Contributed by: Don WinnerBy DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - The Maritime Authority of Panama will be offering a course for residents to obtain a license to operate small watercraft powered by outboard motors. The classes will be available starting on Monday, 23 July running through Saturday, 28 July 2012.
It Just Takes A Few Hours: There is no need to attend all six days. The average person can take the course in just two hours. The total estimated time required will be between four to five hours - and this includes taking the course, doing the paperwork, and receiving the license. Small boat operators licenses are valid for three years from the date of issue.
Course In Spanish? As far as language requirements are concerned - the Maritime Authority is deploying a team from Panama City who will be on Isla Colon for six days to present this course, and they have translators as part of their team. In addition the local Port Captain Dario Vanhorne will also be there. He is bilingual, and will also be serving as a translator if needed. So, there should be no concern over "having to take a course in Spanish" or anything like that.
Cost: The license costs $160 dollars for foreigners - people who are not Panamanians and who are residents in the Republic of Panama. There is an additional $8 dollars worth of stamps required - for a total cost of $168 dollars. Anyone who is a Panamanian citizen can obtain this same license for $18 dollars. According to Vanhorne, these rate schedules are established by the laws and regulations governing the Maritime Authority. They are not just a "Bocas thing" but rather apply to the entire Republic of Panama. He could not cite me the specific reference, and told me I could get that from the AMP in Panama City. He also said the licenses will be issued by the AMP team from Panama City directly.
If You've Already Taken The Course: Dario said the vast majority of residents who live in Bocas del Toro full time have already taken the boater safety course once at some time in the past. If that's the case, then there's no need to repeat the course. If your license has expired, then you will be required to obtain a new one, but you won't have to sit through the course again.
Cruisers With A Dinghy: Dario specifically went out of his way to say their efforts are NOT focused on the members of the cruiser community who simply use their dinghy to get from their sailboat to shore. He said "we are focusing on the people who are full time residents in Bocas del Toro, who use their boats as part of their normal daily activities, to get around from one island to another. They need to have a boat license, just as the Panamanians do." I told him as a result of this announcement on the VHF net this morning there is now a rumor running throughout the cruiser community that anyone arriving in Bocas del Toro would be charged $168 dollars to be able to use their dinghy. His response: "That's ridiculous. The only thing I did was to announce the course that will be held next week. We have never required any members of the cruiser community to have this license to be able to use their dinghy, and we don't have any plans to start any time soon. That is completely false, untrue." He also made it clear that they know the difference between who are the short term cruisers, and who are the long term residents. The long term residents need the license, and the short term cruisers do not. Clear enough?
Safety Issue: Dario explained the requirement to have a license to operate a small boat is no different than needing a license to operate an automobile. "What if there's an accident? Who will be held responsible," he said. He explained it is the responsibility of his office to enforce the laws of Panama with regards to this issue, and that is exactly what they are doing. After 28 July 2012 the foreign members of the community of expats who live (reside) in Bocas del Toro won't have an excuse to not have a valid boat license. By deploying a team from Panama City and offering the course over a six day period, they are being as flexible as possible and making opportunities available for everyone to get the license.
What About A $280 Renewal Fee? There was supposedly in the same announcement some sort of a requirement for a $280 renewal fee. When I asked him about that, Dario was confused and he simply didn't know what I was talking about. He said again - the total cost for the license is $168 ($160 plus $8 in stamps). It's valid for three years. After than, when it expires, you can renew for $168 dollars again. He had no idea where that $280 dollar number came from.
If You Have Any Questions: The Port Captain for Bocas del Toro is Dario Vanhorne. His telephone number is 757-9447. Dario is bilingual and speaks English, so no problem there. His office is on Isla Colon.
Copyright 2012 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.