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The Bahamas are a sprawling archipelago with almost 700 islands, cays, and islets spread over 470,000 square kilometers of ocean southeast of the United States and north of Cuba. Thirty of the islands are inhabited, and hundreds of natural harbors and anchorages are scattered through some of the clearest water in the world.
Before the 1720s, the Bahamas were a wild place and the center of piracy in the Caribbean. Notorious buccaneers like Edward Teach (more popularly known as "Blackbeard"), Calico Jack Rackham, and Charles Vane operated out of Nassau in the heart of what was supposed to be a British Colony. By 1720 the British Empire had firm control of Nassau, ending the Golden Age of Piracy and bringing the region back into the commercial control of European interests.
After the American Revolution, many British loyalists resettled in the Bahamas, bring their families and slaves to new plantations and land grants. In 1973, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas gained independence as a member of the Commonwealth with Elizabeth II as its queen. Tourism is one of the primary businesses in the Bahamas, along with offshore finance and banking, the country maintains a sold economy and one of the better standards of living in the Americas.
Two major regions of the Bahamas archipelago have large charter fleets - the Abacos and the Exumas. A smaller charter fleet in Eleuthera is also available for your charter vacation.
In September 2019, Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas hard. Since the country is dispersed over a large area, not all parts were hit as hard as others. Significant damage in the Abacos has led to the closure of some charter operations in that area for the upcoming season, but many boats are still available.
Exuma, including Eleuthera and the Out Islands, is accessed from charter bases on Nassau on New Providence Island and from Rock Sound City in Eleuthera. From there you can reach all the islands to the east and southeast. We recommend some experience for an Exumas or Eleuthera charter, since you may do some open ocean sailing in stronger breezes and need to navigate reef channels and shallows.
Direct flights to the Bahamas from the U.S. East coast are available, and British Airways flies direct from Europe.
Airports: Lynden Pindling International Airport (NAS) is the airport for Nassau and New Providence island. This will be your destination for all Exumas charters. Airport transfers to your charter base can be arranged with your charter reservation, or a taxi can reach most of the bases in 30-40 minutes.
Airports: Three airports serve Eleuthera, though none are large with extensive international arrivals. Check flying to Nassau and catch a regional Bahamas Air flight to your charter if you can't find a direct flight to suit.
North Eleuthera International Airport (ELH), Governor's Harbour International Airport (GHB), and Rock Sound International Airport (RSD) are all options, pick one which works best for proximity to your charter base and timing for your flight through Nassau.
A high-speed ferry service also runs from Nassau to Eleuthera.
Airports: The Leonard M. Thompson Airport (MHH) in Marsh Harbour is one of the busiest airports in the country next to Nassau. Direct international flights from Atlanta, Charlotte, and several Florida cities are available year-round. Domestic flights from Nassau are another option, making your international connection through the Lynden Pindling Airport.
A taxi from the airport to your charter base is your best option, though you may make other arrangements with your charter company.
The Exumas are a long archipelago with 365 islands and cays. Most will be accessible on your sailing vacation, however, some skill and pre-approval from the charter company may be needed for some further reaching destinations.
Most charters head south from Nassau to explore the white sand beaches, stunning reefs, and crystal clear water. You'll find world-class snorkeling and diving, beach bars and resorts, turquoise waters, and wildlife from iguanas and birds to the famous swimming pigs.
Eleuthera is both an island and the name for the cluster of islands in the archipelago around Eleuthera island. It's a long (110 miles) and narrow island paradise loaded with beaches, anchorages, and reefs. The pink sand beach on Eleuthera is one of the famed highlights of the islands and cays.
While there are not as many established, large charter fleets in Eleuthera, there are plenty of boats available for those looking for something a little different.
The easiest and most popular of the Bahamas charter destinations, the Abacos is home to six national parks in the 120-mile long island chain. Most of the chartering start in Marsh Harbour, on Great Abaco. It's one of the more popular tourist destinations in the Bahamas islands, and offers a chartering gateway to crystal clear waters, white-sand beaches, reefs, big game fishing, world-class snorkeling, and diving, eating, and shopping.
Hurricane Dorian hit Marsh Harbour and the Abacos in 2019, and some charter operations have been impacted. Many boats are available, but not all charter companies are back to full operation.
Below is a list of the principal towns to start your Bahamas yacht charter.
