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Panama crossing and where to anchor

Destinations/Anchorages/What's on Shore/Customs and Immigration/Pet Regulations

Panama crossing and where to anchor

by mikejesse » Fri Jan 20, 2012 7:48 am

Crossing the canal end of May 2012. I have already contacted an agent to help with the paperwork from east to west. Starting to research the best place to anchor while waiting to cross and after the crossing for provisions. Any advice would be appreciated.
Thanks, Mike
Windford 1982 Pearson 424
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Re: Panama crossing and where to anchor

by SVJacaranda » Sun Jan 22, 2012 10:09 am

If you not already a member you may want to join the following yahoo Groups. Both groups have 1000 boats onboard and will have lots of info for you. Lots of info on Panama and canal transit,

Southbound_Group - Covers Mexico to Peru

Cruiser Network Online - Covers the Caribe


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Location: Mexico

Re: Panama crossing and where to anchor

by Jack Tyler » Sun Feb 05, 2012 2:39 pm

Mike, I'd suggest you research doing your own arrival/clearance into Panama and also research arranging your Canal transit before you commit to using an agent. It's not a big deal, you can hire someone to help you with Spanish if you find it necessary (mine is minimal and I did just fine), and tying yourself into an agent (who is juggling multiple, simultaneous commitments) may not simplify your life as much as you think. You might find this link useful in determining what's involved: ... Canal.html

Your basic 'holding pattern' anchoring options on the east side are either in the Flats or down the Panama coast until it's almost time to transit. (You can bus in from several anchorages down the coast to talk with the authorities, fellow cruisers, etc.) Aside from the wash and surge in the Flats - a somewhat notorious anchorage even Back in the Day - you face a logistics challenge in getting ashore safely and your dinghy being there when you return, as Colon is a fairly crime-ridden place. You may still find individuals there who will run a launch service for you and escort you into one of Colon's safe areas from which you can taxi around...but once again you are dependent on others who are juggling multiple demands. Bottom line, as I see it: Hanging around the Canal on the north (east) side offers very few underwhelming options, while the marina there (Shelter Bay Marina) isn't a grand experience either. Sorry I can't be more positive about all this - Patricia and I rarely were disappointed by any destination we chose in 53 countries & island nations, but were eager to leave Panama.

On the Pacific side, the option I think is most comfortable is to pick up a Balboa YC mooring, which is probably why they are all taken during the annual yachtie migration westbound. By May, you might find one available and that would be (would have been) our choice. Alternatively, you can anchor in the open roadstead known as La Playita or on its northern side (see the link I mentioned above). There's more surge than you'll find off the BYC and a bunch of yahoos in their fishing boats like to run thru the anchorage on occasion 'just because they can', so mind yourself when in your dinghy. There are soft spots there and boats do drag...and of course one must lay out a lot of rode because of the tide, other reasons BYC beckons. In all three cases, you are dependent on taxis for your provisioning altho' there are a mix of restaurants in both areas.

Good luck to you on the transit. I can't recommend too highly that you do it on another person's boat first, as it will not only help you anticipate what is required and give you a new perspective on who you will select for your line handlers, but it will also illustrate how the Canal's Advisors have limited ability and where your responsibility for the safety of your vessel begins. Some are quite good, some are quite new, some are clueless and there is a pecking order (most transits involve rafting at every lock) among any group of Advisors that means the senior guy may be the clueless one while your skilled Advisor goes mute rather than countermand a stupid order. (I was in that circumstance on one of the 4 transit days we did and I ended up having to handle the raft of 2 boats thru 3 locks myself while both Advisors had their hands in their pockets simply because that was necessary to keep everyone & both yachts from being harmed). Serious damage is rare, popped cleats, scuffs and dinged wood are more common, and line handlers who have too much beer in the sun that day can get seriously injured. Bottom line: Take it seriously and you'll do just fine.

