Yachts and small vessels less than 125 feet in length arriving at the Pacific entrance or Cristobal entrance of the Panama Canal require certain clearances. If the vessel doesn't plan to transit the Canal, the crew will check in with immigration authorities upon arrival ashore and receive the proper clearances. If the vessel plans to transit the Canal, and has a local agent, they will be boarded shortly after arrival by the Panama Canal Authority Boarding Officers and cleared for quarantine so they can go ashore. The agent will make an appointment with the appropriate Admeasurement Office to have the vessel measured and required inspections completed prior to transit. The Agent will guarantee the proper payments required for transit. If the vessel doesn't have an Agent, the master should make an appointment with the proper Admeasurement Office through VHP channel 12 Flamenco Signal Station in Balboa or Cristobal Signal station on the Atlantic side. Alliteratively, once they have cleared ashore, they can call the Balboa Admeasurement Office at (507) 2124511, or the Cristobal Admeasurement Office at (507) 4432293 to make an appointment.

overall length feet

fiixed transit fee


total deposit fee

up to 50 feet $500 $800 $1300  
50<length>80 $750 $650 $1400  
80<length>100 $1000 £700 $1700  
100<length $1500 $900 $2400  

















a.     All vessels must be measured and receive a safety and equipment inspection prior to their initial transit or their first transit after modification to the vessel's structure.

 b.    After being inspected they will be issued. Three forma.

 The first is the Admeasurement Clearance and Handling Inspection FormfNo Agents) . This allows the master to go to the Citibank in Balboa or Cristobal during their office hours between 8:00 AM and 2:00 PM , during weekdays only, to pay for the transit. The payment can be made in cash in U.S. dollars, or by credit card. On the Pacific side, the Citibank is located in building 778 Balboa, telephone number (507) 228-0165. On the Atlantic side, the building is located in front of the Cristobal Piers, telephone numbers 443-6303, or 443-6144. The total payment includes a transit fee and a buffer. The buffer is used in case additional charges are incurred during the transit and in most cases, it is refunded. The total fée is based on overall length.

        The second form is the Hand line Lockage Request which you will be provided a Copy.  This form includes the type of lockage, a physical description of the vessel,  and the equipment required to be aboard during the transit. This form is delivered by the Admeasurer to the Canal Port Captain for his approval. The approved copy is given to the scheduler to assist him in assigning the vessel to the transit schedule. 


The third form is the Hand line Undertaking to Release and Indemnify. It identifies several Panama Canal requirements with which small vessels cannot comply with. Upon signing the Form,   the master releases the Panama Canal authority from liability in case of any accident, damage or injury, caused by use of equipment aboard the vessel that does not meet Panama Canal 's requirements.



Upon arrival at the Balboa Anchorage or Cristobal Breakwater, the vessel will contact the appropriate Signal Station announcing its arrival and requesting anchoring instructions. The Signal Station will direct the vessel to the anchorage and give any operational restrictions that may be in effect. In no case shall handlines be allowed to pass beyond the Bridge of the Americas northbound, or beyond buoys 3 and 6, Limon Bay , southbound, without the services of a Canal pilot or transit advisor.

Small vessels transiting as handlines will normally transit during daylight hours. Exceptions may be made by the proper authorities.


The Panama Canal authority shall deny transit if a handline vessel cannot maintain a speed of 4 knots. However, a vessel may be towed through the Canal by another handline vessel if, it can tow her at 4 or more knots, or make arrangements to be towed.

Sailing yachts cannot transit me Canal under sail. They must transit with motor propulsion. If the vessel is equipped with an outboard motor as its primary propulsion, it must have a reverse. The operator must be able to control the outboard motor from the cockpit, or else, the vessel may need a Port Captain* s inspection.

Small craft less than 20 meters (65 feet) in length shall be assigned a transit advisor, who will function as an advisor to the master, who provides communications with the locks, transiting vessels and Authority Transit Controllers, knowledge of the Canal operating area, and procedures to follow. These vessels will be assigned a Panama Canal Pilot only under special circumstances. Small craft more than 20 meters (65 feet), require a pilot.