Nassau: Charters for the Exumas will be based near Nassau, on New Providence island. The most populous island is also a good place to start out your charter, with many stores and decent provisions and supplies on hand, and only a short sail to start your sailing vacation.
Sailing to Eleuthera from Nassau is also possible, though most charters from Nassau head south to the Exumas since wind conditions may make reaching Eleuthera a challenge in a week-long charter.
Marsh Harbour: Great Abaco island is hard of charter operations for the Abacos, and most charter fleets will be out of Marsh Harbour.
Rock Sound City: If you're spending your vacation in Eleuthera, Rock Sound City in South Eleuthera is the best place to pick up your luxury yacht charter.
Where it comes to chartering or renting boats in the Bahamas below is a list of the typical boats that you can rent on Borrow A Boat with a description of the boat type. If you can't find the individual boat charter you are looking for when you search in the Bahamas, it's worthwhile searching nearby locations as your chosen boat type might be available nearby.
When searching a geographical area on Borrow A Boat you can filter by the below boat types. There is also the option to further filter your searches by price, the number of guests, cabins or bathrooms, what year the boat or sailing yacht was launched, the boat length, and the boat manufacturer.
Sailing Yacht (Sailboat): From $120/$100/$135 a day up to whatever you can afford, monohull sailing yachts are fun to sail at all points of the wind and an affordable way to get around if your island hopping or finding your own secluded coves or sandy beaches along with longer cruises. Sizes range from those for a couple or small family to a full-sized luxury charter yacht.
Catamaran: Luxury catamarans are stable and spacious, with quick sailing performance, and have been gaining in popularity in recent years. Better for larger groups. They have lots of room for water toys and are big enough for a little privacy. A catamaran charter is easy and comfortable for novices not used to heeling and are loved by families because of their extra space when compared to a monohull. Typically far more luxurious than a sailboat, the larger catamarans have en suite toilets and showers in the staterooms and ample entertaining space in the saloon and on deck.
Power Catamaran: These types of boats are relatively new but have also been gaining in popularity as a yacht rental since the two hulls keep the boat more stable when compared to a monohull. The wider beam also means more deck space, and as they don't have sails or a mast, they have a lot more space on deck than a sailing catamaran rental or monohull. For a luxury catamaran charter, consider taking a crewed catamaran charter sailing vacation with an experienced captain.
Luxury Yacht: Luxury yacht charters are available for either a sailing yacht (sailboat), catamaran or motorboat and will have a crew and host/hostess on hand to cater for whatever your needs are along with a captain who will have a detailed knowledge of your cruising area. On a crewed yacht charter of this kind you get to create your own personal itinerary and will have far greater range than on other boats, which allows for lots of variety in how you travel and what you do.
Superyacht: A superyacht or sometimes called a mega yacht are boats that are at least 24 meters (79 feet) in length up to 180 meters (590 feet) and can either be sailing yachts (sailboats) or motorboats. These types of boats are most frequently found in the Med of the Caribbean and due to their size they will have a large chartering area and can typically pick you up from whatever location you require rather than you being required to get to a set marina to start your charter. They are fully crewed with professional staff who will cater for your every need, along with a captain who will have extensive knowledge of your chosen cruising areas.
Motorboat: This covers a wide variety of boats from a motor yacht with cabins to a private boat trip for a fishing trip but these are comfortable seagoing boats with a kick of speed should you want to cover a bigger distance on the day.
RIB: Very many day boats for fishing and day cruising, RIBs are a lot of fun for a day afloat. They can be very quick and are great should you be in a town on vacation and fancy seeing the coast or finding secluded sandy beaches to get away from it all.
When it comes to boat rental or yacht charter in the Bahamas you typically have two choices - bareboat yacht rent or captained yacht charter.
When using Borrow A Boat you can filter all boat searches to be with or without a captain depending on what you are looking for, and below we cover some of the main points to consider for your boat rental.
Captained Charter: A captained yacht charter gives you the advantage of being able to get afloat without having to invest in getting sailing qualifications beforehand. For a monohull sailing yacht, you will pay $120/$100/$135 plus a day extra for the captain, and their food and a tip at the end.
When you get to a luxury yacht or superyacht charter with the crew, these prices will increase and costs also depend on where you plan to sail to along with the size and type of boat rental on your sailing vacation.
