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Old 21-10-2009, 06:10   #1
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Panama Canal Agents

Any recommendations for agents to assist westward through the canal? I have one agent quoting me roughly $500.00 which seems a little high for what they do.

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Old 21-10-2009, 07:00   #2
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I've done it both ways, with and without an agent. If I were to go back again (and I can't wait to go...i love it down there), and I had a little time to spare, I'd probably do it without. It's a bit more of a hassle, but if you're not overly pressed for time, you can save the bucks. The agents certainly simplify the process for you, but I agree, it seems like a lot of money for something you can do yourself if you don't mind doing it.

Regardless, to answer your question, I think our agent cost us about $350 and that was going on two years ago. But all my notes are at home, which I'm not, and I'll be damned if I can remember his name. But both times I was transiting from Balboa, so you probably need an agent in Colon anyway.

There were only three agents in Balboa/PC at the time that would handle small boats, so my guess is pickings are pretty slim if not slimmer in Colon.

I did find this - regarding a particular agent in Colon. Take it or leave it..but if it's the same person you are considering, it may be worth the read.

Some useful info in there r.e. the transit. I agree with most everything they say except for having spanish speaking line handlers. Unless you speak decent spanish, make SURE they speak english as well. I know you have an advisor on board who can translate, but you need to be able to tell them what you want done, quickly, especially if it gets a little hairy in the lock.

If you have any other questions about the transit, feel free to ask.

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Old 21-10-2009, 10:39   #3
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That's good to hear. I am usually a do-it-yourselfer and certainly have the time. I plan to meet the panama canal authority once I've got all my pepers and schedule a start two weeks ahead of time. Then have crew fly in to meet me two to three days before the requested passage date. Does this seem likely to work?

I am experienced with European locks, anything specific about Panama? Do you know of a step by step guide that walks you through what the operators expect at each gate?
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Old 21-10-2009, 16:24   #4
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That schedule seems to sound doable..provided the authorities are somewhat timely in their attention to you. As long as your crew is somewhat flexible in case said authorities are NOT somewhat timely, you should be in good shape. When I used an agent, things went very quickly. When we did it ourselves (my first trip through) things got a little blurry, and there were several delays. We kind of got the runaround a little, which is why I mention "if you have the time."

As for the locks, your advisor will basically do everything for you when it comes to communication with them. I've had them request to drive the boat in (my first trip through - 43' Gulfstar Ketch) and the other guy let me run the boat pretty much the whole way - in the locks and all (70' Motoryacht) As for you and your handlers, you will just need to have your lines flaked out and ready when you enter the lock. They are usually 1" diameter, and quite heavy, especially if they get wet...just a note for you crew considerations.

It depends on teh type of tie you end up with exactly what will be required, but it's pretty easy. When asked while applying for transit, request center chamber - then mention that you'd prefer a side tie to a tug if available (I think this is the easiest situation - much better than sidewall, and somewhat easier than a true center chamber w 4 lines)

The upswell when they fill the lock is significant. Be prepared for that. And if you have a large ship in front of you...NEVER untie until he's moving and out of the way...if you untie and he gives a few turns to get the ship moving...the wash can put you sideways in the lock, or worse, right into a wall. A lot of people forget to mention this.

Here's a great overview of the transit process - this should answer most if not all of your questions.


At some point before your transit, you might want to look for boats coming through to Colon, and see if you can get ahold of their tires, and possibly their lines. I wouldn't recommend using your own fenders...they can get pretty eaten up. This can just save you a little running around and a few bucks as well.

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Old 21-10-2009, 17:07   #5
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Depending on what they do, and on how much you have.

I did it myself without agent. There was some cost but not too high. They speak fluent English there, when they want (I spoke Spanish anyway). So be nice, smile a lot, and hire a taxi driver for half a day (and start early!!!) and you are done in no time.

As a bonus you may have a very entertaining conversation with the driver (and maybe you will also get your head nearly shot off, which happened to me;-)).

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Old 21-10-2009, 17:13   #6
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These are all good suggestions.
I used a taxi driver as my agent. He had two uncles and a brother already working for the canal and handled everything including providing the lines, and his cousin sold me used tires for fenders. He was on a waiting list to go to work for the district, so was very careful to get it right. Cost was less that $300.
Try to be a linehandler for other cruisiers, it's a great way to become familier with the process.
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Old 21-10-2009, 17:59   #7
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Of course you do it yourself!

How many beers is $500???????????????????

In Galapagos a half chicken with bottle of beer was $4 so thats one hell of a lot of friends taken to dinner

The Advisors won't touch your wheel these days. Its all you

Since the Panama Canal Yacht Club has been demolished most people are going to Shelter Bay Marina which is miles out of town and there are agents there trying to get all the work.

You might be able to anchor in town. If not its ShelterBay and taxi into town and do the paperwork yourself or with a facilitator that charges $40. Its great fun, not difficult and you get to see how the real Panama canal works

The lines and tyers for the boat are hired from the marina / facilitator etc.