Jack Tyler
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Re: Panama crossing and where to anchor

by Paul L » Sun Feb 05, 2012 8:25 pm

I agree with Jack about not needing an agent and about going as a line handler before you take your boat through. All the advisers I have had on boats (6 or 7 different guys) have been excellent -- good English and very careful. The center lock raftups are the most complicated, in my experience -- too many advisers and too many line handlers. Shelter Bay marina in Colon is a nice place. A bit expensive for short term stays and a bit in the boonies, but good staff, good restaurant and safe. You can anchor in front of Club Nautico and pay a small daily dinghy fee also. To kill some time, you can go 7 miles W and go up the Chargras River - cool trip. Panama is one of best Central Am countries for cruising.

Paul L
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Re: Panama crossing and where to anchor

by jrtippins » Mon Feb 20, 2012 3:48 pm

Portobelo is only 3-4 hours away from Colon and quite protected with internet available, although no wifi in the harbor yet. Good bus service to Colon and Panama City and I hear no theft like there was a few years ago.

We have been very happy with the agent Erick Galvez ( who is about half the price ($350) of the other full service agents, but still professional and competent. His fee include lines and tires, but does not include Customs or Immigration check-in or check-out. Check-in has become a problem in Colon the last few weeks because the local official has been interpreting ambiguous regulations to require everyone get a visa which requires a trip to Colon to get fingerprinted and passport pictures. That may sort itself out soon.

My thought on retaining an agent was that he could get a lot done while I was on anchor in Portobelo and I would not be paying slip fees at Shelter Bay (very high for catamarans), thereby saving money overall. I could also avoid the hassle and expense of going to the different canal offices and not have to post a bond or get it refunded. I ended up staying at Shelter Bay for a week (longer than I wanted) due to high canal demand this time of year and Carnival holidays. At least I was able to take advantage of the free bus to do some provisioning (and to swim in the pool).

The problem is that the boat must be measured and it is virtually impossible to do so anywhere else but Shelter Bay. Until the boat is measured, you cannot get a transit date, I've been told. Once Erick scheduled a measurement date, I arrived at Shelter Bay. I could have left the next day and saved slip fees while waiting for my transit date anchored in Portobelo or off Club Nautico in Colon or up the Chagres River, but I stayed for a few days to find line handlers, do boat chores such as oil changes, provision, use wifi and enjoy the pool.

We pass through the canal tomorrow. Good luck with your passage.

S/V Gypsea Heart
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Re: Panama crossing and where to anchor

by jrtippins » Tue Feb 21, 2012 7:12 am

I would also mention that several boats have anchored near the entrance to Shelter Bay Marina. Shelter Bay allows the people on board the anchored boats to use the marina facility for a fee. The marina staff told me that each boat has to get permission to anchor from the Panamanian Coast Guard (located next to the marina) or else be subject to a large fine, but the staff could not or would not tell me how do go about getting permission.

S/V Gypsea Heart
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Re: Panama crossing and where to anchor

by Jomandy » Tue Feb 21, 2012 6:22 pm

Back in last december I wrote for a friend a procedure to do all canal formalities on your own, i.e. without paying an agent.
It's simple and easy, and might be of interest for yachties on tight budget.
I'd also like to point out that the anchorage off the Club Nautico in Colon is free charge, however you have to pay $5/day dinghy dock fee at Club Nautico:
Procedure To Complete Yourself The Panama Canal Clearance Formalities (Atlantic Side)

This procedure applies for a boat that has already cleared in the country of Panama, prior to arrive in Colon (e.g. in Porvenir/San Blas, or in Portobello, or in Bocas del Toro), i.e. the boat has a valid cruising permit (“Permiso de navegacion para naves de placer”), and a “zarpe” from the last port of call.
If you arrive in Colon directly from a foreign country, then you’ll have to do an international entry, with a visit to immigration (USD30 fee per passport) and customs, prior to go to the Port Captain office, where you’ll have to pay the cruising permit if you plan to stay in Panama waters after transiting the canal (USD193 for 1 year for boats longer than 10m, you’ll have to check the fee for smaller boats)
Boats arriving in Colon for transiting the canal, and then immediately leaving Panama after the transit, do not need a cruising permit