Sometimes captains will also be the yacht or boat owners (typically day trips) which means they will know all the best-secluded beaches to show you the best that the area has to offer with their local knowledge.
For day trips you will often be able to use a captain, and prices will vary depending on the type of boat.
Bareboat Yacht Charter**:** For skilled sailors, a bareboat charter is cheaper and gives more privacy for you and your charter guests. Many sailors prefer to be helming the boat while choosing their own course and provided you have the knowledge and relevant qualifications you can captain these boats (typically up to 54 feet/16.5 meters) yourself.
If you are on a captained yacht charter or own a private yacht, you do not need a license to sail a yacht out of the Bahamas. This is also the case where you are renting a small motorboat without a cabin for a day trip around the local islands or beaches.
You also do not need a license if you are on a bareboat yacht charter, but you may be asked to provide evidence of your qualifications and experience. Here are some examples of sailing qualifications:
International Certificate of Competence: This is issued on request by your European sailing authority and you should automatically qualify with certain national sailing qualifications.
RYA Qualifications: If you have the following qualifications you will be able to take a bareboat charter out of the Bahamas. These include Day Captain (sail or motor endorsement), Coastal Captain or Yachtmaster.
American Sailing Association (ASA): The ASA 104 Bareboat certificate is commonly accepted.
US Sailing**:** The International Proficiency Certificate is widely accepted and The Bareboat Cruising Certificate is also accepted in many cases.
While year-round the sailing in the Bahamas is lovely, the peak sailing months in the Bahamas are during the northern spring and summer from April to August. Hurricane season arrives in late August, and while you aren't likely to get caught in a hurricane, the risk exists through October, and some charter companies close operations until November.
Winter months are still pleasant, though you will face cooler temperatures from December through March. The water will also be cooler and you will want pants and a light jacket along just in case.
Chartering on the shoulders of the peak seasons and the cooler months can save you some money while still giving you a nice sailing adventure.
The Bahamas sit in the middle of the trade winds and off the Gulf Stream. In the cooler months, expect average temperatures of 21-24°C (70-75°F), with warmer months averaging closer to 27-29°C (80-85°F). A light jacket is recommended, in case of cool evenings.
Trade winds supply a consistent easterly breeze, averaging five to 20 knots typically from the east. In the winter the direction will tend to be northeasterly, through the summer it trends from the southeast.
While hurricanes are a risk to the Bahamas during the season (June through November), the risk of a storm disrupting your sailing vacation is fairly small.
There's a great deal of variety in boat costs to suit your budget. The most expensive times to charter are during the winter vacations, where prices may be 50% higher than off-season rates.
At the upper end of the scale, you can rent super-yachts and captained luxury yachts, which means you can enjoy a level of luxury that would beat almost any cruise liner afloat. Single cabin charters on larger luxury yachts are also an option for a more plush experience.
For bareboat charters, a forty-foot monohull in the Exumas starts at a little over $1,778/$1,481/$2,000 per week at off-peak rates, with a typical in-season rate around $3,378/$2,815/$3,800 weekly. Sailing catamarans in the Exumas start at $2,756/$2,296/$3,100 per week for a three-cabin model and run to a peak vacation week rate of almost $20,44/$17,037/$23,000 for a six-cabin catamaran which sleeps fourteen.
You will need money for insurance too - this can be in the form of a refundable damage deposit on your credit card or by buying non-refundable insurance for the vacation in advance.
If you are paying for a captain, expect to pay at $200/$167/$225+ per day depending on your boat type, and you will need to feed them and tip them at the end of the vacation. On top of these fees, you will need food, restaurant money (again this is down to what you wish to spend), beverages, fuel for the week, and mooring fees.
With 700 islands and cays spread over such an area, there are many, many destinations you can head for with your charter yacht. Each chartering region offers its own adventures and sights, and nowhere you go will disappoint you. There are so many places to explore, we can't possibly cover them all, so we've put together a sampling of some of our favorites.
From New Providence island, the Exumas lie to the south with easy sailing to the chain of islands and cays. With a week-long charter vacation, you can spend every night at a lovely and different island paradise or white sand beach.