All handline vessels are required to be equipped with 4 ropes, of adequate strength for the size of the vessel to maintain it stable in the lock chamber under strong turbulence. These ropes must be a minimum of 125 feet (38 meters) long and have a loop tied on one end about three feet in diameter. The ropes must be free of knots or splices in order to pass freely through the chocks. The vessel must be equipped with adequate fenders, at least 4 to prevent damage from making contact with the rough concrete of the chamber walls during lockage. Normally, ropes and tires for fenders can be rented from local yacht clubs, or shipping agents if needed. It is the

vessel's responsibility to have enough fenders on board and properly placed. AH vessels must have an anchor capable of being retrieved without delay. The vessel must be equipped with a working whistle or horn. The vessel should have a toilet on board or they could experience delays while relieving the pilot or transit advisor. The vessel should provide the pilot or transit advisor with a meal and fresh drinking water, or there could be an additional charge to provide these items for them. An awning should be installed over the cockpit to provide the transit advisor and crew with shelter from the sun and rain.




After inspection, the Canal Port Captain or his designee, will determine whether your vessel transits the Canal as a "center chamber" or "sidewall" handline lockage. This determination is based on hull configuration, protruding railings, awnings, tall masts, spars or anything else which could be damaged when made fast alongside Chamber Walls.

On up lockages, heavy turbulence is encountered. Consequently, ail lines should be inspected for condition and should be of sufficient size and strength to hold the vessel under heavy strain, recommend at least 7/8" in diameter. All handlers must have enough strength and skill to control lines during times of turbulence.


Regardless of the type of lockage planned, every vessel must be equipped for center
chamber lockage, especially with regard to number of line handlers and number of
mooring lines.



Following ship into a chamber, the crew of the handline vessel passes the first bow and stern line to line handlers on the approach wall at position 1. At position 2, crew passes the second set of bow and stern lines to line handlers on sidewall of chamber. At position 3 ail lines are made fast on board and ashore for flooding operation.

Sufficient experienced and capable crew members must be on board to provide four line handlers and a competent operator at ail times.

Chocks and bits or cleats should be inspected to make sure ail fittings are in good condition and fasteners well secured. They will be under heavy strain during the transit. The area around these fittings must be clear of gear so that the lines can be safely and efficiently handled.

Remember it's your yacht. If it is damaged due to faulty or insufficient equipment or improper handling of boat or equipment by the crew, the loss of time and expense will be yours. Try to have your vessel in top shape.

When asked, be sure to tell the Canal Port Captain the correct top speed that your vessel can sustain. There can be hazardous currents associated with the transit, and it is important that your vessel be able to maintain a safe speed at ail times.

Vessels, which cannot sustain a speed of at least four (4) knots, and vessels without properly operating engines should make arrangements to be towed through the Canal. A Panama Canal Commission launch can perform this towing service with ail towing charges at your expense.

If, at the start of the transit, the craft cannot maintain a safe speed, as reported to the Canal Port Captain, the craft will be turned around and returned to the starting point. If this occurs, an aborted transit charge will be billed to the craft.

Normally for sailboats or slow vessels, the transit will take two days. If the vessel must anchor for the night at Gambia or Gating Anchorage, no one other than Panama Canal Authority personnel are allowed to go ashore without the Port Captains permission and then only on PCA launches. No dinghies or rowboats are permitted.




There are three optional types of lockages available to yachts under 125' L.O.A. when transiting the Canal. They are: center chamber; sidewall or alongside a Commission Tug. Ail vessels will be required to be capable of making a center chamber lockage. The other two options will be at the discretion of the Commission Port Captain.

b.   Sidewall Lockage: This type of lockage uses two of the required 125-foot lines to hold the vessel alongside one sidewall in the chamber, recommended rope size of not less than 7/8". 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

  a. Center Chamber Lockage: The vessel is held in the center of the chamber by two bow and two stern lines. This type of lockage requires four 125-foot lines, recommended size not less than 7/8" diameter, nor larger than 11/2" in diameter. Locks personnel cannot handle lines any larger in diameter than this.


c.   Alongside a Commission Tug: This type of lockage, when available, also uses two of the required 125-foot lines, recommended size of not less than 7/8" rope. Availability of this of lockage depends on the ship traffic for the day, and as such cannot be scheduled.

d. Another option to center chamber or sidewall lockage is called nested. This is where one or several handline vessels tie up along side each other. This type of lockage is used when several handlines are transiting at the same time.  




Four-foot diameter wells in floor admit water from conduits into chamber. Great pressure boils surface but fills huge chamber in less than 15 minutes.

If you are unable for any reason, to commence your scheduled transit, your vessel will be charged a fee of $295 for delay, unless the transit was cancelled prior to close of regular business hours on the day immediately preceding the scheduled transit. Hopefully, this will prevent the unnecessary call out of a pilot or transit advisor.

