Panama Canal / Miniguide
  • About Panama Canal

    ACP Maritime Regulations Book

    A copy of the Maritime Regulations for the Operation of the Panama Canal must be maintained on board all transiting vessels. Each transiting vessel is entitled to a complimentary copy of said regulations. Additional copies for the same vessel are available at a cost.


    There are two approaches to enter the Panama Canal:

    • Northbound (NB) or Eastbound (EB):
    • Southbound (SB) or Westbound (WB):

    Entering via Balboa Anchorage (Pacific Side)

    Entering via Cristobal Anchorage (Atlantic Side)

    Port terminals are available at both sides:

    a) Pacific Side:

    • Balboa
    • PIMSA
    • PSA

    b) Atlantic Side:

    • Cristobal
    • Manzanillo International Terminal (MIT)
    • Colon Container Terminal (CCT)
    • Colon 2000
    • Las Minas

    The Panama Canal is approximately 80 kilometers long between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and 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 and Agua Clara (on the Atlantic side), and Pedro Miguel, Miraflores and Cocoli (on the Pacific side). 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.

    Automated Data Collection System (ADCS)

    The ADCS is an electronic information exchange system between the ACP and the customers, which enables the collection, administration, and validation of data. Pre-arrival information messages will only be accepted when submitted via the Automated Data Collection System (ADCS).

    Customer Codes

    Owners, operators or charterers of a vessel that transits the Panama Canal are assigned a Customer Code. The ACP utilizes this code to weigh number of transits and amount of tolls paid within 12 months to determine each customer’s ranking which is defined every 30 days. This customer code ranking is crucial for assignments of reservations slots when competition is faced between 2 or more vessels.

    Providing false, incorrect, or deficient information on these codes constitutes a violation of the Maritime Regulations for the Operation of the Panama Canal and may result in fines that may range from US$ 100 to US$ 1,000,000.

    Electronic Data Collection System (EDCS):

    Provides for the electronic reception of all preliminary information required for security and operational purposes. After being verified by ACP personnel through an interface, this information is incorporated into the production database of the Enhanced Vessel Traffic Management System (EVTMS), which is the current operational application used by the ACP.

    Vessels must provide ACP Boarding Officers with a hard copy of the Ship’s Information and Quarantine Declaration – SIQD (Form 4398) completed, with the exception of the information on dangerous cargo. In addition, vessels carrying containers must provide hard copies of container summary (Form 4510). The SIQD and Container Summary forms are available at:

    Canal Internet Gateway (CIG): This is an avenue to send and receive EDCS messages to and from the ACP in either EDI or XML format via Internet. The specific CIG interface data requirements and format definition are provided in the Panama Canal Automated Data Requirements (PC-ADR). The CIG module offers customers the option of forwarding submissions via HTTP or RTFTP, which is a variation of a secure file transfer protocol.

    Financial Arrangement

    Financial Arrangement

    All services, including the transiting of vessels are performed by the Panama Canal Authority and Port Operators, strictly on a “CASH IN ADVANCE” basis. For this reason, sufficient funds must be received by the agencies representing owners and/or operators, prior to the arrival of the vessel at either Canal Terminal, whether the vessel is of transit of the Panama Canal or Local call at any of the local ports, or both.

    The advance funds must include not only the Canal transit and related charges, as well as berthing fees, etc., but also include sufficient funds to cover agency fees and charges, cash advances to Masters when required, stores, anticipated repairs etc.

    ISPS – Security Advance Information

    The ACP voluntarily adopted the security requirements established by the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS) even though the definition of a Port Facility contained in the ISPS Code does not include canals and locks. Vessels flying the flag of a non-Contracting Government to the SOLAS Convention, vessels less than 500 gross registered tons, and vessels belonging to and operated by a Contracting Government to the above-mentioned Convention, and that are used solely for noncommercial government service, shall provide proof that they have implemented security measures onboard equivalent to those required by the ISPS Code.

    Vessels not in compliance with the security requirements mentioned above shall be subject to the control and compliance measures established by the ACP. Among the measures that may be applied shall be the assignment of additional resources at the vessel’s expense, and a more detailed inspection, which may result in the delay or denial of the vessel’s transit.

