Places to sail
in the Bahamas.
Please send any comments to me.

This page updated: June 2008
      




Bahamas In General section
Northwest Bahamas section
The Berry's section
Nassau section
Abacos section
Exumas section
Eleuthra section
Cat Island section
Southeast section

Note: I don't repeat information you can find on charts or in guidebooks. And I do focus on things that fit my cruising style: I anchor out, use libraries for internet, don't go to restaurants and bars.




Bahamas In General

Richard Kollmann's "Cruising the Bahamas"
Excite about Bahamas
BahamasNet
Govt-sponsored site
Sail Miami's "Bahamas Info Guide"

Bahamas courtesy flag

Paraphrased from "Cruising The Easy Way" by Bill Robinson (on Amazon):
Bahamas are in the Atlantic, not the Caribbean.

"... you can't rely on Bahamian [navigation] lights. None of the lights we've seen so far work."
On 3/26/2002, BASRA in Nassau said "[A couple of months ago,] someone stole the light off the Northwest Beacon pole, if you can believe it".

Bahamas guidebooks, from Al Hatch on Cruising World message board:
I like the guides written by Steve Pavlidis, he has several titles, The Exuma Guide (on Amazon) covers just the Exumas. On And Off The Beaten Path (on Amazon) covers everything else except the Abacos. I understand he has written a guide to the Abacos (on Amazon) in the last year or so, haven't seen it but should be as comprehensive as his others.

... the Guide to the Abacos by Steve Dodge (on Amazon) is a great value. It sells for around $10.

I've used the Yachtsman's Guide to the Bahamas (on Amazon) but find it difficult to use. Not as clear or as concise as the others I've listed. Pavlidis and Dodge both have excellent sketch charts.

... the 3 chart books done by the Explorers (e.g. on Amazon) are also worth the price; even though buying all 3 books is more expensive than the Better Boating Chart Kit to the Bahamas (on Amazon), they contain the latest charts of the Islands and are, I find, infinitely better.
Several other people say Explorers are best.

MapTech's 2001 ChartKit for the Bahamas mixes depths in feet, meters and fathoms, sometimes on the same chart ! Most towers/beacons are not shown. Supposed to be a greatly revised version out in 2005.

Customs / Checking In:
From noonsite:

From Lee Haefele on The Live-Aboard List:
Your Bahamas permit is good for a year and has 2 entries within 90 days. I read this to read within 90 days of first arrival, some of the officials read it as within 90 days of leaving. Check to be sure your fishing permit is for the whole time.

I did not have to show radio license for VHF radio when entering Bahamas at Bimini 1/2002 or at West End 2/2005. No questions asked about radio or licenses at all.

From Kent Adkins 1/2002:
> When checking in, do I have to take the
> big boat in to the dock, or just the dinghy ?
> Will most marinas charge me to stop there
> long enough to check in ?

Everyone that has gone and come back this year has expressed the same thing I found. They are more interested in the check-in fee than looking at the boat. If you go in with the dinghy and they want to see the boat they can ride back with you. They never asked where my boat was (it was at the dock not more than 200 ft. from the office). Cat Cay does charge $50 to check in at their dock or $60 for an overnight stop. If you are headed for Nassau you could wait until you got there to check in or cross the bank and check in at Chub Cay. There is an anchorage at Chub and when I was there in May folks were checking in at the fuel dock. That sounds kind of funny but it seems everything happens at the fuel dock. It's the center of activity.
...
There are very few anchorages in the Berrys. They are beautiful during the day but I like being snug on my anchor by tea time.
...

From grandma Rosalie on The Live-Aboard List:
Chubb and Cat are both private islands where you have to pay to tie up and check in. The amount is refunded or rolled over if you get the dock for the night. That's one reason we didn't go there. ...

The only place I know of where one customarily is NOT required to come in to a dock is Morgan's Bluff on Andros. Sometimes people go there specifically because they don't have to come into a dock. I'm not sure what they charge if you check in at West End, because I didn't ask, but I'm sure it is something, even though it isn't a club set-up like Chubb is. We have only left to come back from there, and we've always checked out by mail.