If your yacht is operated from an open cockpit an awning should be rigged, if possible. This will keep the operator, pilot and crew out of the sun and rain during transit. Vessel must maintain its schedule, regardless of weather conditions.

Your cooperation with Canal officials will not only save time. and expense, but will result in a much smoother transit for ail concerned.

We hope that this information will be of help to you. We take this opportunity to wish you a pleasant stay in Panama .


Panama Canal is 50 miles long from deep water in the Atlantic to deep water in the Pacific. It was cut through one of the narrowest places and at one of lowest saddles of the long isthmus of Panama, which joins the North and South American continents. The

original elevation was 312 feet above sea level where it crosses the Continental Divide in the rouge mountain range.

 The Canal runs from northwest to southeast with the Atlantic entrance being 33.5 miles north and 27 miles west of the Pacific entrance. The airline distance between the two entrances is 43 miles. 

It requires about 9 hours for an average ship to transit the Canal. During this brief time, the passengers aboard have the opportunity to see one of modern wonders of the world in operation. Its principal physical features are the two terminal ports, shorts sections of the channel at either end at sea level, the three sets of twin locks, Gatun Lake and Gaillard Cut .

A ship that gees through the Canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific should enter the channel from Limon Bay at the Cristobal breakwater.

The sea level section of the Canal on the Atlantic side is 6.5 miles long. This section of the channel is 500 feet wide and runs through a mangrove swamp where the trees are only a few feet above sea level in most places.

A ship is raised or lowered 85 feet in a continuous flight of three steps at Gatun Locks. Each lock chamber is 110 feet wide and 1000 feet long. The length of Gatun locks, including the two approach walls is 1.2 miles.


Gatun Lake , through which the ships travel for 23.5 miles from Gatun Locks to the north end of Gaillard Cut , is one of the largest artificial bodies of water in the world. It covers an area of 163.38 square miles and was formed by an earthen dam across the Chagres River adjacent to Gatun Lock. The two wings of the dam and the spillway have an aggregate length of about 1.5 miles. The dam is nearly a half-mile wide at the base, sloping to a width of 100 feet at the crest, which is 105 feet above sea level, or 20 feet above the normal level of Gatun Lake .



Because of its historical background, no part of the Canal trip is more interesting to the ship passenger than Gaillard Cut . During the Canal construction period it was called Culebra Cut , but was renamed for Col. David DuBose Gaillard, the engineer who was in

charge of this section of the Canal work.

This portion of the channel is 8 miles long through rock and shale for most of the distance. It was here that the principal excavation was required and the devastating slides occurred during construction and soon after the Canal was opened.

The ship enters the Cut where the Chagres River flows into the Canal channel at Gamboa. More than any other section of the Canal, Gaillard Cut gives the impression of an enormous man-made ditch. A short distance before the ship reaches Pedro Miguel Locks it passes Gold Hill on the left, the highest promontory along the channel. It raises 662 feet above sea level.

Contractor's Hill, seen on the west bank opposite Gold Hill, originally had an altitude of 410 feet, but this was reduced to 370 to stabilize the hill in 1954. The channel in Gaillard Cut was originally excavated to a width of 300 feet. During the 1930's and 1940's, the straight section immediately north of Gold Hill was widened to 500 feet in order to provide a passing section for large ships, and during the period 1957-1971, the remaining portions of the Cut were also widened to 500 feet.

The Pacific-bound ship enters Pedro Miguel Locks at the south end of Gaillard Cut . Here it is lowered 31 feet in one step to Miraflores Lake , a small artificial body of water a mile wide that separates the two sets of Pacific locks. The length of Pedro Miguel Locks is five-sixths of a mile.

The transiting ship is lowered the remaining two steps to sea level at Miraflores Locks which are slightly over a mile in length. The lock gates at Miraflores are the highest of any in the system because of the extreme tidal variation in the Pacific Ocean .


Welcome to the Panama Canal . We hope that you had a pleasant voyage arriving here, and that your transit of the Canal will be a pleasant one. This booklet has been assembled for your information and guidance.

You are probably aware of our obligation to operate the waterway and its ancillary services in strict accordance with the regulations that govern the day-to-day activities at the Panama Canal . These regulations contain provisions that allow the organization to operate independently and dynamically as an autonomous agency of the government of Panama .

If all of the above seems a bit daunting - and make no mistake boats get badly damaged every year - do consider having a look at the DVD Blue Water Destinations Panama to Galapagos


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