New Owner, Some New Procedures
While the Canal was under US administration, changes occurred at a glacial pace and rate changes required Congressional approval. Panama has now accelerated the pace of change substantially. Here are some changes enacted to date which affect yachts.
Transit Fees. The fees (given in US$) have not been changed so far, but the buffer deposit has changed considerably:
Length - Feet
Length - Meters
Fee Buffer Deposit
0 to 50 0 to 15.24 $500 $125.00 $800
50 to 80 15.24 to 24.38 $750 $187.50 $650
80 to 100 24.38 to 30.48 $1000 $250.00 $700
100 to 150 30.48 to 45.72 $1500 $375.00 $900
(Yes, the buffer deposit for boats from 50 to 100 feet long is less than for the smaller boats.)
The Panama Canal Authority Financial Management Branch says that if the buffer deposit is not used, it will be returned within 6 weeks. I have heard of very few instances where the Canal has retained this deposit; in the past yachts that have failed to complete a transit as scheduled have been charged US$400 and assistance by a Panama Canal tug can cost from US$145 to US$1650 an hour depending on the circumstances.
Recently, a 92-foot ketch lost control in a lock, was spun 180 degrees by the current and had to be towed out of the lock backwards. It is clearly advantageous to transit with a "buddy boat" so that if one should suffer a breakdown the buddy boat can assist.
Fees are now to be paid at the Citibank branch either in Cristobal or Balboa. In Cristobal the Citibank is much closer to the yacht club and saves an expensive taxi ride to the Treasurers office in Gatun.
Advisors: Pilots In Training (PITs), members of the Pilot Understudy Program (PUPs) or Tug Captains in training usually serve as Advisors aboard yachts transiting the Canal. (Note that these are only advisors and the boat owner/captain remains responsible for what happens to the yacht and crew during the transit through the Canal.) The PCA has reduced the number of Pilots required on ships, so for the time being fewer pilots are being trained and full Tug Captains are being used as Advisors. This is an advantage as the tug captains are much more experienced and self-confident.
Yacht Clubs: The Panama Canal Yacht Club on the Caribbean coast is operating as usual. Yachts either anchor in the flats or, if space is available, tie up at the yacht club.
The congenial Pedro Miguel Boat Club along the Canal on Miraflores Lake continues to operate under threat of closure. Yachts transiting the Canal may stop at PMBC without any extra transit charges to do major or minor repairs, as a rest stop, to tour Panama or to leave the boat in a secure place for a trip home. Reservations are required; call (507) 232-4509, Fax (507) 232-4165 or E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The clubhouse of Balboa Yacht Club at the Pacific entrance of the Canal burned down a year ago but continues to operate out of a temporary office above their pier. After trying for years to get a license to build a new clubhouse and ensure the continued use of the mooring area, the new Panamanian administration, elected in 1999, appears likely to recognize the importance of BYC to the yachting community and grant the required licenses. Many yachties find the transient rates at BYC are pretty high now, considering the lack of facilities. Therefore many are choosing to spend a minimum stay at BYC and then move on to anchor at Taboga Island or behind Naos Island farther out the causeway.
David Wilson is the author of A Captain's Guide to Transiting the Panama Canal in a Small Vessel.
Copyright© 2000 Compass Publishing