I've seen people checking in in Nassau, and don't recommend that either.

I'd really rather check in at Lucaya if I didn't do it at Bimini. ...

...

There are 2 problems with checking in in Nassau:

1) There is a lot of traffic in Nassau and the officials are very busy and are spread very thin. Everyone except the captain has to stay in the boat until they get to you to check you in, and I saw people waiting for more than one day to get checked in.

2) You have to go past a lot of possible check-in places to get there, and I would be uncomfortable about that. You can't fish on the way for instance, without having a fishing license.

There is one good thing about checking in in Nassau:

The officials there know the rules and have the authority to deal with almost any situation. The outlying people were only giving 60-day permits to people before they'd have to check back in (the boat gets a year), but you could get the whole year for people too in Nassau.

Not sure where I got this:
All of this presumes you do not want to go to Grand Bahama Island (West End) and pay their inflated entry fees and excess overtime charges. For years, the members of the St. Lucie Sailing Club have departed the St. Lucie inlet, crossed to an area known as "white sands" to enter the Little Bahama Bank, and then used Great Sale Cay as their first overnight anchorage. The next day you can continue on comfortably and clear at Green Turtle, a place the members consider to be the best and least likely to occur overtime charges. Note, the most direct and shortest route to Marsh Harbor from any point in Florida is Stuart and the SL inlet.

If you still want to go to GBI, then you can go south less than 20 miles and depart from Jupiter Inlet. At one time, this was quite treacherous, but it is now dredged, well-marked, and easy to leave at night. This departure point gives you a better angle and boost from the Stream.

I entered the Bahamas at West End 2/2005 and there were no extra docking charges or overtime fees. Very pleasant and easy.

From Rick on Cruising World message board 5/2000:
... try not to check in at out-of-the-way places, the cruising permit and the immigration cards are different at every location ... cay/gun now [5/2000] charges fifty bucks to tie up at the dock to clear in, chub still charges $25 to tie up to clear in, and who in the hell wants to get stuck at chub ?

From Louis on World-Cruising mailing list:
> Is there a limit on time from entering territorial
> waters until checking in ?

According to my 2002 Bahamas cruising guide, you must clear with Customs and Immigration "at the nearest port of entry." This must be done within 24 hours to avoid any penalties. ... The exception that would allow you to clear in at Nassau [from Florida] is if you cannot safely approach the nearest port of entry.


Bahamas radio: AM 1540.

Shipping Parts In:
Sending a broken part out of country for repair: take the broken part to Customs, get an export permit, then send it out. This will make getting it back in much simpler and cheaper.

From Rick on Cruising World message board:
1. As soon as you clear in and can do this, get three copies of your cruising permit.

2. Mail them to someone that you trust in the states that can obtain parts if you break down, such as injector pump, specific water pump, or something else that you will FIND HARD TO GET IN BAHAMAS WHICH IS JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING! When your 'agent' in the states has this document he goes and gets your parts, and puts the following on the box VESSEL IN TRANSIT, REPAIR PARTS ONLY! and in a glassine-type stick-on put in a copy of the cruising permit, VISIBLE ! and then another copy in the box. It also must have a invoice with actual price you are paying; don't try and fudge this cuz they will find out! This way all you pay is stamp tax and that is 7% and that is a hell of a lot better than 25% duty!

If you call the Ft Lauderdale West Marine store, they used to do this for yachts and is worth a stop to talk to them and see if they do this. DEHL air is good, UPS air is good, and even priority mail is okay. I have used FEDEX with great success. And most Kinkos and most other office-type stores can do this.

From someone in Marsh Harbour 3/2005:
For any heavy parts, UPS and Fedex rates are exorbitant. Consider having the parts shipped to Yellow Air Taxi in Fort Lauderdale, and having them bring them over.


From "Destiny Calls": [of the Windward Islands,] "the highest prices and lowest quality are found in the Bahamas".

