The Panama Canal is approximately 80 kilometers long between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This waterway was cut through one of narrowest saddles of the isthmus that joins North and South America.

The Canal uses a system of locks -compartments with entrance and exit gates. The locks function as water lifts: they raise ships from sea level (the Pacific or the Atlantic) to the level of Gatun Lake (26 meters above sea level); ships then sail the channel through the Continental Divide.

Each set of locks bears the name of the townsite where it was built: Gatun (on the Atlantic side), and Pedro Miguel and Miraflores (on the Pacific side).

The lock chambers -steps– are 33.53 meters wide by 304.8 meters long. The maximum dimensions of ships that can transit the Canal are: 32.3 meters in beam; draft -their depth reach- 12 meters in Tropical Fresh Water; and 294.1 meters long (depending on the type of ship).

The water used to raise and lower vessels in each set of locks comes from Gatun Lake by gravity; it comes into the locks through a system of main culverts that extend under the lock chambers from the sidewalls and the center wall.

Things that you need to know

Features of the Waterway

The Panama Canal was carved throught one of the narrowest and lowest saddled of the long, mountainous isthmus that joins the North and South American continents.

Commercial Ports

The ports of Balboa on the Pacific side and Cristobal on the Atlantic were major projects of construction and organization. Manzanillo Container Terminal, within Colon Harbor, is Latin America´s busiest port.

The Approaches

A vessel transiting from the Atlantic to the Pacific enters through one of the two openings at the Cristobal breakwater.

This approach to the actual canal is 10 kilometers (5.4 nautical miles) long and 152.4 meters (500 feet) wide, running through a mangrove swamp that in most places is only a few feet above sea level. The extensive breakwater effectively shelters vessels from seas and chop.

The Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal is located on the west side of Panama City. Approaching from sea the first thing one sees are ships anchored off, waiting for transit. The channel then passes west of the Perico Islands, the end of the Amador Causeway.

Anchorages/Refuges •  Providencia •  San Andres •  Coiba •  Perlas •  San Blas •  Portobello •  Linton •  Bocas


– Call Cristobel/Balboa signal station channel 12 VHF

- Anchor or go to a berth

-  Flats

-Perico/south side



-Shelter Bay

-Club Náutico

Hard Lines, Soft

-Under 125 ft. You will be a “hand line” unless you ask for and receive “soft line” status

– Over 125 ft you are soft lines if are plastic you can ask for soft lines if you are a “steel ship”

– Hard lines are wires from the locomotives througth the chock to your bit, they are 1 in wire rope and locomotives have a 35000 pull

– Soft lines are supplied by the vessel and must be 1 inch or larger and 40ft. Long. They run from your bit out the chock through your chock to the bit


Who: If you have not been measured by a canal admeasure in the last 30 days you must be measured.

Schedule in person or agent

What: The length overall as determined form the plans or by physical measurement. Up to 585 Panamá canal net tons

Schedule measurement ASAP

If you are using lines have them aboard, Ships documents, Bits and chocks, Wavier, Head must have an enclosed, Master need not be present

Choosing your Poison

– Center Chamber

•  Your are alone normally the only hand line

•  Four lines easy and safe

•  You may have to wait for a date

– Rafted

•  Canal will often insist if you want to go in a hurry

•  Up to 3 vessels with few restrictions on size

•  Requires you to be a more active participant in planning and maneuvering

•  Advisors don’t coordinate well!!

– Side wall

•  God fenders and skilled crew

•  Going down is easy

•  Going up is best left to big steel vessels unless you have an experienced crew

 Along side a bigger vessel on the side wall

•  Best but not something you can schedule

•  You must coordinate personally with the master of the vessel on the wall who goes first and at and what speed

Tolls and Other Charges

  • Less than 50 ft, $500
  • 50-80 ft, $ 750
  • 80-100 ft, $ 1000
  • 100 up ft, $ 1500
  • Crossover 583 tons with passangers or 1082  gross tons
Add charges for
  • Line handlers
  • AIS (only for big boats 125+)
Reserve for problems
  • Refunded if not used
Plan on
  • Over 125 fats 5-6 k
  • Under 125 Over 80 2.5-3.5 k
  • Over 50 to 80 ft
  • Under 50 ft



•  Any time but may mean overtime so check

•  Schedules are AM or PM at best

•  Does not require the master

•  Do need the lines and equipment

Transit Schedule

•  You can cancel do so if in doubt about anything 24 hour out a mechanical failure will cost you

•  You are a second class citizen

•  Call early and often

•  Visit the office


•  January to April high season

•  Carnival

•  Mothers day

•  November

You don’t need a reason to delay your transit!

  There are limited slips on the other side.