1. Clear into Colon upon arrival in Colon
- Take a taxi to Autoridad Maritima De Panama (Port Captain's Office, a.k.a. "AMP") with your boat registration document (Original + 1 copy), one crew list, the Captain passport (Original + 1 copy), and the “zarpe” from your last port of call.
- There is no fee for clearing into Colon if you have a zarpe from another Panamanian port.
- You will have to return to this location just prior to transiting the canal, to get a zarpe to go to Balboa, Panama or the next port-of-call.
- No boat inspection or health check is required
2. Go to Admeasurement office.
- After you have cleared into Colon at the AMP office, walk two blocks north to the entrance of the Cristobal commercial port, (gates with a big sign reading “PANAMA PORT COMPANY”). You must pass through the gates and go to the Cristobal Signal Station, which is the 4 floor white tower, located at the far end of the pier.
- Tell the guard at the gate that you want to go to the building of the “Autoridad del Canal de Panama” a.k.a ACP for a canal transit. He will ask to see your passport and fill the entry log.
- No children are allowed inside the port area, and they don’t want them to be left alone at the entrance while the parents go to the ACP!!
- You are not allowed to walk to the ACP tower, the guard will tell you where to wait for the small white bus, transporting the employees inside the port area. Tell the driver that you want to go to the ACP building, the ride is free!
- The Canal Admeasurer's office (Tel. 443 2293) is located on the second floor of building 1000, and it takes only a few minutes to fill the only form required. The lady in the office will give you instructions on when and where to anchor your vessel for measurement purposes (usually at the Flats).
- In most cases your vessel will be measured two days after visiting the Admeasurer's office.
- You’ll have to walk back to the container area to catch the bus, in order to go back to the entrance of the port area.

3. Admeasurer inspection of the boat
- The admeasurer will come aboard and spend about an hour to measure your vessel and complete all of the necessary forms, he speaks English and Spanish,. He will issue the ACP number
- He will inspect handlines
- He will give you a copy of the ‘’Procedure for securing a handline transit of the Panama canal’’, showing all the requirements for transiting the canal, the fees, the required phone numbers, and a very detailed set of instructions covering all of the steps related to transiting the Panama Canal
- ‘’Procedure for securing a handline transit of the Panama canal’’ can be downloaded at : ... 52-eng.pdf
- When filling the ‘’Handline lockage request’’ form 4627, he will ask you what kind of lockage you prefer and what kind you want to avoid (e.g. ‘’sidewall’’ is not advised for sailboats, because the mast could hit the sidewall because of the turbulences in the locks)
4. Payment fees
- After your boat has been measured, go to Citibank (Mon. to Fri., between 8.30 a.m. and 3.30 p.m), with all the documents issued by the Admeasurer. The bank is located across the street from the AMP office (where you cleared in).
- Once inside you’ll see on your left a special counter for Canal Transits. You’ll have to fill the Admeasurement Clearance and Handline Inspection form 4614
- Then go to the cashier to pay the transit (USD609) and buffer (USD891) fees (i.e. a total of USD1,500). Payment is only accepted in US dollars and in cash.
When you fill the form 4614, you get to decide how you’ll receive the refund of the buffer, and you have three choices:-
1) Wait 2 to 3 weeks and pick up a check at the canal administration office in Panama city, located in the Administration Building, 3rd. floor, Room #343 from 7:15-11:45 and 12:45-4:00. For this, you should write down your request in the Admeasurement Clearance and Handline Inspection form 4614. Take note that the refunds are made in USD and the process takes 2 to 3 weeks after the vessel has transited, as long as there are no extraordinary charges
2) Have the canal administration office mail you a check (in USD only) to your "home address", which you write on the Admeasurement Clearance and Handline Inspection Form No. 4614.
3) If you prefer to receive your refund of the buffer by wire transfer directly to your personal bank account, this can be done only with US Dollars and it will have a cost of $25.00, which will be discounted from the amount to be refunded. You should state in the Form 4614 that you wish your refund through wire transfer, and provide the following information:
Customer Number
Beneficiary Name
Beneficiary Account Number
Bank Name
Bank Code (ABA, SWIFT Code, CHIPS)
Bank Address
Note: The bank account supplied here should be able to receive US Dollars. You should take note that the correspondent bank and intermediary bank charge a commission fee for this service.
Make sure you take your bank routing and account information to Citibank with you, if you choose this option
5. Get date and time of transit
- Information regarding transit date and time can be obtained from the Marine Traffic Scheduler only after the vessel has been cleared, transit requested and tolls paid.
- The telephone number of the scheduler is 272-4202 and should be contacted after 1800 hours the day of the inspection, but prior to 30 days after the issuing date of the Handline Inspection form.
6. Confirm transit the day before transit
- Day prior to transiting call Marine Traffic Scheduler after 18h00, Tel. 272-4202 to confirm transit and get time for picking up the pilot at the Flats
7. Get your Zarpe for the Pacific side
- Day before transiting also return to the AMP to get a zarpe for the Pacific side.
- It’s compulsory to have a zarpe even if you don’t leave Panama for a foreign destination directly after transiting the canal, and stop either in Balboa, or the “Brisas de Amador” anchorage near the Flamingo marina, or any other destination on the Panama Pacific coast.
- You’ll have to check in upon arriving at your next port of call in Panama, and you can be fined up to USD300 if you don’t have a zarpe.
- At the AMP building you have to go first to the first office on the second floor to get a “Consentimiento de zarpe”, for which you need a copy the Captain passport, and the boat registration, and also crew list, and the original of the “Declaracion General” that you got when you checked in. Beware there is no copying machine available in this office!
- Then you have to pay USD4.50 for this “Consentimiento de zarpe”
- With this document in hands, go to the Port Captain office (where you cleared in) to request your “zarpe”. Again you have to provide a copy of the boat registration and the captain passport, plus a crew list, and pay a fee of USD12.20.
- If you plan to leave for a foreign destination immediately after transiting the canal, the you have to also clear out with immigration and customs