Phones:
From Frank Burrows on The Live-Aboard List 12/2001:
The Bahamas including the Abacos have had analog cell coverage for a long time. The problem is that not every US cell phone provider has roaming agreements with Batelco. You can call your provider or Batelco in the Bahamas at 242-294-4000 to verify if your carrier has coverage. There was a Ms. Kuntz that you could call direct at 242-294-6941 and she could verify that your cell number was set up in their database. I use Verizon and they do work in the Bahamas. I don't know about any of the other companies.

In 3/2002, MCI Worldcom calling card does not work for a Bahamas-to-Bahamas call.

From Grandma Rosalie 1/2003:
Re: Phones:

In 2001, I could not use AT&T digital, but I could use Verizon analog bag phone. I could also use a SAMS phone card, but the minutes melted away (500 minutes became less than 25 minutes). My Verizon phone however cost no more than in Florida.

In 2002, Batelco refused to use any phone cards but theirs, but the other phones worked the same.

I heard that this year, Batelco has been privatized, and no longer has an agreement with Verizon. I don't know if they have an agreement with anyone. I have also heard (but have not checked) that analog service isn't available any more.

From Robert Reib on Great-loop mailing list 11/2003:
Most regular calling cards (not prepaid) will work in the Bahamas. However, the rate charged is much higher than you might expect. Using an AT&T card requires you to dial a special number. The connection fee may be as high as $2.50 and then you are charged $1.95 per minute after that. It is all controlled by Batelco and goes through their billing service.

Some of the inexpensive prepaid cards with rates like $0.20/min work for a while, but as soon as Batelco finds out about them they terminate the service. Over the years we used Boat US cards, Sams Club, etc, but found they stopped working within a week or two. Last year the prepaid Wal-Mart card worked at $0.60/min for a couple of weeks. For the most part don't plan on any prepaid calling cards working in the Bahamas.

Nearly every community in the Bahamas has public phones which accept the Batelco prepaid calling card at about $1/minute. It is about the best deal you can get in the Bahamas.

Some cell phones will work in the Bahamas, but most won't. For your cell phone to work, your carrier must have a written agreement with Batelco. Most companies do not. Do not count on your cell phone working in the Bahamas.

You can go to Batelco and sign up to make your cell phone work. However, this requires a significant deposit (which you usually do not get back) and the cost per minute is very high.

If you feel you must have a cell phone, Batelco now has a program where you can purchase a cell phone from them which will work on their system with prepaid air time. As you use up the minutes you can pay for more at any Batelco office. This program is called QuikCell and costs $199 for the initial setup with phone and $40 worth of airtime. Calls within the Bahamas are $0.40/min during the day and $0.20/min at night. Still not cheap.

Finally, remember that the cell phone will only work when you are within range of a cell tower in the Bahamas. Obviously there are a lot of places where you will not be within range of a tower.

For most cruisers to the Bahamas the best bet is the Batelco card. They work (most of the time) in most communities in the Bahamas. Just don't plan on anyone calling you.


From DBM on Cruising World message board:
Re: Bahamas in summer:

I go in May/June/July only; later brings a serious threat of hurricanes. Frontal passage occurs through April in the Abacos though I hear it's nice then. Diurnal heating brings airmass thunderstoms, though not as frequently as in Florida (smaller landmass, less convection). The diving/snorkeling is best because winds are light and the waters at their clearest. Gulf Stream crossing windows are almost continuous from May on, but later in the period the SE trades can set up and blow for days.

My experience of prices:
Prices vary from place to place, but generally are 50% to 150% higher than in USA.

0% higher: cheddar cheese.
50% higher: meat.
100% higher: saltines, potato chips, cheese curls, milk, soda, paper towels, spaghetti sauce, canned chili.
200% higher: Ritz crackers, toilet paper.
Beer of all types is about $45 for a 24-case in 2005.
USA-origin stuff is high-priced; British-origin stuff is more moderately priced.
Fish is very expensive, which makes no sense to me.

The numbers above vary by location: in the big Solomon's supermarket in Marsh Harbour, many prices are not much higher than in USA. In smaller towns and ones further from the USA (such as Georgetown Exumas), prices are very high and quality and availability may be low.