Basically don't book anything before you get there. Just roll in and sus the job out. Take a day or 2 before committing to anything.

When you have booked your passage you can then take a ay or two to go up the Chargras river... its only 10 miles away but a slice of bliss!!

Provision in Colon or Panama city for your FULL cruise. Its the cheapest in the world.

Notes on a Circumnavigation.

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Old 23-10-2009, 12:51   #8
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Just sail into Colon and ask around. I would recommend Stanley. Also, go with another boat as a line handler first.

It is much easier than EU locks (I compare to the Dutch ones) because you have line handlers on the locks helping out and 4 aboard.

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Old 23-10-2009, 14:19   #9
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Canal Transit Experience in 2006

Most of those who were there with us in 06 did it without an agent. Unless there is some requirement for an agent, or time is an issue, I don’t think there is a benefit.
We line handled for others, then recruited a couple to line handle for us. It worked a treat. The convention was that the skipper provided meals, beverages, sleeping accommodations, and transport back to Colon from Balboa (a bus ticket was usually OK).

When we were there, the Authority usually scheduled 2-3 boats per day. Our initial date was about 3 weeks out. About ten days prior, we were able to get moved up a week. This was great but meant a bit of a scramble. Typically they actually moved about 5 boats/day through, I suspect it just depends on whether additional advisors are available.

One boat who had crew flying in to transit selected a date several weeks in future with the Authority, asked that it remain fixed, then buggered off to the San Blas rather than sitting in Colon (which is the one place on our itinerary I’d really rather not return to). You might see if this arrangement is still possible.

My memory on the advisor-skipper relationship is: he is your official conduit to the canal. But the skipper is responsible for the safe operation and navigation of the boat. We had a couple of great advisors (Jimmy Wong, and the ebullient Ruben). Make sure you talk things over with your advisor prior to getting underway, especially if your boat has any quirks. Also make sure you have good communication with the skippers of any boats to which you are rafted.

I’d also recommend you go over your engine and make sure all is working well, oil changed, etc. If possible, cleaning the bottom and the prop are a really good idea (but don’t do this in Colon harbour, too scary in there). If you have engine trouble in the Canal it will cost you a bunch, not to mention the hassles of delay. They will want you to say on the form that you can go 8 knots, and everyone does J. We actually can in smooth water, but it is not required.

We were a bit nervous about it, but had a great time with no drama, and our deposit was returned promptly to our bank account. It’s quite a dramatic experience – and also very good to have behind us.


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Old 23-10-2009, 14:23   #10
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We used Enrique Plummer and were happy with his service. He did a lot more for us after we hired him such as take a stainless piece from the boat in Colon to Panama City to have some excellent welding done etc.. Below is an email he sent us about costs but our final cost were less due to my wife holding the tape measure when they measured the boat. The break point is 50'. Here are the final cost:

Transit $650
Agent $350
Line rental $80
One line handler $130
Government fees $180
welding $115

In 2008 the buffer fee was the deposit to the canal in case you had any problems such as missed your slot or went to slow etc... How he worked it was to remove his fees from the buffer and refund the balance at the end. I think if he knew my boat was going to be under 50' he would have charged me less for the buffer. Part of the government fees was a fumigation certificate which you will need if stopping at the Galapagos. Much cheaper to get it in Panama than once to arrive in the Galapagos. Much healthier as well, you will find out why, I won't tell you. We did not pay for tires as we kept a sharp lookout for boats coming east (really north) and pounced on them before anyone else. On the Pacific side managed to get rid of them for free to others going the other way. Good advise above about not using fenders. If you are going to need some marina time do it on the Colon side (Shelter Bay), not on the Panama City side. Remember, when the ship in front of you puts it in forward as he pulls out you will be sucked toward him, not be pushed back as you might imagine. Stay near your helm and be prepared to use reverse if side tied to remain square to the wall or tug or what ever you are tied to.

His original email estimate and contact info:

Hello Nathalie:

Now, it seems that we have restored communication. Anyway, the info is detailed as follows:
Panama Canal Transit: 900.00 USD.
Panama Canal Buffer: 850.00 USD.
Total: 1750.00 USD.
From the buffer will be deducted: Agentīs fees, lines rental, tires for the transit and government fees ( Immigrations, Portīs Captains, Merchant Marine department, Agriculture Certificate and clearances ). To get you started with the Panama Canal Authorities, I will need the following info:
A). Boatīs name, flag, speed, length, beam, draft, hull color and registration number.
B). Captainīs info: Full name, birthdate, birthplace, citizenship and passport number.
C). Approximate ETA and Port of Call.
D). If the yacht has transitted the Canal before, provide the SIN number.
With the above info, I can start the Canal process right away. Looking forward to become your agent,

Enrique Plummer.

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