Boat Life Dog Lovers Panama

Panama Canal: From Atlantic to Pacific Ocean

Ipanema in the canal
Written by Renato Matiolli
We woke up one morning on the Caribbean sea and went to bed at the end of the day on the Pacific Ocean. Just like that. Incredible as it sounds! This is the Panama Canal.

Thank you USA for taking over the French on their attempt to build the canal and actually making this amazing engineering project happen. Thank you Panama for letting us through.

Well, since I whined so much last time about Panama on the last post, this time I have to give them credit. The Panama Canal operation is tip-top. They are very serious and super professional.

In a nutshell there are six steps that a boat has to do to go through the canal:

1) Call the Panama canal authority and book a date to go to Colon and get the boat measured and inspected (you need to call only two or three times prior to the inspection to book and reconfirm);

2) Go to Colon, measure and inspect the boat;

3) Pay the canal crossing fee. Believe it or not it costs less than USD1.000 for any boat (catamaran or mono hull) which is smaller than 50 feet to cross the canal (including all costs);

4) Call the Panama canal authority again, this time to book a date for the actual crossing (you need to call two or three times prior to your actual crossing just to confirm);

5) Show up in Colon one day before the crossing and report your arrival over the VHF;

6) Cross the canal on the next day

There is an option of hiring an agent. This is not obligatory and we highly recommend not using their services unless you don’t speak a word of Spanish or English. We tried to hire three of them. All of which were super slow and ask us to do all the paperwork they should be doing. Our impression was that agents were mere bureaucrats. They slow down the process and try to make you believe that the process is more complex than it actually is. And, of course, believe or not, they charge a few hundred dollars for it. We decide to do it ourselves and it went pretty smooth.

So, going back to the six steps…. We did steps one though four right after we left San Blas and before we started working on the boat. We call them from San Blas and booked a date for a few days later. Then we sailed to Colon, got the boat measured, paid the canal fee in Colon in the same day. We than sailed back to Puerto Lindo to start working on our boat and a few days later we called and booked the actual date to cross.

By the way, two days before we sailed to Colon for the crossing, the three members of our Pacific Crossing Crew arrived. First, Henrique, the doctor… my cousin. Than, Fabio, the wild card, who got in touch with us through Facebook when we posted the Ad for the crossing. Finally Caio, a friend from my previous work. I will talk more about these distinguished chaps on future posts.

So we all had a very nice sail to Colon and once we got there we informed the Panama Canal Authorities of our arrival through the VHF. On the next morning at around 4-5am the pilot was dropped off on our boat. This gentleman is someone working for the canal who makes the entire crossing with us to make sure everything goes according to plan. He is in charge of all the communication with the Canal Authorities and making sure we maintain a good pace. The canal has many locks and many other boat and we always have to be at the right place at the right time.

Full crew and Javier

The canal has three locks going up to the Gatun Lake and then three going down to the Pacific Ocean. The majority of the time during the crossing we spent motoring across the Gatun lake. To ensure you meet the canal schedule you cannot sail, so our engines had to work hard that day. Of course the highlight of the crossing are the locks which bring you up or down around 8 meters each.

While going up and down the locks, we always had to share the space with a massive boat. We were placed right before or right after these beasts. We were squeezed between them and the thick metal gates. Certainly a good test to my heart condition.


While in the locks we tied ourvelves together to two other sailboats. Ipanema was wider and was always in the middle with one mono hull on each side. We were the engine for our entire pack and they were our fancy fenders.

Ipanema's fenders

The last lock is quite close to Panama City and the tourists visiting the canal come to this spot to see this amazing engineering project. Luckily Caio has a super nice brother living in Panama City, Ciro. He was kind enough to come to that spot and take a few picture of us. Since flying drones are, unfortunately, not allowed we couldn’t take some nice aerial shots ourselves.

Cyro 1  Cyro 2

Ipanema in the lock

As you can imagine Feijao wasn’t nearly as excited about this crossing as we were. He is more the artsy type and doesn’t get overly excited about huge engineering projects. 

Feijao dormilao

Well, we, on the other hand, were quite amazed about the whole thing. And just like that we crossed the American continent.

Last gate

At that night we went to bed in the much colder waters of the vast Pacific Ocean.

Ipanema Panama

Again, a small step to human kind, yet a huge step to Ipanema.

We are super excited for the Pacific now!

About the author

Renato Matiolli

Leave a Comment