April 10, 2012
Take your Boat on a Fling, to the Bahamas.
Never Been to the Bahamas by Boat? See the 2012 Bahamas Fling Schedule Below.
What better way to visit the islands for the first time than under the guidance of a Bahamian mariner and in the company of fellow boaters?
If you've been thinking of taking your boat across, but are still sweating the details, you ought to check out the following list of Boating Flings organized and supervised by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. Your trip should be breeze.
Bahamas Boating Basics
Recognizing how valuable tourism is to the islands' economy, the government of the Bahamas extends the welcome mat to Florida boaters each year. But they also make you pay for the privilege of using their waters.
This year be prepared to ante up if you're running to the Bahamas aboard your own boat. The requisite cruising permit now costs $150 for boats up to 35 feet, and $300 for boats larger. If you have more than four people aboard-including the captain-there's another $15 per head, covering Bahamas departure taxes. Bring cash. In fact, brings lots of cash for Bahamas trips-credit card and ATM services are spotty.
Largely in response to negative feedback over the permit hike, in January the Bahamas government announced that you can travel twice to the islands within 90 days on the same permit. More changes in the fee structure may be forthcoming.
It's still required that every person aboard have either a passport, or a birth certificate (original or certified) and official photo I.D. (drivers' license). That goes for boats as well as aircraft.
Before entering a Bahamas harbor, whether it's Bimini, West End or some other clearance port, raise the yellow quarantine flag up an outrigger or fishing rod. Have a Bahamas courtesy flag standing by to hoist upon clearance. These are widely available in South Florida boating supply stores.
If you've made arrangements to stay at a hotel, tie up to the dock, contact the dockmaster and ask for Customs and Immigration forms. If you aren't planning to overnight in a hotel, you can still generally receive permission to temporarily moor at an available hotel dock-for instance Weeches or Bluewater on North Bimini. Tipping the dockmaster is customary.
If you'd like to download the forms to prepare in advance, visit www.bahamas.com.
The captain is the only one who may go ashore to deliver the forms and show boat registration and passports to the Customs and Immigration offices. Offices are usually open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
If you have a gun on your boat to fend off pirates (more imagined than real these days), keep it there, locked away at all times per local law. On the Customs documents you must report the serial number and manufacturer of the firearm, plus the exact number of rounds. This is another one of those rules that officials take very seriously.
Return your immigration cards to the Immigration office on the last island you visit before departing for home. Keep your cruising permit (see fishing regulations).
Big boats (over 30 feet) must possess a U.S. Customs decal, which you can purchase for $25 annually at www.cbp.gov or by calling (317) 298-1245. U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), under the Dept. of Homeland Security, issues these decals, and is also the agency you'll need to contact as soon as you return to homeport-on any size boat.
Back in the U.S. the captain must call the Small Boat Reporting Hotline at 1-800-432-1216 to report arrival at that point you'll be given a clearance number where you and your crew have 24 hours to report in person to the nearest Customs and Immigration office. Depending on where you are, this can be something of a hassle, but for now we'll have to accept it as part of the trip. The best option going is to plan ahead for future trips and apply for the Local Boaters Option (LBO) where once you have it you'll no longer have to appear in person at a US Customs Office upon your arrival. Visit here for more information and access to your LBO application.
The Easy Route
The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism sponsors a number of Boating Flings to the islands in early summer, led by a representative from the ministry and covering all the details you need to get started on island travel. Lots of first-time Gulf Stream crossers follow these flotillas to popular destinations. Minimum boat size is 22 feet.
Fling Schedule for 2012
*Note: Call 1-800-32SPORT (7767) for further information
All flings depart on Thurday & return on Sunday
Dates are subject to change
6-10-11 Bimini Big Game Club Outpost Resort & Marina
6-13-17 Bimini Big Game Club Outpost Resort & Marina
6-20-24 Bimini Bay Resort & Marina
6-27-7-1 Port Lucaya Marina & Marketplace
7-11-22 Grand Bahama Island & Abacos
7-25-29 Bimini Bay Resort & Marina
For complete details on the Bahamas Flings: