Boot Key Harbor
"Marathon- the Heart of the Florida Keys"

An On-Line Cruising Guide for the Florida Keys & Cuba
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CRUISING THE BAHAMAS - A SHORT PRIMER

CRUISING WAYPOINTS, SELECTED ANCHORAGES & MARINAS

These waypoints MUST be used only in conjunction with current charts of the area, and cross checked against other navigational methods such as soundings, navigational aids and bearings. Do not rely solely upon these waypoints, and don't use them at all unless you are able to fully navigate yourself. You are responsible for your own navigation. Remember, it's even possible that there are typographical errors on these pages - double check your navigation!

These pages are split into sections so they'll load faster on your computer.

Lower Keys
Tortugas to 7 Mile Bridge @ Marathon
Middle Keys
Marathon to Whale Harbor in Islamorada
Upper Keys
Whale Harbor to Key Biscayne & SW FL
Intro to Cuba & Hemingway Marina Great Circle Trip
Keys to Great Lakes on E Coast
and back the River systems to the Gulf and Keys
Intro to Bahamas
This isn't covered here in detail, but we'll tell you how to cross the Gulf Stream and about the regulations and requirements.

For a listing of lots of Bahamian Marinas and Dive Facilities, go to the BOATING LINKS page on this website, of Cruising Locations, Marinas etc., and scroll down to the Bahamas listings.
For a listing of Bahamas Marine Weather Broadcasts, CLICK HERE - SSB, VHF and AM frequencies & times
Also see
www.bahamas.com (800-327-7678) for Private Pilot Video & CD-ROM Diving Guide

Most of the Rules and Forms are in the Links Below.
The rest of this page is a general discussion

DISCLAIMER: You are totally responsible for your own Seamanship and Navigation. I assume no responsibility for that. I'll share my experiences and information, but if you shipwreck, burn or sink, it's not my fault.

123 Go Bahamas - A Web Directory of Resources for the Bahamas

Excel Directory of Bahamas Anchorages 2007
Courtesy of Kevin & Karin Hughes - S/V Windigo
www.ciekurzis.org

Bahamas Travel Info - Ports of Entery & Other Info, Including
Pet Forms, U.S. Re-entry, Guns, Cruising Permit Fees, Etc.

US Customs Sticker for Re-Entry

US Customs & Border Patrol Re-entry information

This section is not meant to be exhaustive on Cruising the Bahamas. It's a start on getting you there. Bahamas cruising is great, but I'd like to share my bias with you. If you buy the Cruising Guides to the Bahamas you'll get listings of primarily Marinas and  places to go shopping and spend money. If that's what you want - then great. That's NOT what I like about the Bahamas -- its the endless, open tropical seas with isolated beaches and remote anchorages, friendly people in the out islands, abundant marine life and mesmerizingly clear water - like your boat is floating on a glass tabletop poised well over the fish and bottom. You won't find these discussed much in the Cruising Guides. In fact the Cruising Guides don't discuss the Cay Sal Bank AT ALL! - Maybe because there are no facilities there, anyplace to spend money, and therefore no advertising sponsors for the cruising guides. An exception is the Exumas Cruising guide by Steve Pavlidis - it has LOTS of information on great out-of-the-way places. Of course, pick your own style of cruising. I just want you to know that you won't get much information on what I consider is the best cruising, because there's no money in it. We like to anchor out for days or a week or two at a time, then spend a couple days in a nice port to re-supply, refuel and splurge on a dinner or two out - then back out to remote anchorages

Bahamas Air-Sea Rescue Association (BASRA): no website - BASRA, PO Box SS6247, Nassau, Bahamas. Send $30 donation to help them maintain our safety net.

.Gulf Stream Crossing:
At its narrowest, its only about 50 miles from Florida to the Bahamas crossing the Gulf Stream. Preparation of the boat is imperative though. Ensure that everything is working properly and you have plenty of spare parts (you'll need these in the Bahamas anyway). These include your bilge pumps, electronics (especially communications & navigation) and safety equipment. The single most important factor though is weather. I've crossed the Gulf Stream a couple times when it was like glass - though I must say this is an exception and perhaps a gift from my guardian angels for having endured "less than optimum" seas in the past. On the other side it can get frighteningly nasty! This happens when a strong wind pushes directly against the strong current of the stream. This heaps up the seas making them very high and very steep - 15-20 foot seas would not be uncommon with 30+ knot winds coming from the North (the Gulf Stream flows about North/South if crossing from S. Florida to Bahamas, or about SWW/NEE if crossing from Key West to Cuba.)  The key to a safe and reasonable comfortable crossing is in watching and waiting for a weather window. If crossing from the Ft Lauderdale/Miami area directly east, you'll want the winds to be out of the South, preferably at 10 knots or less (at least no more than 15 knots). To get this watch the weather for wind shifts. This also depends on how fast your boat is (the faster the better for crossing). The wind should be clocking around from the East through South. This gives you a little lead time to ensure its blowing from the South, to coincide with the current, when you're in the middle and the current is strongest. The Gulf Stream is not a static flow. It is a dynamic moving river whose boundaries change every day. You can watch the water temperature to see it go up a couple degrees when you're in to it. You can also watch the difference between your compass heading and course over ground on your GPS. It is VERY important to maintain awareness of this difference, which is the compensation for the strong 3+ knot current (probably 2.5 average) of the Gulf Stream. This will of course be a slight deviation to the South. In my slow boat this is about 15 degrees South of course. Electronics WILL fail at some point, its only a question of when. At the very least you should be able to dead reckon across the stream using this heading information to make an approximate landfall on either side. If you don't know how to do this check into a U.S. Power Squadron course. Your compass is a critical piece of equipment and it should be a good one.  Keep an eye on your speed made good and know when the approximate halfway point is (time wise) for safety on both sides. If something were to happen that you really had to head to port for you should be aware of whether its quicker to turn back or to forge ahead.

The time of year makes a significant difference. Summer is when the visibility is best and water the most calm. In the winter the seas kick up higher and more frequently. In the summer a forecast of of calm to light and variable winds will give you a great crossing. Leave first thing in the morning to minimize land-mass breezes and to sandbag some for making landfall by dark in case things go wrong and you get hung up. Unless you want to feel like you and your boat have been put through a blender, never cross when there is any northerly component to the wind (at least from S Florida to the Bahamas). The most common spots for jump off points from Florida are Stuart, Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

There are several Bahamian ports of first approach from South Florida. Since many of the Islands are well inside the Bahamas bank, only the first portion of your crossing is actually in the Gulf Stream and the remainder is in the calmer waters of the Bahamas Bank. Bimini and S. Bimini is the closest being only 48 nm east of Miami. Cat Cay is 8 miles South of S. Bimini and is a smaller island with its own private club and customs check in.  Walkers Cay is about 97 nm off Palm beach and is the most Northern Island in the Bahamas. Here the Gulf Stream is the first 50 some miles and the remainder is in the Bahamas Bank (average 12-20 feet).

Assess your safety equipment. Lifejackets, flares, fire extinguishers, etc. are standard equipment most boaters have anyway (and require). Even though your VHF is supposed to work only about 25 miles offshore, the antennas from the Coast Guard in S. Florida are VERY high and your chances of contacting them or Bahamas is very good all the way across the Gulf Stream. A Single Side Band or Ham radio is even better, plus useful while cruising the Bahamas, but is not absolutely necessary. Likewise a Satellite Telephone is an excellent safety device, and convenient for cruising use,  but not necessary. A GPS, and even a handheld backup GPS is very convenient and almost everyone uses them. However I want to caution you again on being able to Navigate on your own if they bite the dust. You don't have to be pinpoint precise at dead reckoning but it's got to be workable to get you safely across if your GPS fails. A 406 MHz EPIRB is definitely worth considering. I frequently go across without one, but only because I don't have one, not because I wouldn't like it. Boat US has a rental program for its members if you don't want to spend the $1000 on an EPIRB. If you buy one ensure that its registered. At least a coastal life raft is another worthwhile consideration, but the practice of most people, including me, is to use your inflatable dinghy as the life raft for the crossing. We do make sure we put extra flares and supplies in the dinghy too. Quality flares are essential. Get at least the 25mm aerial flares - forget about relying on the 12ga flares. We carry the more expensive SOLAS flares including the parachute flares. If I'm sitting in an inflatable dinghy with my family in the middle of the night and see a freighter in the distance, I don't want to be thinking about the $80 I saved on flares by buying the cheap ones!

Bahamas Paperwork & Rules:

  • Need Passport, for everyone on board. Birth Certificates don't work anymore for US Citizens.
  • Hoist Yellow Quarantine Flag upon entering Bahamian waters. Everyone except Captain stays on board until paperwork completed, or until cleared to do so by Customs/Immigration. At that time Yellow Q flag can be replaced with the Bahamian courtesy flag.
  • US Customs Sticker - required for boats over 30 feet - the application form and contact information is available at the top of this page
  • Spear Fishing and Conch - Make sure you get current rules, but visitors now cannot take conch at all. Pole spears and Hawaiian slings are allowed, but only with snorkeling - not scuba, and no spear-guns are allowed.

US Re-entry rules:

These have become really onerous since 9/11 and they change, so check them before you go.

Books and Charts:   (Try looking at Blue Water Books and Charts to buy these)

  • The Exuma Guide: by Stephen Pavlidis - Highly Recommended. Brief on Marinas and Money places. Long on Cruising and great Anchorages
  • On and Off the Beaten Path - The Central and Southern Bahamas Guide: by Stephen Pavlidis - From Southern FL to the Turks and Caicos. Written like his other one on the Exumas. Highly Recommended.
  • Bahamas GPS & Loran Handbook - On-site GPS readings (prior to SA being turned off) from BBA Chart Kit - 800-242-7854. Nice because, besides having actual GPS readings, it has good full-color aerial photos of the areas covered, with chartlets.  Covers various sites in:  1. Grand Bahama and Abacos,  2. Eleuthera  3. New Providence, Berry's, Cat Cay & Bimini   4.  Exumas.    - Recommended (but pricey)
  • Yachtsman's guide to the Bahamas: Lots of info, but mostly about Marinas and places to spend money. But it also has the rules listed and lots of very useful information on navigation in Bahamian waters, anchoring, pets, and procedures for Bahamian and US Customs that make it worthwhile to carry.  About $40. Annual update
  • Cruising Guide to the Abacos: by Steve Dodge. Includes chartlets and aerial photography. About $20. Annual update
  • GPS-Loran Waypoint Guide - laminated one page guide to 100 of Bahamas and S Florida waypoints
  • Maptech Chartkit Region #9, 5th Edition: All of the Bahamas to Turks and Caicos
  • Waterproof Chart #120F: detailed navigation & fishing chart for Northern Bahamas
  • The Dive Sites of the Bahamas - Comprehensive coverage of Diving and Snorkeling, McGraw-Hill.

CAY SAL BANK BAHAMAS  (Midway between the Florida Keys, Cuba, and Bahamas)

Check back later - we'd like to go there to take pictures, gunkhole, get waypoints and make sketchcharts. It's just 30 miles North of Cuba, and about 60 miles South of the Keys. This is the most remote area of the Bahamas. You won't even find it listed in any Bahamas Boating Guides - plus chart11461 of the area is very large 1:300,000! (no detail - but try chart # 27087 for a larger scale chart). Though patrolled by the USCG (drug & Cuban smuggling), the Bahamians have no facilities or patrols here at all. The Cay Sal Bank has one of the highest concentrations of blue holes in the world and spectacular vertical walls for diving. It offers great snorkeling and diving. It is a popular fishing spot for US Fisherman making day trips to the banks from the Keys. The bank is about 37x53 nautical miles across the entire bank, and about 142 nm in circumference. It is comprised of 8 named Island groups and several unnamed ones. If you get there before we do, please send back some photos and specific notes on anchoring, cruising & fishing & we'll post them here.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW A CHART OF THE CAY SAL BANK
CLICK HERE FOR SOME PICTURES AND CRUISING INFORMATION FOR THE CAY SAL BANK

Please take note that you FIRST have to check in with Bahamian customs and immigration, and there are NONE in the Cay Sal Bank. Closest are Bimini and Andros, so it's not practical (legally) to go directly from the Keys to the bank. Many fishing boats do, but it is illegal and you could lose your boat. You should write to Bahamian officials to encourage them to develop some mail-in permit system where you can pay a fee and get back a short term permit by mail, and then just go directly to the bank. In the interim your best bet might be to hook up with one of the commercial diving groups out of S. Florida that take you via liveaboard boat and check in along the way. However, if you've been in the Bahamas cruising for a while, it might be a good spot before you leave, and you could go straight on up to the Keys.

 

Boot Key Harbor website created and maintained by Capt. Gregory T. Absten, Marathon.  - A Boater's Guide to the Florida Keys & Cuba
Copyright 2000-2012 Gregory T. Absten