First-Timer’s Guide to the Bahamas

Dingy ashore at Elbow Cay, Abacos. Photo by Vicki Lathom
Dingy ashore at Elbow Cay, Abacos. Photo by Vicki Lathom

Be Ready for Emergencies
In case of needed boat repairs, bring important spare parts such as filters, belts, raw water impellers and hoses, because supplies are limited in the Bahamas and imports are taxed. A marina will know local mechanics and working yards, but be prepared to do the work yourself. Complex repair problems can be difficult, because there are few technically-advanced yards.

If you have a breakdown, getting your boat towed from the Bahamas to the U.S. is expensive and complicated. A membership in a towing service can be a significant protection because, for example, a tow from Freeport to Florida is $7,000. With insurance, you still have to pay the $300 Customs fee and tows are limited to 130 miles from the coast of Florida.

If you break down away from marinas or towns, you are pretty much on your own. In a life-threatening situation, you can try to contact Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association (BASRA) on VHF. However, BASRA is a rescue, not a towing service and is not reachable everywhere. The U.S. Coast Guard normally does not serve the Bahamas except in coordination with BASRA.

A frequent cause of breakdowns is bad fuel. Buy fuel at a frequently used dock so you know it hasn’t been sitting there for a long time. If your engine coughs and dies in the Gulf Stream, you better have a buddy boat with you to tow you to safety or to buy time while you change filters.

Simple medical problems can be taken care of in local health clinics. Bring your medical history, including a list of medications and allergies to help the doctor prescribe treatment. If it is a complex medical problem, you’ll probably have to fly back to the states or, if you have an immediate emergency, it’s best to have a plan in place in consultation with your insurance company.

Communication is Difficult
It’s pretty much silent running once you see the condos of Florida disappear over the horizon. Cell phone service is available in certain areas from Batelco (Bahamas’ service) or your U.S. provider, but is very expensive. Some cruisers have success with an Internet hotspot, coupled with a cell phone signal amplifier. Many cruisers use Skype, but Internet service is sketchy. To guarantee a way to get in touch with someone, a satellite phone may be worth the money. For serious distress situations, an EPIRB or Personal Locator Beacon may save your life.

Provisioning—Keep It Simple
You will hear recommendations of many long lists for provisioning which make you feel like you’re going to Antarctica. Keep it simple since it’s pretty much intuitive, based on where you’re going. One week’s supplies should do as a start. One seasoned cruiser told me his rule; “take fewer clothes and more cash.”

Vicki Lathom
Vicki lives in Annapolis, MD, where she and partner, Barry Miller, cruise the Chesapeake and the Intercoastal Waterway to the Bahamas or Florida. They cruise in a 36-foot Albine Express trawler named, Balboita.