    Any vessel on an international voyage and underway to the Canal shall notify the Authority at least ninety-six (96) hours prior to its arrival, of the following:

    • Its intention of proceeding to the anchorage, transiting, or proceeding to port;
    • The security level at which the vessel is currently operating, according to the ISPS Code;
    • Confirmation that the vessel possesses a valid International Ship Security Certificate (ISSC);
    • The security level at which the vessel operated in the previous ten calls at port facilities;
    • Any special security measures implemented during said calls;
    • A confirmation that the appropriate security measures were maintained during ship-to-ship activity during the period covered by its previous ten calls at port facilities.

    Questions and/or concerns regarding the ISPS regulation at the Panama Canal should be directed to:

    Protection and Emergency Response Division:

    Telephones: +507 276-3669 / +507 276-3227

    Facsimile: +507 276-4777

    E-mail: or

    For latest contact details, please always refer to the Panama Canal Website ( ).

    Locks Size/Vessels’ Limits

    The locks are divided into Panamax and Neo Panamax. The size of each one is different and are as follows.

    Chambers sizes:

    Panamax (Gatun, Pedro Miguel and Miraflores)

    • Length: 304.8 m
    • Width: 33.53 m

    NeoPanamax (Agua Clara and Cocoli)

    • Length: 427 m
    • Width: 55 m

    The maximum dimensions of ships that can transit the Canal are:

    Panamax (Gatun, Pedro Miguel and Miraflores)

    • Length: 294.1 m (may vary on type of vessel)
    • Width: 32.3 m
    • Draft: 12 m in Tropical Fresh Water (TFW)

    Neo Panamax (Agua Clara and Cocoli)

    • Length: 366 m
    • Width: 49 m
    • Draft: 13.72 m in Tropical Fresh Water (TFW). Being updated regularly.

    PCSOPEP Requirements (different from IMO’s SOPEP)

    All vessels approaching Canal waters for transit must submit a Panama Canal Shipboard Oil Pollution Emergency Plan (PCSOPEP) at least 96 hours prior to its arrival. This requirement is applicable to vessels with fuel and/or oil cargo-carrying capacity of 400 MT or more.

    Vessels failing to submit a compliant PCSOPEP at least 96 hours prior to arrival at Canal waters will be charged with the highest fee; in addition, the vessel is only programmed for transit after the shipping agent has paid or provided satisfactory guarantees for the payment of the applicable sanction, which will be set at a minimum of US$2,500 and a maximum of US$5,000. Subsequent arrivals to Panama Canal waters under similar non-compliance conditions may result in denial of transit.

    An “Authorized Person” must be appointed by the Ship Owner or Ship Operator of the vessel and be approved in advance by the ACP. This authorized person acts as a liaison between the vessel and the ACP to obtain and consign, on behalf of the vessel, acceptable guarantees to the satisfaction of the ACP, to cover the costs of the response and cleanup of oil spills in Canal waters. This Authorized Person shall reside in the Republic of Panama.

    Pre-arrival Cargo Declaration, Security Inspection and Escort

    Vessels arriving at Panama Canal waters must declare all cargo carried on board at least 96 hours prior to their arrival. Vessels that arrive from ports that are less than 96 hours away are required to submit revisions to their original cargo declarations as may be necessary in order to provide updated cargo information.

    ACP boarding officers will verify cargo information submitted in the pre-arrival notification and discrepancies with the cargo manifest presented by the master will be reported to the ACP Canal Protection Division. These discrepancies will be evaluated and may lead to the application of security control measures as deemed necessary by the ACP. These control measures may include, but not be limited to one or more of the following:

    • Direct communication with the vessel’s master to clarify any discrepancies or any other security related issues,
    • Delay of transit,
    • The assignment of additional resources,
    • The escorting of the vessel,
    • Fines

    All additional resources provided by the Canal on account of discrepancies identified during the verification of the cargo declaration will be charged to the vessel.

    Vessels that fail to provide their pre-arrival notification 96 hours prior to arriving at Canal waters, will not be scheduled for transit ahead of vessels that have complied with this requirement or that have already been assigned pilots for transit.

