Sailing to the Bahamas 🇧🇸 - when and how
Posted Nov 04 2021 in Guides
The Bahamas is probably one of the most intricate and diverse geographic formations in the Caribbean. The coral-based archipelago consists of 700 islands - and there are even hundreds more if you consider the smaller rock formations surrounding them.
Pristine sandy beaches, perfect all-year warm temperature, and easy access to the US are among the top reasons why the Bahamas are one of the world's top boating and tourist destinations.
In addition to all that, at least 50 of the islands are urbanized and are full of historical sites. In some cases, there are abandoned ruins, presenting the former glory of the Caribbean. Thanks to the Gulfstream, the waters around the islands are teeming with life, and you can see sharks, sea turtles, spiny lobsters, crabs, fish of all kinds in the marvelous turquoise waters near the shores, which are also perfect for diving.
Now, let’s dive into the WHEN and HOW to visit the Bahamas on the water:
WHEN: From the US to the Bahamas by boat
Best time to sail to the Bahamas
The Bahamas' subtropical monsoon climate establishes a moderate temperature throughout the entire year, and the temperature rarely drops below 16 and above 31 degrees Celsius. Usually, the best temperatures are the early mornings and late afternoons, when the sun is less intense, so if you have sensitive skin, you may consider having a good tanning lotion at hand at all times.
In the months from December until February, the average temperature is between 21-24 degrees, while the rest of the year, it's warmer with temperatures between 27-29 degrees celsius.
So monitor the weather conditions carefully before renting a boat for the Bahamas. The best weather for beginners is usually with winds between 5 and 20 knots, which thankfully is quite commonplace, except during the hurricane season.
However, the chances of a hurricane hitting the Bahamas are relatively low - about 1 in 5 actually during the hurricane season, as they are usually heading towards the continental US. If you are sailing to the Bahamas in the hurricane season, make sure to take all the available precautions - monitoring the weather all the time, good navigation, and probably having insurance on your boat will be a good idea.
You also have to consider that the most active season is from April to December, making the Bahamas' beaches and hotels more crowded. And it has an impact on the prices as well. For example, when it's an off-peak season, even the boutiques and luxury stores have discounts, not to mention that you can enjoy the beautiful nature without too much noise in the background - except the sound of the occasional hurricane.
Speaking of hurricanes, beware of the Spring break season (March - mid-April), when college and high school students descend on the islands in droves, and you may want to consider that when to sail to the Bahamas.
Worst time to sail to the Bahamas
As already mentioned, sailing to the Bahamas is pleasurable but it is dangerous as well. The distance from the US to the Bahamas is 50 miles in its shortest distance, but it requires sailing in open ocean waters, often with no visual marks at all.
The currents, weather conditions, and navigation are some of the risks involved in such crossings. Not to mention the undersea rocks spread all around the archipelago, which have sunk hundreds of ships since colonial times. These risks require careful planning and consideration to have a pleasurable, memorable, and risk-free trip in this tropical paradise.
Most of the precipitations fall in the summer months. At the end of summer - between June and November the tropical cyclones become a common thread. As a result, the winds are very high (often higher than 90km/h), and the water levels are rising.
These are the months when it's best to avoid the Bahamas itinerary. However, December to April is the best time for sailing to the Bahamas - the temperatures are cooler and drier, and the Bahamas are less humid.
The other major obstacle in reaching the Bahamas is the Gulfstream. If this is the first time you hear it, you should most likely read the next paragraph carefully. The Gulfstream is a strong current, starting in the Gulf of Mexico and can be seen from some points on the coast of Florida. And at its fastest point, it can reach speeds of about 5 knots.
Even though they aren't widespread in the fall season, cold fronts can still sweep down and bring northerly winds alongside them - as well as some rainstorms. This should be avoided when crossing the Gulfstream, especially if this is your first time.
HOW: Boating guide and tips for sailing to the Bahamas
If you are heading from the US to the Bahamas by boat, your most likely departure point will be from Florida. As mentioned before, crossing the Gulfstream is an inevitable part of the trip, so as mentioned above, make sure to take on such crossings only in southern winds.