This procedure has been written as a guide only, to inform my fellow cruisers, and it is not an official document!
The information was compiled and assumed correct as of December 1st, 2011, when I completed the procedure to transit the canal with my own sailboat

Joel on S/V Jomandy
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Re: Panama crossing and where to anchor

by jrtippins » Sun Feb 26, 2012 4:11 pm

We have now been through the canal and I will post a few observations.

1. FOCUS. I have been through the canal twice and both times there were incidents that either caused damage or could have easily caused damage to boats. It is easy for everyone to be enjoying the trip, but first and foremost is the safety and the boat and crew. It only takes a second for things to go wrong. During my last trip, both the adviser and owner of a boat were not paying attention as the raft of boats headed for the side of the locks and his boat scraped the concrete. No one will care more about your boat than you.

2. LINE HANDLERS. You can use backpackers or taxi drivers at your own peril. Most of the time, that will work out, but do you want to take the risk? Improve the odds by hiring two experienced and Spanish speaking line handlers. Since you will usually be rafted up, they will do most of the work. The other two line handlers can be people used to being on boats such as other cruisers. You do not want line handlers that are taking pictures and waving when there is important work to do.

3. ADVISERS. They can be good or bad. Our advisers were employed as boat captains by the Canal, but other advisers in our raft-up worked at the Canal visitor center and the other as an ad measurer. They may not know how your boat best operates. A day after I passed through, and adviser instructed a boat to take a short cut and it went hard aground and had to be pulled off. You are the captain and responsible for your vessel. Don't expect the Canal to pay for any damage. In fact, they will be looking to you for payment.

I respect the people who do their own canal preparation to save money, but I submit taking your "home" and likely biggest investment through the potential dangers of the locks warrants due care and it is well worth a few extra dollars to increase the odds of a successful passage.

S/V Gypsea heart
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Re: Panama crossing and where to anchor

by Ainia » Sat Mar 03, 2012 5:56 pm

We went through last year. If you are an SSCA member I did a letter to the Bulletin about it (Mayish 2011). Similar to the information provided above. You can make your own arrangements without too much difficulty. The anchorage at Club Nautico is not great, but doable. Open to swells from the open ocean through the eastern gap. Both an advisor and admeasurer said not to anchor in The Flats, other than for measurement and to wait for advisor - they said it is not safe. If you have to wait for more than a couple of days I would suggest heading somewhere else rather than waiting in Colon.
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