Over dozen cays scattered through 176 square miles in the Exumas from Little Wax Cay to Rocky Dundas are protected and maintained by the Bahamas National Trust. The park has moorings for visitors, a visitor's center, and a wide variety of terrain and aquatic ecosystems you can snorkel, hike, and visit. Consult the ECLSP website for more details on regulations and facilities. They prohibit fishing and collecting throughout the park.
About 35 nautical miles from New Providence, Highborne Cay is a privately owned island with a marina and a resort. Eight beaches around the island offer snorkeling and diving, and you can find the only known examples of still living stromatolites (a prehistoric relative of coral) in the open ocean. Divers can see the 90-foot wreck of the cutter Austin Smith. Other attractions include a hilltop restaurant with stunning views, lots of sharks near the fish cleaning station, the "Octopus Garden" reef in Horseshoe Bay.
A small island with a colorful and storied history, the Bahamian government reclaimed the island from the Medellin Cartel in the 1980s and now its pristine beaches are open to visiting yachts and charters. Explore the ruins of the cartel headquarters or snorkel on the crashed DC3 in the lagoon.
Home of the famous "Thunderball Grotto" used to film underwater scenes from the James Bond movies "Thunderball" and "Never Say Never Again," you can take your dinghy into snorkel at the grotto and cave site. It also has more than one open and unspoiled secluded beach.
Known also as "Pig Island," Big Major is the home of the famous swimming pigs. Anchor out and come in with your dinghy and swim with some unusual and friendly company!
The headquarters of Exumas Land and Sea Park is a compelling reason to stop at Warderick Wells Cay for the night. Twenty empty beaches, hiking trails, and many reefs await you. Walk to Boo Boo Hill to check out the views and the natural blowholes along the way and check out the visitor's center. Several protected mooring fields are open to visiting yachts.
Another uninhabited cay in the Exumas Land and Sea Park, Shroud Cay's mangroves and estuaries are the cradle for much of the region's wildlife, from birds to shellfish. Take care when visiting this delicate ecosystem, in particular when exploring up the creeks into the mangroves. Moorings are available, with plenty of magnificent spots for snorkeling around the cay.
Insight of New Providence island, Rose Island is a popular stop on an Exumas charter. Although it's not part of the Exumas archipelago, it's a short sail from the charter base with a beautiful, eleven-mile long paradise with four world-class beaches, snorkeling, sea turtles, and a beach bar. The Sandy Toes resort has its own population of swimming pigs, which you may get a chance to visit.
This very short sail makes for an appealing stop at the beginning or end of a charter, just a quick hop from the charter bases.
Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco is a popular vacation in its own right with plenty to do and see, but with a charter, you aren't limited to the wonders of one resort and set of beaches. With a day sail of Great Abaco, you will find dozens of other charming and appealing cays and anchorages.
Though some of the Abacos suffered hurricane damage from Dorian, most islands and cays have had a substantial recovery and are open for business.
You will probably start your Bahamas yacht charter in Marsh Harbour. For your first night or last night on the boat, you'll find plenty to do from restaurants and shopping to bike rentals or ferry rides to nearby cays. Great Abaco is a good-sized paradise island, with beaches and coves reachable both by car and boat. It's also an excellent place to arrange any tours or experiences you may want beyond your sail charter.
After the American Revolution, many British loyalists re-settled in the Bahamas. The settlement on Great Guana Cay reflects this in the architecture of the homes and buildings. Moorings in Settlement Bay and Fisher's Bay give easy access to the town for dining and shopping. Around the cay, you'll find reefs and pristine beaches, and more moorings are available on the north end near the reefs and beautiful diving and snorkeling spots.
Four miles east of Marsh Harbour, Elbow Cay is an easy jaunt from the charter base. Hope Town has a protected harbor with moorings, groceries, and restaurants. At the southern end of the island is Tahiti Beach, known for a near-endless sandbar at low tide, and Tiloo Cut, an excellent snorkeling site between Elbow and Tiloo Bank.
Just south of Guan Cay, Man-of-War Cay boasts a busy community of boat builders descended from settlers in the late 19th century. With fewer restaurants than some cays and no bars (they sell no alcohol on the island), it's a little quieter than some cays and many miss it. There is plenty to do though, with walking paths, beaches, snorkeling, and diving. Craftsmen and master woodcarvers work in the town and sell their artistic pieces.
