The Panama Canal is a man-made canal in Panama which joins the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, it had an enormous impact on shipping between the two oceans, replacing the long and treacherous route via the Drake Passage and Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America.
While the Pacific Ocean is west of the isthmus and the Atlantic to the east, the journey through the canal from the Pacific to the Atlantic is one from east to west. This is a result of a the isthmus's "curving back on itself" in the region of the canal. The Bridge of the Americas at the Pacific end is about a third of a degree of longitude east of the end near Colon on the Atlantic.
Panama Canal Authority Details & contact info.
Arrival at Canal
- From the Caribbean
When 8 miles from the breakwater you need to call "Cristobal Signal" on VHF Ch 12 and inform them of your ETA at the breakwater. They will tell you to proceed to a certain distance off the breakwater and call again. Follow their directions and do not deviate from the directions without first getting permission. Transmissions are in English or Spanish.
- From the Pacific
When 8 miles from Flamenco Island (where the control station is situated) you need to call "Flamenco Signal" on VHF Ch 12 and inform them of your ETA to the start of the approach channel. They will tell you to proceed to a certain distance off the start of the channel and call again. Follow their directions and do not deviate from the directions without first getting permission. Transmissions are in English or Spanish.
Please note that both control stations work on the same VHF Ch 12 and it can be confusing sometimes to monitor the required control station.
Preparation of Vessel for Transit
How should the vessel be prepared for transit?
Submit information on the documentation required by yachts for transit.
Submit a general description of the canal transit.
- Pedro Miguel
Lock Procedure for Yachts
During your transit your cleats will be used in one of three ways as follows:
- if next to a tug you will be tied on firmly to the tug when ascending or descending in the locks. The tug is against the wall and you are tied onto the tug – you only let go your lines once the lock doors have opened for the next chamber.
- If rafted-up to other boats, which appears to only happen in peak yachting season, the outer boats control the lines, similar to the single boat method below.
- With the single boat mid-lock method the line handlers ashore throw heaving lines to the line handlers aboard. You tie your heavy lines onto their lines and they haul them up and place them on the shore bollards. Your line handlers then take a turn around your cleats and hold onto the lines – make sure you have gloves on – and if going up, everybody takes in line as the boat rises, keeping the boat mid-lock. It is strongly advised to take turns on a winch aft, or windlass drum forward, to control the line, as the tension will be great in the turbulence. Going up in the locks is the most turbulent and needs better control of the lines than going down. The reverse is applicable when going down the other side. The lines are fixed to the shore bollards and the line handlers aboard slowly let out line as the boat drops in the lock.
- NEVER “tie-off” or lock the line on the cleat unless tied next to a tug or another vessel – if you do and the lock starts emptying, say goodbye to your cleat!
- You will need four line handlers besides the skipper/captain of your vessel. If you do not have sufficient crew to man the lines, get a few yachties to help but I do recommend you also get at least one person that knows the system to do the transit with you. The best way is to go through as linehandler for another yacht first, to gain experience, and then to look for linehandlers from the yachts that are behind you in the queue. If you are a lass with more brains than brawn, become the official photographer and meals/drinks provider for the transit and get some brawn to handle the lines. Give Rudy a call on 6743-7241. He is a local who has done thousands of transits and two with me – he knows the advisors and the system backwards and can arrange the rent of lines and extra tyres for fenders as well. Remember too that you will have to provide meals to the line handlers and advisors during the transit. (Submitted by member JohnT)
Current Transit Costs
Submit latest costs for transit (quote date)
See the Panama Canal Authority website for the latest transit costs and other important information (updated regularly).
Details of agents and costs.
Marinas & Anchorages (East)
Details for east entry/exit.
Submit comments please.
Submit comments please.
Marinas and Anchorages (Pacific)
Details for South entry/exit
List links to discussion threads on partnering forums. (see link for requirements)
- Forum Discussion (on CruiserLog)
- Forum discussion about "cleats" (on CruiserLog)
- Panama Canal Sailing and Cruising Discussions on Cruisers Forum
- Panama Canal at the Wikipedia
- Video of Transit Time-lapse video of complete transit.
- sv Ocelot (Panama Canal page)
We welcome users' contributions to the Wiki. Please click on Comments to view other users' comments, add your own personal experiences or recommend any changes to this page following your visit. Personal experiences?
- See Comments Posted October '09 by member Gallivanters
- See Comments Posted Sept. '07 by member JohnT
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