Panama Offers Boaters Overseas Big Savings on Yachts and Docking Fees

Based in Minnesota, Mike and Ann Roess bought their sailboat in Panama and saved at least 15% on the cost, reports

They found Escapade—a Hylas 49 sailboat, which sleeps up to eight people—on, a website that connects boat sellers and buyers. A Spanish mariner owned the boat and docked it in Panama. The Roesses had a gut feeling that it was the right boat for them, so Mike flew to Panama.

“Boats are marketed in Florida and the Chesapeake, Virginia, area,” says Mike. “When we started to look for a boat, we found that the boats that were in those areas were more expensive. We did look in Fort Lauderdale, but we realized pretty quickly that we could get a better deal if we were willing to go to a foreign country.”

The boat-buying process works much the same way as purchasing a house. Before selling a craft, the owner has to get a survey, which is similar to the home inspection required when selling a house.

“When you’re buying a boat in a foreign country, it’s best to try to do the deal in one step. So you try to get as many details and photos as possible ahead of time, before you get on a plane,” says Roger Johansson, owner of Free State Yachts in Deale, Maryland, the broker who closed the deal for the Roesses.

Before Mike left Minnesota, he and Ann submitted their written offer and put down a deposit on the boat. “It makes sense, because then everything is secured before the trip, but the deal is pending,” Johansson says. “Probably 90% of my foreign deals are set up this way.”

The Roesses are considering leaving their boat in Panama to save on sales taxes, too. And they estimate they can save as much as 40% on marina fees if they keep Escapade in Panama rather than docking it in Florida.

Mike was impressed with Shelter Bay Marina’s facilities and security in Panama. “It’s fenced and protected, so it’s a very safe place to dock a valuable yacht,” Mike says. “They have no issues at all, and that’s not true of a lot of marinas in the Caribbean.”

Plus, leaving the boat in Panama offers geographic advantages. The Roesses plan to cruise the Caribbean aboard their new yacht.

The full report on buying a boat in Panama, which appeared in the September edition of International Living magazine, can be read here: Buying a Boat in Panama Could Save You Money.

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