Pleasure Vessels
Annual Requirements
Transfer of Vessels Already Enrolled in Panama


Two government bodies are primarily involved in the enrolment of vessels in Panama. The Shipping Bureau is in charge of all administrative matters regarding vessels that are registered in Panama. The Public Registry is responsible for coordinating all matters concerning the juridical status of vessels enrolled in the Panamanian Registry, namely the registration of title to vessels and their mortgages.

In turn, other government authorities assist these entities. There are several Panamanian consulates (Pancon) around the world that are designated by the Shipping Bureau to exercise certain functions on its behalf and expedite the process of registering a vessel in Panama. These consulates also act as auxiliary registrars of the Public Registry for the preliminary registration of title and mortgages on vessels enrolled in Panama. This is important in providing creditors with security in the financing of ships.

In addition, there is an office of the Shipping Bureau in New York, known as SEGUMAR. This office coordinates technical and safety matters that affect Panamanian vessels (eg, annual inspections). Inspectors are appointed by the Shipping Bureau throughout the world to assist in the inspection of Panamanian vessels. The SEGUMAR web site is at


Legal provisions that apply to the enrolment of vessels in Panama are contained in various laws, cabinet and executive decrees and resolutions, and in the commercial, labour and fiscal codes. In addition, Panama has ratified various international conventions. Of primary importance are Law 8 of 1925 and Law 2 of 1980. They provide the basic guidelines for registering vessels in Panama and set out the functions of the Shipping Bureau.

Law 14 of 1980 and Law 43 of 1984 regulate the preliminary registration of title and mortgages on vessels enrolled in Panama. Administrative resolutions and decisions adopted by the Shipping Bureau and administrative practices of Panamanian consulates are also relevant.


There are no nationality requirements concerning the ownership of a vessel registered in Panama. There are no minimum tonnage or age requirements, although a vessel built more than 20 years before enrolment in Panama must undergo an inspection within six months of provisional registration. This inspection is coordinated by SEGUMAR.

Article 1 of Law 8 of 1925 widely defines the vessels that may be enrolled in the Panamanian Register. These include crafts for the transportation of passengers and cargo, pontoons, dredges, floating docks or other hulls made of wood, cement, iron steel or mixed materials, and other objects that may be used in maritime commerce. In practice there are instances where mobile offshore drilling rigs and submersibles devoted to scientific research have been enrolled.

A vessel that is under construction may be registered, provided at least one-third of the total amount budgeted for the hull has already been invested.

Pursuant to Law 19 of 1992 it is possible to obtain a special type of registration for vessels on account of scrapping, delivery voyage or any other purpose of a provisional nature. Registration is effective for three months. Government charges for such registration are $0.40 per net ton or a fraction thereof, with a minimum of $300.

Pursuant to Law 11 of 1973 and Law 83 of 1973, it is possible to have dual registration of vessels in certain circumstances.

All vessels may be enrolled through Pancon or directly at the Shipping Bureau in Panama, at the owner's option.

The enrolment process begins with an application for registration, which is lodged either at Pancon or at the Shipping Bureau in Panama through a local attorney.

The following information is required to complete the application form:

  • vessel's present name (and former name, if any);
  • type of vessel;
  • name, address and nationality of the owner;
  • previous country of registration, if applicable;
  • net and gross tonnage in accordance with the 1969 International Tonnage Certificate, if applicable;
  • principal dimensions, (ie, length, breadth and depth) in accordance with the 1969 International Tonnage Certificate, if applicable;
  • number of decks, masts and funnels;
  • number and type of engine and cylinders, with indication of their length and diameter, as well as the name of the engine manufacturer and the year of manufacture;
  • speed of the vessel and horsepower or wattage;
  • nature of service or traffic to be rendered by the vessel (eg, tanker, bulk carrier, passenger trade, refrigerated cargo);
  • name and address of the builder of the vessel, place and year of construction, and material from which the hull was built;
  • International Maritime Organization number;
  • classification, if applicable;
  • radio accounting authority, responsible for the payment of statements for the vessel's radiotelegraphic services;
  • legal representatives of the vessel in Panama that will represent the vessel and deal with enrolment; and
  • name of the classification society that will issue technical certificates.