Availability also varies by location. Many smaller and more remote towns have fresh produce, milk and eggs only for a day or two after the weekly mail/freight boat arrives.

Things I couldn't find anywhere: sail-repair tape; Wasabe (green mustard).

My experience of free water availability:
Free good water at: Free very salty water at: No free water at all:





Northwest Bahamas

Jim and Diane about first day: Miami to Cat Cay, and Gun, Chub and Cat Cays, Nassau
Andraecium's "Our First Bahamas Cruise!"
Snow Goose in the Bahamas

From Bryan on Cruising World message board, about crossing from Florida to Bahamas:
... You really only have to worry about Northern winds when crossing, as they run into the stream going north and kick up steep waves. The wind is very rarely from the North in the summer, so you shouldn't have to worry about a "window" (of winds coming from the south) which is an issue to deal with for winter crossings. When the wind is from the South, you don't really need a "gentle breeze." ...

My experience of Bimini 1/2002:

From Tom and Mel Neale: there aren't good anchorages in the very western edge of the Bahamas; after crossing the Gulf Stream, you should keep going for another day to get to safer areas.

Supposed to be good: Honeymoon Harbor at Gun Cay.

My experience of North Cat Cay 3/2002:




The Berry's

My experience of Chub Cay 1/2002:

Good harbor: Little Whale Harbor; lots of conch.

Woodie on Too Lazy II says he's heard that ciguatera is a problem at Chub Cay.

From Bryan Sawyer on Cruising World message board:
I think that the coolest anchorage we have ever visited was in the Berry's at a place called Devils Cay. We wiggled in there with our friends on a Pierson 53. Just room for the two boats in between four little islands. On the inside you can dinghy over to the "Blue Hole", a place where the top of a cavern caved in years ago. It is deep and clear. We hauled tanks up there and dove it. It was cool (but I wouldn't hassle with the tanks again, it is a pretty good, steep walk). There are also ruins of an old church right around there that is pretty interesting. Watch the tides and exactly where you are going in, it was a little tricky but very well worth it! The marina at Great Harbor Cay is pretty cool (it was a good resturant) and there are some great very very deserted beaches there. The place for quiet and fishing!

From SASSY 1/2006:
I hear the Customs is awful at the Great Harbor Marina. From a crew who's used to having the utmost of friendliness and accommodating Bahamians, in Chub Cay for 10 or more years, were forced (as Chub is closed) to this year's trips (now until July) to dock at Great Harbor:

The people are nasty, customs is taxing unmercifully for our own beer/wine and threatening one particular guy to impound his boat because he doesn't like his attitude ... unbelievably unfriendly, not at all accommodating, it would appear that the people in general over there do not want any visitors or tourists docking at their marina. Which kind of defeats the purpose of having a marina at all.

Pulled up anchor, not going back ... plenty of people following behind I'm sure ... they are waiting for you to do something out of turn ... be on alert, be careful in Great Harbor.

WE MISS YOU CHUB!
All of you ...

From Kevin McTeague on Cruising World message board:
Great Stirrup was once a favorite but Bertram's Cove has been ruined by the cruise lines as a "Private Island". Although the staff has been friendly to us and allowed use of the showers and even lunch when the Norway was at anchor. The lighthouse has long ago been automated so no more drunken parties with the keeper. Great Harbor has a nice marina and hotel, but the entrance is from the 'banks side' and is a long drive in shallow water but is a safe place. Halfway down, DO stop at Frozen and Alder Cays: uninhabited but pretty beaches and GREAT fishing on the east side. ...

From Ric on Cruising World message board:
The Berry's are our favorite chain after 30 years of cruising the Bahamas. Much less crowded, and we love isolation. Very friendly and helpful natives, very safe.

Unless you just want to go to Bimini, clear in at Great Harbor (one of the best hurricane holes in the Bahamas, good restaurant, clean fuel, 2 daily flights from Nassau for guests) which is very easy and pleasant. We either cross the banks at night, or anchor just outside the entrance to Bullock's Harbor, going in to clear in the AM. I agree, skip Chub.

