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Across the Panama Canal in your own cruise boat: some tips and advice

For many yachtsmen across the globe, a transit through the Panama Canal is a serious accomplishment that could mark their career. The canal has been here for more than a hundred years and consists of 45 miles (72.3 km) waterway with 6 locks along with it. Constructed in 1914 it completely turned upside down the world of modern marine trade and tourism and made it as we know it today.

Before that, the captains had to make a difficult choice between the North West Passage and Cape Horn. Both are far from the convenience of the Canal, not to mention their extreme waters and climate conditions.

So here are some of our tips in order to successfully accomplish the transit:

Knowing when to make the trip

Avoid transiting the Canal in February and March: this is when the peak traffic occurs. Most boats cruise the Canal from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean to reach the Marquesas Islands on the other side of the Pacific just in time for the local weather to cool down from the season of storms. If you leave early, might as well take a break at the Galapagos Islands or reside just beside the Canal on the beautiful shores of the Las Perlas Islands.

Plan ahead

Cruising boats are not able to pick the time and date in advance. It can be scheduled only after the measurement and payments are completed with ACP (Panama Canal Authority). And even with a slow season, the first steps can easily take you 3-4 days. During the high season, it can turn into several weeks of wait-time until your boat can be measured and scheduled for transit.

Image by carloscuauhte from Pixabay

The price of it

Boats up to 65 feet will be normally charged $1,600 in transit fees. Among other fixed costs, there’s also $54 for TVI inspection and $130 in security change, so that’s another $200.

If you choose to work with the agent, that’s roughly $500-600. If no agent, prepare approximately $900 for the buffer fee (will be returned to you if everything goes well).

Additional costs will accumulate in lines and fenders, volunteer or professional line handlers, and a Panama Cruising permit. In total that too can come up as high as $500.

All in all, total costs can be anywhere between $2,000 and $3,000. All, of course, depending on the decisions you make.

Necessary gear

  • 1,5-inch lines – 4 pcs and min. 125 ft long are must-have.
  • Fenders (can be rented).
  • Providing meals and food for your ACP advisor is expected from your side. 


Freelance line handlers are usually widely available for hire and many of them would work in exchange for experience. Professional ones on the contrary would charge about $100 per trip.  During the daytime, there will be the ACP advisor with you onboard (they will normally return home for the nighttime and not stay for a sleepover on Gatun lake).

Safety first

Avoid cluttering the deck space: stow all belongings to keep the bow and stern zones as clear as possible.

The designated advisor is paramount to the successful transit. It’s especially good if the advisor has the experience and understands the currents, intricacies of the particular locks (mind that there are six of them). If you have got an experienced advisor, but more importantly a crew that is attentive to what he says, it can guarantee your successful transit.


Most boats would cover the Panama Canal in 48 hours with the sleepover on Gatun Lake. For the sailboats with motor, a single-day transit can be planned, but that’s up to the decision of ACP, not you.

Live it

Get the most experience and excitement out of it: the Canal is not just about transit, it’s also a place full of rich history and beautiful places. Visit the museum down at the Miraflores locks, go out to the streets of the vibrant and futuristic City of Panama, enjoy the company of Embera people, or watch the sunset from the Cinta Costera: a man-made path into the ocean connecting islands nearby Panama City.

Hopefully, this gives out some valuable information on this topic. In the meantime, we’ll be happy to provide you with the provisions and equipment of the highest quality in the time of transit, doesn’t matter if you’re sailing your way to South East Asia, California, or back to Europe in another direction.

Image by cgordon8527 from Pixabay