Accurate information must be provided. In particular, attention should be given to correct measurements and tonnage, as any changes will result in delays and additional expenses in obtaining statutory enrolment.

To ensure compliance with the objectives of the International Safety Management Code, every vessel must carry certain certificates to prove that the company in charge of the vessel's administration has been awarded the necessary documentation. These are the document of compliance, which must be issued in the name of the vessel's operating company, and the safety management certificate, which is issued in the vessel's name. Both certificates may be issued provisionally when a new company takes over operation of a vessel, or for new vessels. According to Circular 101 issued by the General Merchant Marine Directorate, the certificates must be presented in the form required by the International Safety Management Code when the corresponding application is lodged at the Shipping Bureau. The guarantee certificate may only be issued by certain authorized classification societies and under the authority of the Panamanian government.

When the application for registration is lodged, the registration charges and taxes must be paid.

The following documents are required for enrolment:

  • a power of attorney or authorization in favour of the person who completes and/or lodges the application form for registration of the vessel. Power of attorney should be authenticated by a notary public and legalized by a Panamanian consul, or apostilled;
  • a power of attorney or authorization in favour of the legal representative in Panama, (ie, the law firm handling the enrolment process). Power of attorney should be authenticated by a notary public and legalized by a Panamanian consul, or apostilled;
  • an official certificate or document duly authenticated and legalized by a Panamanian consul or apostilled, to the effect that the previous registration has been cancelled or closed. If such a document is not available upon enrolment it can be presented within a specified period of time; and
  • proof of ownership of the vessel's title deed, duly authenticated by a notary public and legalized by a Panamanian consul, or apostilled. If the vessel is newly constructed, proof of ownership consists of a builder or construction certificate, which should state the price of construction and a description of the vessel. If the vessel has been transferred to Panama on account of a sale, the bill of sale constitutes proof of ownership. If the vessel has been transferred to Panama without an intervening sale, proof of ownership is established by virtue of an ownership certificate from the previous country of registration and the corresponding certificate of deletion or cancellation of registration.

Regarding initial registration of a vessel in Panama, the builder or construction certificates or bill of sale should contain a declaration by a notary public that the seller was the vessel's legal owner at the time, and that the person acting on their behalf was authorized to do so. Furthermore, the builder or construction certificate or bill of sale must also state the acceptance of the sale or transfer by the buyer. Alternatively, a separate document containing the acceptance of sale or transfer can be attached to the relevant document.

Once these formalities have been completed, the Shipping Bureau issues (or authorizes Pancon to issue) a provisional navigation licence that is valid for six months and a provisional radio licence that is valid for three months. At this time, the interested party should make arrangements for the issuance of a crew roll list and certificates of competency.

When the application for enrolment is lodged or fees are paid at Pancon, the relevant party should request that Pancon inform the Shipping Bureau of the number and full sum of receipts that have been issued. Alternatively, authenticated copies should be sent to the law firm in Panama that is dealing with the vessel's enrolment. This is important because a tax clearance certificate must be obtained from the Shipping Bureau to file proof of ownership for registration. This will not be issued until the Shipping Bureau receives confirmation of receipt of payment of registration charges and fees.

The relevant party should send the power of attorney in favour of the legal representative of the vessel in Panama, proof of ownership, and the certificate or document evidencing cancellation of the previous registry to the firm of lawyers that will complete the enrolment. Also, a certified copy of the vessel's 1969 International Tonnage Certificate should be provided (as reissued by the corresponding classification society on behalf of the government). This must be authenticated by the classification society or a Panamanian consul. The application form for a statutory radio licence should also be sent for processing.

If a vessel was built more than 20 years before registration in Panama, SEGUMAR should be contacted to arrange an inspection of the vessel. This is a prerequisite for completing the enrolment and the issuance of a statutory navigation licence. Also, the owner should make arrangements for the issuance or re-issuance of technical certificates that are required by international conventions, according to the vessel's trade and tonnage. These include:

  • a passenger ship safety certificate;
  • a cargo ship safety construction certificate;
  • a cargo ship safety equipment certificate;
  • a cargo ship safety radiotelegraphy certificate;
  • a cargo ship safety radiotelephony certificate;
  • an international loadline certificate;
  • a minimum manning certificate; and
  • a classification certificate.

