Everything you need to set sail across the Panama Canal

Captaining your own vessel through the locks of the Panama Canal is an exciting one-of-a-kind adventure!

The Panama Canal represents one of the modern world’s most remarkable and sophisticated feats of engineering. As one of Panama’s most visited tourist attractions, the Panama Canal connects two of the world’s largest bodies of water, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

While it is possible to visit the canal by land, a true appreciation of the canal’s functionality and sophistication requires embarking on a boating adventure. Hop aboard a luxury charter to witness the Panama Canal’s process up close, see the tug boats in operation and experience the splendor of the canal’s working locks.

About the Panama Canal

The Canal ITSELF is 48 miles long and is composed of three Lock stations:

  • Miraflores Locks: Consists of a double flight of locks located closest to Panama City on the Pacific side.
  • Pedro Miguel Locks: Consists of a single set of locks located just north of Miraflores Locks.
  • Gatun Locks: Consists of a triple flight of locks located on the Caribbean (Atlantic) side of the canal near the city of Colón.

Panama Canal Boat Restrictions

When the Panama Canal originally opened in the early 1900s, guidelines were established for maximum capacity. These restrictions were termed Panamax. Size restrictions account for water depth and the height of the bridges that span the canal, as well as the width and length of available lock chambers. The newest set of locks, termed New Panamax, allows for even larger ships to cross the canal.

Boating in the Panama Canal

Captaining your own vessel through the busy locks of the Panama Canal is an exciting one-of-a-kind adventure that requires a bit of planning. Many boaters consider a Panama Canal transit the ultimate bucket-list item.  Here we provide information for crossing the Canal from the Miraflores Locks to Gatun Lake.

Timing: The length of a full-transit trip usually runs about 14 days. Partial transits, where you cruise halfway through the locks and then turn around, are also popular. These partial trips significantly reduce the required number of days and increase day-trip options in the surrounding cities.

Preparation: The Panama Canal is one trip where a little historical reading might significantly add to your enjoyment. Many books about the history of the canal are available and provide extensive information about the canal’s interesting timeline. In preparation for your trip, you will also want to schedule your transit day and time, pay your fees, and make all necessary sailing arrangements.  Be sure to wear comfortable clothing and shoes, as well as a hat and sun block. Other comfort items include sunglasses, a raincoat or umbrella, and a camera to capture stunning sights.

Once your preparations are made, you are ready to set sail in the Panama Canal!

Northbound from Miraflores Locks to Gatun Lake

  1. Traveling northbound on the Panama Canal, your first stop will be the Miraflores Locks.  These are the tallest locks in the system as a result of the extreme tidal variation of the Pacific Ocean. As your boat transits through the two distinct steps of the Miraflores Locks, you will ascend 17 meters up into the Miraflores Lake, which is approximately two kilometers long.
  2. The Miraflores Lake is a small manmade body of fresh water that separates the Miraflores Locks from the Pedro Miguel Locks. As one of only two sets of locks on the Pacific side of the canal, you will ascend nine meters in one single step through the Pedro Miguel Locks.
  3. Once the Pedro Miguel Locks have been exited, you will sail 26 meters above sea level toward Gaillard Cut (also known as the Culebra Cut due to its winding shape which resembles a “culebra” or snake). Carved through the Continental Divide, the geological and historical value of the Gaillard Cut presents a main point of interest for visitors.
  4. Once Gaillard Cut opens into Gatun Lake, the waters of the Chagres River flow into the waterway. The Chagres River is the only river in the world that flows into two oceans simultaneously. The river also functions as the main source of fresh water for the canal, guaranteeing the successful operation of the waterway.
  5. Gatun Lake covers 423 square kilometers and was once considered the largest manmade lake in the world. Just before reaching the Gatun locks you will see Gatun Dam. The locks at Gatun lower the ship 26 meters to sea level in three distinct steps. Once through the locks, you will sail along the channel to the nearby Port of Cristobal.

Reserve your Panama Canal boating adventure today!

Boatsetter has fleets of boats available to help you embark on your Panama Canal voyage.  With a variety of boating and sailing options available, Boatsetter has you covered. Whether you’re looking for a catamaran, trimaran, schooner, or other personal watercraft, Boatsetter has everything you need to embark on your journey across the Panama Canal. Reserve today, then get ready to experience the magnificence of the Panama Canal!

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