Next night, anchor S of the Great Stirrup lighthouse - good fishing as you sail N of the islands toward this spot.

Next, anchor in Queen's Bay, just N of Hawksbill - beautiful shallow bay with wonderful beach, and a great beachside bar and restaurant with great burgers - no protection from N to E though. Beautiful anchorage just E of Market Fish Keys.

Next is Devil's, already described - but room for 6-8 boats. Dink to Flo's restaurant for great lunch, and fresh Bahamian bread if you order ahead, or anchor in Little Harbor which is only short way from Flo's - Chester, Flo's son runs the place now.

Have not anchored at Frozen or Adler, but some do. Little Whale is just S of private Island that the caretakers will let you explore if owners are not there. Usually can trade for fish and/or lobster here. This is good jumping-off place for Nassau, or can go to Frazer's Hog anchorage before Nassau.

Spend more than 3 days in the Berry's though - we have spent a month there several times and loved it.




Nassau

"Chose not to go to Nassau Harbor. It’s so crowded you have ask permission, via radio, from Nassau Harbor Control before entering or leaving the harbor."

Several people on rec.boats.cruising newsgroup say avoid Nassau because of problems with safety, crowds and pollution.

My experience of Nassau 1/2002:












Abacos

Abaco's Community Message Board
Abaco's Message Board
abacos.com
Traveling to Abaco in Your Boat 2005

Messages on SSCA discussion boards:
> We are novice sailors who liveaboard (bareboated a week in BVI)
> looking to cruise for Jan and Feb on our 36 Pearson. We were
> going with another couple who declined due to Northers.
> We still want to go but are unsure whether to go to
> Abacos or further south. We are leaving out of Ft Lauderdale.
> Any suggestions or advice?

After many trips to the Bahamas, the best advice I can give is to forget the Abacos since the fronts can weather you in many times. Head for the Exumas and get south as quickly as possible. Once to Georgetown the fronts make that area a little less. Watch your weather crossing the gulf stream and make sure you have at least a three day weather window. Otherwise WAIT. Hope this helps.

...

I agree. Winter in the Abacos can be very chilly.

...

Stay in GT through at least the cruiser's week, then SLOWLY work your way back north. There are dozens of wonderful stops in the Exumas that you don't want to miss. Get Pavlidis book (on Amazon) and Explorer Charts (I would forget BBA Chart Book).

At the top of the Exumas, jump N and go through Abacos (Dodge book). Lots of nice anchorages.

There are several paths to get to Exumas from Ft Lauderdale. Do an overnighter (lv in PM before dark). You're guaranteed to have company crossing from FL. If you're not used to overnighting, then it's fun and very comforting to see mast lights and to touch base on VHF occasionally when it's pitch black. Ideally, you make the crossing at full moon with 12-15 knots SW, but that only happens in magazine articles. Wait for wind under 15 with no northerly component and keep going. Don't do the waters with bumpy bits at night (we've crossed the Banks at night at Memory Rock a number of times with no apparent ill effect).

From David on Cruising World message board:
We made the crossing from Miami to West End a few years ago, leaving in late February. Cruisers cross at all times of the year, but from late Dec to early March you have to wait for a good weather window. We returned in mid April once it began to get too warm and muggy.

Your 6' draft will be limiting and so you will have to cross at Memory Rock as your post indicates rather than at the marked channel just north of West End - the depth in that channel is accurately noted on the Maptech and Explorer charts at barely 5' at low tide. You will also be limited in your ability to enter some harbors with that draft. A typical itinerary would be Miami to Great Sale Cay via Memory Rock. Then Great Sale to Allan's-Pensacola and then to Green Turtle Cay. Hang out at GTC and listen to the Cruisers Net for info on the Whale Cay Passage before you go around the Whale to the southern Abacos.

Although we haven't done it, we listened to other cruisers on Herb's weather net who returned by exiting the Abacos to the north from Man O' War Channel, or Whale Cay Passage and headed up and rode the stream north. The main problem will be avoiding the stream in a northern component wind. Fronts come through the middle Atlantic well into May, so watch your weather closely and if a front is on its way, duck into an all-weather inlet until it passes.