The Gulfstream starts about 20 kilometers from Florida's coast and is about 50 kilometers wide, with an average speed between 2 and 4 knots. Wind affects the surface waters, and when it goes in the opposite direction, it can create rough seas - wave heights can increase dramatically and break, which can cause stress on the exterior of your boat and slow you down.
Another peculiar phenomenon is the unique weather patterns that the Gulfstream can create its own "Gulfstream weather" - for example, it can have thunderstorms with lightning, heavy rain, and strong winds.
An extra critical point is that you need clearance for the Bahamas. Make sure you check the main government website for all the relevant information required prior to the trip. The registration documents, the passports, and the migration cards of all the passengers are also required. You should arrange your clearance at your first stop, at one of the entry points - which can be found on almost every island.
1. Starting point
The general rule of thumb is the southern you go to Florida, the easier your trip to the Bahamas will be. That's why Miami tends to be one of the most popular departure points when going from the US to the Bahamas by boat.
If your final destination is Cat Cay or Bimini in the Bahamas, you may want to go further south than Miami - like Key Largo, for example. However, if you consider sailing to Abacos, then Fort Lauderdale or Miami are your best options, as in this case, you can ride the Gulfstream.
It is possible to go and sail right across the Gulfstream, but these are the routes preferred by the seasoned sailors. As mentioned before, the best thing to do is wait for the northern winds to stop and have 10 knots from the east and less than 15 knots from the west.
2. Best boat routes
People who have tasted the Bahamas always come to one conclusion - they are all gorgeous, and when in such paradise, even taking on making a decision seems out of place. But beware, because mother nature can be as beautiful as it is unforgiving.
Plan carefully and use the established boat routes, especially if you are a novice to enjoy your vacation while sailing to the Bahamas.
Check the list of the best boating routes to take:
- Abacos (190 nautical miles)
- Bimini (50 nautical miles)
- Northern Exumas (220 nautical miles)
Abacos is home to the towns of Hopetown, Marsh Harbor, and Man of War. The island is located right next to Grand Bahama Island and is perhaps the most urbanized area of the whole Bahamas - it has museums, bars, restaurants, etc.
Palm Beach is usually the preferable option when going to Abacos - you can rent a boat and sail to the Bahamas by crossing the Gulfstream and stopping at Old Bahama Bay Marina at West End. Your next stop should be Green Turtle Cay, which is about 100 miles further east. From there, you are 20 miles to Abacos.
Bimini is probably your standard vanilla-style trip from the US to the Bahamas by boat. It's a 50 nautical mile trip that can give you an idea of what the Gulfstream is, after which you can stop at Gun Cay to the north of Cat Cay.
Northern Exumas route
If you take the short trip from Florida to Bimini and continue 80 miles further south to Chub Cay, you can sail to Nassau, 40 miles across the Tongue of the Ocean. You can then head to the Northern Exumas, but beware, as there are several dangerous reefs at the southern end of Nassau Harbor.
3. Renting the right boat
The sailing roads presented above are perfect for beginners, especially to sailors with little experience sailing in open waters and the Gulf of Mexico in general.
You also have to make sure to have enough water and provisions, as well as proper equipment, such as a wetsuit, good anchoring equipment, and outboard, if you're planning to anchor out. Keeping a good eye on your fuel levels before departure is always a good habit.
- Boat type: Sailing on the open ocean takes you in fast-changing weather conditions, especially when crossing the Gulfstream. You can expect waves of up to 1-2 feet on quiet days, but they can reach up to 10 feet in violent weather. It's a must to have a strong a stable boat that can be reliable at all times.
- Boat speed: Most of the standard routes are designated for boats that can reach between 10 and 25 knots in clear weather, so make sure to put this into consideration on your boat rental.
- Cabin accommodation: Many fishers rent a boat from the US to the Bahamas who prefer limited space for more speed. It all depends on you and your preferences.
If you want to know how and when to sail to the Bahamas, make sure to always prepare in advance. Think about the weather, choose the right boat for your needs, and a route that matches your sailor skills. Take an eye on these key questions ahead, and your adventure will take care of itself.
Ready to book a boat for your Bahamas trip? Head over to our booking platform.
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