Port Captain:
Center Chamber: The vessel is held in the center of the chamber by two bow and two stern lines. This type of blockage requires four 125‐foot lines not less than 7/8” in diameter, nor larger than 1 ½” in diameter.
Nested Center: This is where two or more vessels perform the entire lockage tied up or “nested” alongside each other.
Sidewall Lockage: This type of lockage uses two of the required 125‐foot lines to hold the vessel alongside the sidewall in the chamber. The walls of the locks are rough unfinished concrete, which can cause considerable damage to vessels not properly protected by fenders. Damage to masts or rigging on sailboats may also occur if the turbulence causes the vessels to roll and strike the sidewall.
Alongside an ACP Tug: Availability of this type of blockage depends on the ship traffic for the day, and as such cannot be scheduled.
Cristobal Signal Station and Flamenco Signal Station Balboa (Panama Canal Authority) listen on Channels 12 & 16 and use these channels for Port and Canal movements.
The website Mad About Panama has excellent information as well as a regularly updated Ebook covering all aspects of a yacht transit.
The official Panama Canal website has forms and reference documents, such as “Procedures for Securing a Handline Transit” and “Request for Transit Booking”.
Agents are optional and arranging your own transit is a straightforward process. However, the service of agents is available if you don’t want to do the paperwork for the transit yourself or if you have special timing requirements. The extent of the service depends on the captain’s requirements and negotiations with the agent.
Note that there are official agents, registered with the Canal Authorities, and unofficial “agents”, who in the main are taxi drivers who understand the procedures and where the various offices are located but will be unable to assist should any problems occur during transit. Whilst official agent fees may be a little higher, this includes insurance against problems.
A few things to consider if using an agent:
- If Transit Fees and Buffer (Guarantee Deposit) is paid via the agent and not directly, it should be made clear beforehand how and when the Buffer is refunded or accounted for.
- Daily rate for line handlers – don’t forget to take into account the number of days your transit is expected to take.
- Experience of line handlers and possible language barrier.
- Panama Canal: Tips for Transit
- Panama Canal: A Shortcut Between the Seas (transit Dec. 2021)
- Panama Canal Transit: Covid-19 Field Report (transit April 2020)
- A Transit in High Season Without Using an Agent (transit Feb. 2020)
- Cristobal (Colon)
Last updated: April 2023
The Panama Canal has confirmed a Lane Outage at Pedro Miguel Locks (only the West Lane) from May 9th until May 16th (8 days) as per
Advisory To Shipping No. A-19-2023. Significant delays in unbooked vessels will be expected during this period and several days after the maintanance is completed. Booking a slot is only possible for boats 125ft and over and costs US$10,500.
From Erick Galvez, agency Centenario & Co SA:
FOR YOUR INFORMATION, SAILORS TO TAKE PRECAUTION AT THE GATUN MOORING (V. RUSTY) AND BE AWARE THAT ALTHOUGH WE WASH ALL OUR LINES AFTER USE, SOME STAIN WILL NOT COME OFF FROM THE LINES. SKIPPERS MAY NOTICE THE STAIN WHEN WE HAND OVER LINES, BUT THEY WILL NOT DIRTY YOUR BOAT. HOWEVER DURING TRANSIT LINES MAY COME BACK WITH FRESH GREASE FROM THE WALL AND DIRTY THE BOAT. TAKE THE NECESSARY PRECAUTIONS.
The Panama Canal has scheduled a locks maintenance outage in Gatun locks from July 5th to July 14th (10 days). Significant Panama Canal delays of several days will be expected during this period. If considering transiting the canal during this period it is recommended to book a slot ASAP to avoid delays.