The Panama Canal is a man-made waterway that stretches for approximately 50 miles across the Isthmus of Panama, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Since its completion in 1914, the canal has played a vital role in global trade, allowing ships to avoid the long and treacherous voyage around the southern tip of South America.
What most people don't know is that it also allows for much smaller vessels to transit too. The caveat here is that you typically have to wait for a slot so that you go in with other vessels.
Oh,.. and there is a fee. That fee will depend on the size of the vessel and the time you want to transit.
In my last instance, we followed a smaller ship as seen here.
"Does it take long?", to cross the canal?
Yes, transiting the Panama Canal can be a wee bit of a time-consuming process, especially for yachts. To be honest it can be a little boring, especially at night, but with a transit typically taking eight to ten hours, and involves passing through several locks and navigating through the narrow, man-made channel. It can be a somewhat cramped and slow experience, as yachts have to wait for other vessels to pass through the locks ahead of them. Most of my west bound passages have started in the afternoon and finish closer to midnight. It's a little tiring too,... but I loved it all.
For many yacht owners and sailors, the convenience and efficiency of the canal outweigh the potential boredom of the transit. The canal allows vessels to avoid the long and potentially treacherous voyage around the southern tip of South America, saving both time and fuel. Plus, the canal is a unique and historic feat of engineering, and transiting through it can be a memorable experience in and of itself.
Just cruising through the canal is an experience in itself and one thing to watch out for are the mules (the trains on the side of the canal),.. as you''ll find they doze off a little,... which causes a few problems.
It's also super impressive how they climb and manouver around the locks.
What's even more impressive is the rate at which the locks fill. Each lock chamber is approximately 110 feet wide, 1,000 feet long, and 45 feet deep, and is able to accommodate vessels up to about 965 ft (294.13 m) in length and 106 ft (32.31 m) in width. To pass through a lock, a vessel enters the chamber, and gates at either end are closed. Water is then either let into the chamber (raising the vessel) or released from the chamber (lowering the vessel), depending on the direction of travel. The process takes approximately 30 minutes to complete.
You also want to keep an eye on the water as you will see crocs in there too! Never thought I'd say that too often.
If you are wondering the What's the largest vessel to go through the locks?....
Effective May 2021, the maximum length overall for commercial and non-commercial vessels acceptable for regular transits of the Neopanamax locks was increased to 370.33 meters (1215 feet).
So to answer the question, yes yachts can cross the panama canal, and you'll be amazed who you see going through sometimes too!
If you have any Yachting related questions drop me a comment and I'll see how I can help. If you are looking for a link to the canal... Click here! https://pancanal.com/en/
Hope you enjoyed the read!
Lord Luke Hammond - Captain
Professional Seafarer / serial entrepreneur based out of Florida.
Founder of Refrr.io