    All full container vessels arriving for transit at the Panama Canal must submit their updated “baplie” file “prior” to arrival at Panama Canal waters. This information will be used to calculate tolls based on actual loadings of the vessels. If the baplie files is not received on time, tolls will be calculated based on maximum ACP container capacity.

    For those vessels docking at a terminal in Panama before transiting the Panama Canal, the authority will allow submission prior to entering the last set of locks. Baplie files need to be uploaded via web into the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) system.


    Most tolls are paid according to vessels’ PCUMS tonnage which is calculated by the ACP. Vessels carrying containers pay tolls according their container carrying capacity/actual loaded containers and passenger vessels may pay its tolls based on a per berth or PCUMS basis.

    As of 2016, tolls are also based on loaded cargo, type of commodity and vessel deadweight tonnage.  Please use our transit cost calculator in this website or ask for assistance in our "Contact Us" section.

    Green Connection Environment Recognition Program

    A so called "Green Connection Environment Award" has been implemented by the Panama Canal Authority in order to help the shipping industry mitigate the environmental impact of its operations.

    In addition, an "Environmental Premium Ranking" awards customers with higher customer ranking when meeting specific environmental guidelines.

    For more information, read and

  • Vessel Size and Draft Limitations


    For Commercial or non-commercial vessels and the integrated tug-barge combination acceptable for regular transit measured at the outer surface of the shell plate is 106 feet (32.31 m) for Panamax and 160.8 feet (49 m) for Neo Panamax locks usage.


    The maximum permissible draft for Panamax size vessels has been set at 39 feet 6 inches (12.04 m) Tropical Fresh Water (TFW) depending on the Gatun Lake level and vessels’ keel bilge configuration. Higher drafts may be accepted in the future using the Neo Panamax Locks by paying a premium rate. These vessels will be called Panamax Plus vessels.

    Neo Panamax size vessels may transit with a maximum draft of 45.00 feet (13.72m); however, this draft is periodically revised and may reach maximum of 50.00 feet (15.20 m) with appropriate notificacion and publication at


    Effective September 12, 2019; the Maximum Authorized Draft for vessels transiting the Neopanamax locks will be 14.02 meters (46.0 feet) Tropical Fresh Water (TFW). Based on the present and projected level of Gatun Lake for the upcoming weeks, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) announces that, effective immediately and until further notice, the maximum authorized draft allowed for vessels transiting through the Neopanamax locks will be 14.02 meters (46.0 feet) TFW.

    Gatun Lake density is 0.9954 gms/cc at 85oF (29.4oC).

    Minimum Drafts Required (Length):
    • Up to 425' (129.54 m) Trimmed so pilot can see the ranges over the forecastle from center of navigation bridge
    • Over 425' (129.54 m): 8' (2.44 m) forward, 14' (4.3 m) aft, TSW
    • Over 475' (144.8 m): 18' (5.5 m) forward, 20' (6.1 m) aft, TSW
    • Over 525' (160.02 m): 20' (6.1 m) forward, 22' (6.71 m) aft, TSW
    • Over 580' (176.8 m): 22' (6.71 m) forward, 24' (7.32 m) aft, TSW
    • Over 625' (190.5 m): 24' (7.32 m) forward, 26' (7.93 m) aft, TSW

    Vessels are expected to arrive at the Canal properly trimmed and with a draft which, when in fresh water, its deepest point of immersion will not exceed either the Published TFW Draft, the Maximum Authorized Transit Draft established by the Canal for that particular vessel, or the maximum allowable draft as a mean established by the classification society, whichever is less.

    Height (Air Draft)

    The allowable height for any vessel transiting the Canal or entering the Port of Balboa at any state of the tide is 190 feet (57.91 m) measured from the waterline to its highest point. With prior permission from the Transit Operations Division executive manager, height may be permitted to 205 feet (62.5 m) on a case-by-case basis with passage at low water (MLWS) at Balboa.


    For Panamax locks, the maximum length overall including bulbous bow for commercial or non-commercial vessels acceptable for regular transit is 950 feet (289.6 m), except passenger and container ships which may be 965 feet (294.13 m) in overall length.

    The maximum length for integrated tug-barge combination acceptable for regular transit is 900 feet (274.32 m) overall including the tug. A tug-barge combination must transit together as one unit with the tug supplying the propelling power.

    The maximum aggregate overall length for non-self-propelled vessels acceptable for transit is 850 feet (259.1 m), including accompanying tugs. Accompanying tugs must lock through with the non-self-propelled vessel. One-time only transits that exceed these limitations may be permitted on a case-by-case basis with prior approval of the Transit Operations Division executive manager.

    Neo Panamax locks allow vessels up to 1,200.8 feet (366 m) in length to transit.


    Anything which extends beyond a vessel's hull, except for the main anchors, shall be considered a protrusion and subject to all applicable laws and limitations.

    Vessels with protrusions extending beyond the maximum length and beam limitations may, on a case-by-case basis, be permitted to transit, provided that approval is obtained in advance and that protrusions do not present a hazard or interfere with lock structures, equipment and/or operation, and the master executes a form releasing the Authority from liability.

    Vessels with protrusions must, prior to proceeding to the Canal, furnish detailed information about the protrusion(s), including plans and request authorization for transit. Advance information will minimize the possibility that transit may be delayed or denied.

  • Transit Scheduling and Reservations

    Reservations of Vessel Transits (pre-booking)


    The ACP schedules transits of vessels on a first-come/first-served basis. There are a number of vessel characteristics and restrictions that would classify the vessels as “Regulars (beam less than 91 feet)” or “Supers (beam 91 feet and over)” or “NeoPanamax”. Vessels classified as “Regulars” will be accommodated for transit during the afternoon/night hours and vessels classified as “Supers” or “NeoPanamax” will only transit during daylight hours.



    May only be requested during the following periods prior to the requested transit date:

    · First Period: 365 to 22 days. (For commercial passenger vessels: up to 730 days).

    · Second Period: 21 to 4 days prior to the requested transit date.

    · Third Period: 3 to 2 days.

    · Auction Period: 2 days (at 14:00 hrs) to 1 day (at 13:00 hrs).

    A total of 23 reserved transit slots will be made available throughout the booking periods.


    May only be requested during the following periods prior to the requested transit date:

    · First Period: 365 to 81 days. (Including commercial passenger vessels: up to 730 days).

    · Period 1.a: 80 to 22 days prior to the requested transit date.

    · Second Period: 21 to 4 days.

    A total of 8 transit slots (one of which assigned for special dimensions) will be made available throughout the booking periods.

    Note: As of October 1, 2018, one booking slot may be awarded to vessels that meet one of the following special dimensions and conditions. Please see these conditions at:

    From time to time, the ACP may adjust the total number of available reserved transit slots to allow congestion of vessels waiting to transit to be reduced.

    Under normal circumstances, the authorized reserved transit slots available per day will be allocated among booking periods and size of vessels as set forth in the following tables:

    Allocations of Slots for various types of vessels


    Booking Periods
    Total = 23

    Booking Periods

    Supers:Beam 91 ft and over (27.74m)
    Regulars:Beam under 91 ft (27.74m)
    Neopanamax:Beam over 107 ft (32.62m)

    For complete reference to booking slot allocation, please visit:

    - Regular and Supers:

    - NeoPanamax:

    Tie-Breaker Criteria

    Processing of booking requests usually begin at 09:00hrs of the first day of each period. If there are more requests than available slots for any given period, available slots to competing vessels will be assigned firstly to customers with the highest ranking of Panama Canal business. This ranking will be determined as a result of the weighted average of the ranking of total transits (40%) and the ranking of tolls paid (60%) during the preceding 12-month period.

    ETA Requirements

    Regulars: Are required to arrive to Panama Canal waters by 14:00 hrs of the booked date;

    Supers: Are required to arrive to Panama Canal waters by 02:00 hrs of the booked date. It is not possible to change a booked date.

    Neo Panamax: Are required to arrive to Panama Canal waters by 22:00 hrs of the prior booked date.

    If vessel will not arrive to make the required arrival time, a cancellation of the reserved slot needs to be made. The ACP will charge a cancellation fee.