Once the relevant Panamanian law firm receives these documents, the following steps must be taken to complete the enrolment of the vessel:

  • translation and registration at the Public Registry of the document evidencing proof of ownership. Proof of ownership may be preliminarily registered at Pancon or in Panama when the vessel is initially enrolled and the provisional navigation and radio licences are issued. Preliminary registration is particularly important when a mortgage is being registered on a preliminary basis. This registration is legally effective for six months, pending completion of the registration process at the Public Registry;
  • submission of the application for the issuance of the statutory radio licence at the Shipping Bureau; and
  • submission of the power of attorney in favour of the legal representative of the vessel at the Shipping Bureau, as well as the certificate or document evidencing cancellation of the previous registry and proof of ownership as registered at the Public Registry and the certificate of admeasurement.

The Shipping Bureau will then issue statutory radio and navigation licences that are valid for four years (or two years for yachts).

If provisional radio and navigation licences have expired and new ones have yet to be issued, the old licences may be extended upon payment of renewal charges and a fine.

Pleasure Vessels

Yachts may be enrolled in Panama either through Pancon or directly at the Shipping Bureau in Panama, irrespective of their measurements, tonnage and the owner's nationality. Registration charges payable to the government are $1,500. If the owner of the yacht is a Panamanian company or individual, the corresponding charge is $1,000. The respective amount constitutes the sole charge payable during the term of registration (ie, over two years).

The enrolment procedure is the same as for regular vessels, except for differences that may arise due to technical dissimilarities between regular ships and yachts and the fact that there is no need to file a tonnage certificate with the Shipping Bureau.

There is no need to produce a tonnage certificate to achieve the permanent registration of a yacht in Panama. However, the certificate must be carried aboard the vessel and be available for inspection upon request.

In all, the procedure of obtaining the pertinent certificate of competency for sailing yachts is expeditious and simple.

Annual Requirements

Panamanian-registered vessels that are engaged in international trade, commercial activities or the carriage of cargo or passengers are subject to annual inspections. The aim is to determine compliance with safety norms prescribed by national laws and regulations and international conventions. Inspections are coordinated by SEGUMAR.

Shipping regulations demand that pleasure vessels also be inspected annually. However, in practice, the Panamanian maritime authorities are not undertaking mandatory surveys of pleasure yachts.

Annual taxes and charges are payable in January. They can be paid directly at the Shipping Bureau or through any Pancon.

Transfer of Vessels Already Enrolled in Panama

A vessel enrolled in Panama may be transferred to another owner, regardless of the fact that some of the requirements for statutory enrolment are outstanding. Transfer can go ahead provided that the vessel is tax-cleared with government authorities.

If any formalities are pending under the previous owner, they must be completed before statutory enrolment.

The process of transferring ownership begins by obtaining a certificate from the Public Registry showing the status of the vessel in respect of ownership and encumbrances. The law firm that will represent the new owner while the vessel is in Panama normally does this. Then an application for the issuance of new provisional navigation and radio licences is filed at the Shipping Bureau.

The following information is required to complete the application form:

  • the vessel's new name, if applicable;
  • the name and business address of the buyer;
  • the classification society; and
  • the radio accounting authority.

The application must be filed at the Shipping Bureau through the law firm that will represent the vessel under new ownership.

Upon filing the application for the issuance of new documents, it is possible to request that a particular Pancon be authorized to issue the navigation and radio licences. Issuance may be requested locally and then sent to the relevant party. The issuance of new licences will be authorized subject to payment of (i) the relevant charges levied by the Shipping Bureau for the transfer of ownership and (ii) any outstanding sums that were due under prior ownership. In addition, the bill of sale and the power of attorney must be submitted at the Shipping Bureau or Pancon. If there are any mortgages on record, a document evidencing the mortgagee's consent to the transfer of ownership or discharge of the mortgage must be submitted (duly notarized and legalized). This is filed for registration at the Panamanian Public Registry. Thereafter, the various steps outlined in respect of an original enrolment must be completed in order to obtain statutory registration under new ownership.

For further information on this topic please contact Ebrahim Asvat at Patton Moreno & Asvat by telephone (+507 264 8044) or by fax (+507 263 7887) or by e-mail ([email protected]).

The materials contained on this web site are for general information purposes only and are subject to the disclaimer