From Rick on Cruising World message board:
You can go to abacos, but weather is abacos is same as in melbourne: COLD. Go further south and then go back thru abacos in warmer weather. Abacos are nice and they can be fun, but the weather fronts are and can be a real ass-kicker in feb/march but usually weather fronts do not make it past nassau and the exumas are friendly and warm. Go south, young man, go south! Abacos is fla east!

From Larry at Dockside Lounge:
Abacos have no coral-heads, depth is 10 feet everywhere, lots of good anchorages, but they do get Northers, can get cool in winter.

From Alan Brown on SSCA discussion boards 9/2004:
I just returned from a 3-month cruise through the Bahamas, the last month spent cruising the Abacos. I was greatly impressed by this northern part of the Bahamas! My observations.

If you think of the Sea of Abaco as a shallow, inland sea, full of islands, and protected from the open Atlantic, you'll understand the cruising ground. Everything is conveniently close together and a 7-mile passage between islands would be considered a long day.

It seems as if the Abacos were designed for easy, no-hassle cruising. Good anchorages are everywhere and inexpensive marinas and mooring balls can be found in just about every harbor. Beachfront restaurants and bars are all over the place and the daily Cruisers Net (VHF 68) will let you know where many of them are located and what their daily specials will be.

Marsh Harbor is a great place to provision, with grocery, liquor, and hardware stores all within walking distance. Convenient dockage can be had for as little as $.50/foot and holding in the harbor is excellent. There are dinghy tieups all over the harbor area.

Hope Town, and it's famous lighthouse, is a great place to visit. You can stroll the narrow streets and visit the beach. However, don't look to do your laundry here! One operating washer and dryer does not a laundromat make! Do your laundry in Marsh Harbor.

Perhaps my favorite stopping-off place was Treasure Cay. I anchored in their man-made basin for $8/night, while the wind blew 20 knots outside. I had full use of the resort/marina facilities and smiled to myself each time a 100-foot motoryacht passed behind me on its way into the marina. Great bar, restaurant, shopping, and dive shop!

Although I spent a month in the Abacos, I barely scratched the surface. So, instead of sailing back to FL and puting the boat into storage, I left it over there in a very well-protected and sheltered marina. I'll resume my cruise next spring and visit those islands I didn't get a chance to visit this time.

My experience, Feb/March 2005:

General:
Towns / notable stops:


Exumas

Woody on "Too Lazy II" says ciguatera is not a problem in the Exumas.
But when I was in Georgetown 4/2005, someone got ciguatera poisoning from fish at a local restaurant.

From letter from Marti Brown in 11/2007 issue of Seven Seas Cruising Association bulletin:
There have been cases of malaria in Georgetown in summer 2007; CDC recommends taking Chloroquine (see the CDC web site).

From Tom and Judy:
The Exumas during hurricane season ... it was beautiful. Several periods of time with water dead calm and crystal clear. Very little other boat traffic, so anchorages were empty and virtually private. Good hurricane holes at Normans Key and in Georgetown, as well as on the moorings at Exuma Park - our current base. A fortunate year [2002] again without even any near misses for the Exuma's. We'll probably ride out next year here as well.

Bruce on "Karma Kat" spent 2004 hurricane season in Georgetown, and thinks it's a great place to spend hurricane season.




Eleuthra




Cat Island




Southeast

Good guidebook for parts of this area: "A Gentleman's Guide to Passages South" by Bruce Van Sant (on Amazon).

My expected route from Georgetown to Caicos: Georgetown, Calabash, Conception, Rum, Mayaguana, Provodenciales.

My impression from charts and several cruisers: not many enclosed anchorages in this area. Sometimes you can sneak inside a reef to get protection, but that can be tricky.

Met cruiser in Georgetown 5/2005 who strongly recommended Explorer charts (on Amazon) for this area, not Maptech charts. [I used Maptech charts and had no problems.]







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