The reef northeast of Man-o-War Cay is the last resting place of the USS Adirondack from 1862, a popular spot for scuba divers.
The village of New Plymouth is the northernmost settlement in the Abacos. British loyalists settled the scenic village in the 18th century. The town has markets, gift shops, a museum, art galleries, a memorial sculpture grade, and several spots for dining. Around the Cay, you'll also find several gorgeous white sand beaches and reefs.
On the way to Green Turtle Cay, stop at Noname Cay for a swim with the pigs. While not as well known as other locations, there are resident pigs happy to take a dip with visitors on vacation!
Eleuthera is a long, slim island east of Nassau. It's 112 miles long, and 2 miles wide at its thickest point. You can reach it sailing from Nassau, but you can charter from Eleuthera. The most famous feature of Eleuthera are the pink sand beaches scattered around the island. Stunning snorkeling and diving are found almost anywhere. Moving from a remote island to a remote beach is a delightful way to spend your charter vacation.
A small, undeveloped island west of Spanish Wells, Egg Island is another breeding ground for turtles, fish, and other wildlife. The origins of the name are unclear, whether it was from native bird rookeries or wild chickens left by sailors is in dispute. Wild goats on the island have eliminated most of the nesting and eggs. Just off the island lies the wreck of the Arimora, a 270-foot freight that hit the reef in 1970. The reefs around the island are excellent for snorkeling.
There are so many wrecks and reefs in the area of the Devil's Backbone that it has become a favorite spot for scuba divers and snorkeling. Drift diving the barrier reef and snorkeling are popular ways to see the spectacular reefs and wrecks.
The reef on the north end of Eleuthera can be traversed with care, but consult your charter company for guidelines as they may require a pilot. If you don't want to bring your charter near the backbone, tours run out of Spanish Wells.
On St. George's Cay and connected to nearby Russell Island with a bridge, Spanish Cay is a small town at the heart of the lobster fishery in the Bahamas. It's a great place to come in for a meal or plan for tours or big game fishing trips. Moorings on the east end of the island make a night in town easy.
Mid-island on Eleuthera, Governor's Harbour has moorings you can pick up for a visit to the island's capital. It's a protected spot with a bottom suitable for anchoring, and there's a marina.
Cape Eleuthera is near some of the best beaches on the island, with good swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving. Moorings are available, and a full-service marina.
On the north end of the island, Harbour Island is one of the larger settlements with lots to do. Hiking, exploring the ruins of an old pirate fort, and beaches top the list. Near the pink sand beaches, you'll find beautiful caves, one which was large enough to use as a prison. You'll also find some of the best restaurants in the islands.
Yes, yacht rent and charter are legal in the Bahamas.
Monohull sailing yachts, sailing catamarans, power catamarans, luxury yachts, super yachts, motorboats and RIBs are all available for your Bahamas boat rent.
The main points to consider are what is your budget, have you got the necessary sailing experience and qualifications to manage the boat if it will not have a captain, whom you are taking sailing, where exactly you wish to go and what will the weather be like on the proposed dates of your trip.
The best weather conditions are from April through mid-August, with the warmest weather and water temperatures.
You will typically pay 50% up front on reservation the yacht rent and the balance on arrival. You will either pay a security deposit with your credit card on departure or can get insurance covering damage in advance. In some cases (such as the recent Covid situation) charter companies may be more flexible, but this depends on the individual charter companies themselves.
If you are at sea and in danger, call MAYDAY on VHF Ch16 or ring the coast guard on your phone if you have reception. If you have a mechanical fault and can make it to or are on a mooring, you will be able to phone a help line number given by the boat charter company.
You should consider do you have the experience to handle the yacht charter or boat rental before you book and where do you want to go along with what the weather will be like. Bring warm weather and cool weather clothing if it looks like the weather can be cool as well as warm and remember at sea it can be cool on most evenings.
The answer depends on your nationality. For most stays shorter than three months, visitors from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and the European Union do not need visas. See this list for all countries which do not need a visa. If your country is in this list you will need a visa for any stay in the Bahamas.
If you want to sail without a captain, then you will need relevant qualifications like RYA Day Skipper/International Certificate of Competence (ICC)/ASA 104 Bareboat certificate or the US Sailing Certificate or comparable experience. For small 'day boats' or if you have a captain on board, your yacht charter, you typically don't require licences.
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