Panama Canal Surcharge Begins February 15

12 February 2020 By Aileen Mack

In 2019, the watershed surrounding the Panama Canal, Gatun Lake, recorded its fifth driest year of the last seven decades with 20 percent less rainfall than the historic average. To address the scarcity of rainfall, the Canal will begin implementing new measures on February 15 to better provide reliability in water levels and transit schedules, according to its January 13 press release.

An advisory published on January 28 stated that all vessels over 125 feet LOA that transit through the Panama Canal are subject to a freshwater surcharge, which includes a fixed fee per transit based on LOA and a variable fee ranging from one percent to 10 percent of the vessel’s toll depending on Gatun Lake levels at the time of transit. For vessels over 125 feet LOA, the fee will be $2,500 per transit; vessels over 200 feet LOA, $5,000 per transit; vessels over 300 feet LOA, $10,000 per transit. When the lake’s level is above 85.5 feet, a one percent fee will be applied, and the 10 percent maximum is applied when the level falls below 72 feet. (If the lake has a higher level, the percentage will be lower and vice versa.)

Beginning on February 15, 2020, and until further notice, the booking system will be operating under Condition 1.a. and the number of daily reservation slots available will be 27, the total offered during lane outages, and each vessel will be required to pay its booking fee in full no later than 48 hours depending on the booking period. For vessels up to 90.99 feet in beam (regulars), there will be six spots daily; up to 107 feet (supers), 13 slots; over 107 feet (neopanamax), eight slots. Applications for reserved transit under this booking condition were first being received on February 12 at 9 a.m. local time.

“As to yachts, at this moment, even paying more for every transit, I still think they will use the Canal, but will also face delays in transit if they cannot make proper scheduling and book ahead as they will also suffer because of less booking slots,” says Alessandro Risi, manager of Associated Yacht Services at the Panama Canal.

He notes that they expect non-liner vessels will have to wait longer to transit the Canal because the number of transits and booking slots have been reduced. “Liner/container companies can make transit bookings several months ahead,” he says. “Non-liner vessels are not able to book in long terms, which causes delays in their transits. The Canal is well aware that some companies will stop using the Panama Canal.”

One slot for supers and one for regular vessels will be awarded through the auction process three days before transits. According to the press release, “The Canal will continue to provide additional capacity when possible, serving vessels on a first-come, first-serve basis.”

Any slot that becomes available due to cancellations, change in date, early transits of pre-booked vessels, or any other reason, will be offered through an auction process, given that all slots for that vessel category have been awarded. If no vessels are interested, it will become available to any interested vessel on a first-come, first served basis after the auction is closed.

A transit itinerary creation fee will be applied to every transit itinerary for vessels 125 feet or more: For vessels less than 91 feet in beam, $1,500 per transit itinerary; for vessels with beams more than 91 feet, $5,000 per transit itinerary. The fee shall be paid no later than 48 hours after confirmation by the Panama Canal Authority that the transit itinerary has been accepted and will be deducted from the vessel’s tolls invoice once the vessel transits.

For more information and Gatun Lake levels, visit