    The Panama Canal offers customer the possibility to arrive later by joining the "Just in Time (JIT)" alternative. For further information, please read Page 16 at

  • Authorities and Services

    Panama Canal Authority (ACP)

    Government entity that regulates and controls all aspects of vessels while transiting the Panama Canal and its operational waters. An authorized boarding officer from the ACP will board the vessel upon arrival who, besides checking that all ACP regulations are being complied to, acts as a Quarantine inspector for clearing purposes.

    Panama Maritime Authority (AMP)

    Regulates and controls all aspects of vessels while outside Panama Canal operational waters.

    Health Ministry

    Sanitary Inspectors will board the vessel as soon as vessel is cleared by the ACP.


    A deck and superstructure fumigation is required by local regulations. This will be performed on arrival by local authorized companies.

    Spare Parts

    Must be sent to our agency’s physical address and specifically indicate “Spare Parts In Transit” together with the vessel name.

    Crew Change

    Sign On: Crew will require a transit Visa which will be arranged by local agent with the Immigration authorities and will allow the crewmember to stay up to five (5) days in the country. Please provide Name, Nationality, Passport Number, Date of Birth, Position and flight details. If required, hotel accommodations may be arranged.

    Sign Off: After disembarking, crewmember is allowed to stay in the country for five (5) days. For an extended stay, a Visa is required.

    Bunkers Delivery

    May be supplied by a number of vendors at either side of the Panama Canal by barge. In case bunkers are being taken at Cristobal, a pilot might be required to enter inner anchorage.

    Underwater Inspection

    Is available at either side of the Panama Canal

    Garbage and Slop Removal

    Services are available by barge at anchorage/terminal or by truck at terminal at either side of the Panama Cana

    Ship Chandling

    There are an important number of suppliers that can provide reliable service. In case required, please contact the agency for reference

    Ship Repairs and Dry Docking

    Ship repairs are available at both sides of the Panama Canal. A Dry Dock is available at Balboa

    Canal Pilotage

    Pilotage service at the Panama Canal is provided exclusively by the ACP. Its cost is normally included in the tolls paid unless additional resources are required by vessels’ deficiencies or other extra moves not linked directly to the transit. This ACP Pilot takes control of the vessel as opposed to most terminals where the Pilot acts as an advisor.

    Any vessel that requires the assignment of more pilots than the number that would normally be required by a vessel of her size, is assessed additional pilotage fees in accordance to established tariffs.

    Port Pilotage

    Pilotage at all terminals in Panama is mandatory

    Tug Assistance during Canal Transit

    ACP charges for tug assistance according to vessel’s length, beam, draft and displacement. Additional tugs may be assigned and charged to the vessel if caused by vessel deficiencies, at pilot discretion.


    Locomotives are provided by the ACP at a cost and assist vessels inside the locks to keep them lined up. Costs are based on vessels length and displacement.

  • General Concepts

    Release From Liability

    Masters of vessels will, prior to transit, be required to execute a form undertaking to release the Authority from liability in case of accident and to indemnify the Authority for damages sustained in the following instances:

    • When a vessel transits at less than the minimum drafts, has a list in excess of three degrees, or is so loaded or trimmed that maneuverability is adversely affected.
    • When a vessel has protrusions.
    • When visibility from the vessel’s navigation bridge presents a hazard, as determined by the Transit Operations Division executive manager.
    • When the vessel's chocks, bitts or other equipment does not meet Canal requirements as determined by the Transit Operations Division executive manager.
    • When a vessel transits on a one-time delivery basis with extreme beam exceeding 106 feet (32.31 m).

    Pilots or boarding officers are requested to have the master of the vessel sign Form 4323, “Undertaking to Release and Indemnify”, prior to docking vessels in Balboa, Cristobal and Rodman/PIMSA piers when such vessels are exceeding the allowable drafts or when a vessel is to be berthed on a pier that has inadequate or absent fendering and/or lighting.

    A refusal to sign such release may result in a delay of transit.

    Approval of Plans

    The plans for new construction or modification for each vessel or class of vessels should be submitted to the ACP by the shipyard for review prior to modification or construction. Failure to comply with this requirement may result in delay or denial of transit because of unsuitable or unsafe arrangements.

    Minimum Vissibility Requirements

    All vessels arriving to Panama Canal water must comply with criteria specified in

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