Planning A Trip To The Bahamas?

Updated 11:07 AM ET, Mon September 21, 2015

Article highlights

  • With over 700 islands, cays, and islets to explore, the Bahamas is a great choice for a trip due to its close location.
  • Upon arrival, at first only the captain can leave the vessel. Once your vessel has been cleared, everyone on board must show proof of citizenship and fill out an immigration card.
  • Upon re-entry into the US, the captain must immediately report your arrival to CBP, by calling (800) 432-1216.
Planning on making a run to the Bahamas soon? Here are some tips and important information for making your visit safe and enjoyable. With more than 700 islands, cays and islets to explore, you could easily spend a number of years seeing all the Bahamas has to offer.

Some considerations to make when travelling by boat are the time of year and the sea conditions. Bimini is the closest Bahamian Island to the United States. Less than 50 miles from Miami and about 100 miles from West Palm Beach, Florida, Bimini is one of the more commonly visited islands for Florida boaters.

Planning A Trip To The Bahamas?

Your passage over will require some planning ahead to make for a safe and pleasant ride for you and your guests. The Gulf Stream is part of a current that circles the Atlantic Ocean from the Americas to Europe. The Gulf Stream current flows northward along the southern and eastern Florida coastline. The strong current varies by season, but this northerly flow is a big consideration in planning your trip from a navigation standpoint. When crossing the Gulf Stream you will not be travelling in a straight line from West Palm Beach to West End. The Gulf Stream current will be pushing you sideways (or to the north) while you are moving eastward towards the Bahamas. Navigational charting software will assist you in adjusting your course to your final destination.

The Gulf Stream creates its own weather pattern!

1.) The Gulf Stream in effect creates its own weather pattern due to differences in the water temperature of it compared to the ocean water temperatures along the edges of the current.

2.) If the winds are north of east and 15 knots or greater in speed, you might want to wait for a better "weather window". The winds blowing against the current flow can create some rather large wave activity which, depending on the size of your boat, can result in a very bumpy, uncomfortable ride. Foul weather can pop up quickly in the form of thunder and lightning storms, so good weather planning is critical for making your passage.

We're Here!!!

Upon arrival in the Bahamas you will need to clear Customs and Immigration before you can visit the Islands. At first, the Captain of the boat is the only one allowed to leave your boat; all guests must stay on board until the boat has been cleared. You must fly a yellow quarantine flag upon entry into Bahamian waters, making your presence known. There are many Ports of Entry throughout the Bahamas for your convenience. Once the Captain of your boat has gone to the nearest Port of Entry office, he or she will return with the Customs and Immigration Officials.

Everyone on board must show proof of citizenship and fill out an immigration card. All U.S. citizens must present a passport. Once the formalities are handled, you will be free to go and enjoy all the Bahama Islands have to offer. Upon departure from the Bahamas, you must surrender your immigration card at the last Bahamian Port you visit.

There Will Be Entry Fees To Pay

The entry fees are always subject to change. Currently, for boats up to 30 feet with no more than 3 passengers, the fee is $150.00. This fee is good for a second re-entry within a 90-day period. The fee covers your cruising permit, fishing permit, and departure tax.

For boats larger than 30 feet the fee is $300.00 with the same restrictions and privileges as noted above. Each additional person over 3 will be charged $25.00. Your cruising permit is good for 12 months. A visa will be required if your stay is more than 8 months.

If You Have a Firearm On Board

If you have a firearm on board (shotguns and handguns only) you must declare it with Bahamian Customs. You must provide the serial number, name of the manufacturer, and an exact count of ammunition. While you are allowed to have a firearm on your boat, you cannot remove it. Weapons must be under lock and key at all times. In cases of emergencies, which require your departure by air, you must notify Bahamian Police or Customs. They will accompany you to retrieve the firearm and present you with a receipt. Upon your return to the island, Bahamian Police or Customs will escort you to your vessel and return your firearm. Any infraction of this law will be dealt with severely.

Generally, from a weather perspective, the mid-April timeframe is the best time of year to visit the Bahamas.

Best Time To Visit

With careful planning, the Bahamas can be a year round destination. However, please keep in mind the Bahama chain is at the northern end of what is known as the Hurricane Belt or Hurricane Zone. Careful planning should be made during the June to November time frame as this is the annual Hurricane Season. Brief periods of rain and thunderstorms are not uncommon outside of the Hurricane Season but are typically quick in passing. Generally, from a weather perspective, the mid-April timeframe is the best time of year to visit the Bahamas.

Should I Anchor Or Stay At A Marina

Keep in mind the Bahama Banks are quite shallow with many reefs, so consult your guide books and ask for local knowledge when anchoring. Living "on the hook" while visiting will allow you to enjoy the tropical winds and provide a beautiful view of the crystal clear waters for snorkeling and diving right from your "home"! You can take your dinghy and explore the nearby reefs and beaches.

If your boat has too much draft to anchor just offshore, your only option is to go further out on the banks to anchor in waters 9 - 30 feet deep. This however, will expose you to open waters that can result in a bumpy or rolling anchorage due to the ocean swells.

There are hundreds of marinas throughout the Bahamas offering everything from economical, small-town-feel dockage to high-living resorts like Paradise Island on Nassau.

A little bit of both will satisfy you and your guests. Once anchored, you can fish right off your boat or at the marina. You can also leave your boat and charter a Sport Fishing boat for the day.

There are approximately 40 or so inhabited islands in the Bahamas. If you want to visit all the beautiful, uninhabited areas of the Bahamas, self-sufficiency and anchoring is your only choice. Of course, if you have a small power boat and don't mind the fuel costs (approximately 150% higher there than in the States), you can always make day trips to many of these isolated spots and then return to the marina.

If you are cruising and plan to see all the remote areas the Bahamas has to offer, your boat should be equipped with both a watermaker and a generator. Water is a very precious resource as it comes from desalination plants scattered across the island chain. Be prepared to pay one dollar or more per gallon. Although the Bahama Islands do enjoy the breeze that the Trade Winds offer, on those few evenings when there is no wind, having a generator to run your air conditioning system will make your overnight stay "on the hook" mosquito free.

There are a number of Bahama Cruising Guides to steer you to most anything on your bucket list of things to do while visiting. Some of the most popular guides are West Marine, Bluewater Books and Charts, and online resources.

Upon arrival back in the US, you must call US Customs immediately at (800) 432-1216

Returning To The States

When you are departing the Bahamas, you must remember to surrender your copy of the immigration card at the last Bahamian port you visit. Upon entry in the United States, the Captain of the vessel must report the arrival immediately upon first landfall to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) by calling the following toll-free number or visiting the following website:

(800) 432-1216

The Captain will be directed to the nearest Port of Entry and must physically present him/herself and the passengers for admission to the US. When you call for clearance, have the following information available:

1) Vessel name and registration/document number
2) Vessel owner name and citizenship
3) Vessel Captain name, date of birth and citizenship
4) Passengers' names and dates of birth
5) Foreign ports or places visited and duration of stay
6) Total value of all acquisitions and purchases made


A trip to the Bahamas is absolutely worth the time and energy it takes to get prepared. This island is a lovely and unique resource that is easily accessible because of its location.

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