Ask any cruiser Phillip and I met while traveling down the east coast where they were headed and 99.42% (give or take) would tell you:
“WE’RE GOING TO THE BAHAMAS!”
It’s also what the majority of the trawler folks I talked to when I spoke at the Trawlerfest in Baltimore back in October, 2021 told me as well. It seemed everyone had the same plan as us, which is not surprising. Some of the most beautiful islands in the world are just a day-sail (or motor) away from Florida’s east coast. Who wouldn’t set their sights there? But, traveling to/from the Bahamas, particularly in these weird new Covid times, puzzled a lot of folks, us included. But, we did it! In early December, our schedules and the weather lined up to allow Phillip and I to make a short (20-day) preliminary hop over to the Bahamas and back, so I thought I would share our experience for those of you planning to sail there and as an update to my Bahamas Top 10 Slides that I prepared for the Trawlerfest. Phillip and I hope this offers some insight into current international travel procedures and an update on the status of (a portion of) the Abacos post-Dorian since this was our first time traveling there since 2019.
This is an overview of our route.
We sailed across the Gulf Stream from Palm Beach, FL to West End on Grand Bahama in the Abacos to check in. Then we dotted around the remote, northern Abaco islands, making our way eventually to Green Turtle Cay before turning around and making our way back through the northern Abacos and out again at West End. In all, we visited West End, Mangrove Cay, Allens-Pensacola, Manjack Cay, Green Turtle Cay, Powell Cay, Foxtown, Grand Cay, and Double Breasted Cay. I will share more info (as well as fabulous pictures and wonderful stories) from these travels at a later date as this post is meant primarily to share travel tips and the check-in/check-out procedure for traveling to/from the Bahamas.
Here’s what we learned:
1. Click2Clear is Mandatory – Register Your Inbound Trip ONLINE Before Leaving the U.S.
Registering online in advance via the new Click2Clear program is mandatory. We met several cruisers in West End who thought this was optional. The Customs Officer in West End (who was quite friendly and helpful) promptly advised them it is not and sent them to the Click2Clear website to register before their permit and request to enter could be processed. The good news is the Click2Clear program is very easy to use, and your registration can be edited and updated as needed as your travel plans change (because that happens!). Visit the Click2Clear website and click Request Cruising Permit > Pleasure Craft > Create Inbound to get started. There are also many online articles and online videos the Bahamian Customs Department has put out to help you through this process. Once your “Create Inbound” profile has been completed, your cruising permit payment made, and your application submitted (it will read “pending approval” on the website), all you need to complete your cruising permit process at customs in the Bahamas is your Click2Clear “Rotation Number.” Be sure to write that one down.
Here is the info you will need to start your Inbound online registration:
2. Get Your Travel Health Visa (and Upload It to Click2Clear) Days Before Leaving the U.S.
Travel health visas are required for entry into Bahamas. But, the good news is, with a negative Covid test, they are rather easy to obtain via a simple online process and payment of $40.00. You can start creating your Bahamas Travel Health Visa profile here.
Note that current Covid travel requirements are constantly changing. Visit this website for up-to-date Bahamas Covid travel requirements. When Phillip and I made the trip, a negative Covid test was required within five days of entry. As I write this, the requirement has been reduced to three days and may change again before you read this. We also know getting Covid tests in the U.S. has recently become quite chaotic and more difficult, and many more people are testing positive daily. It’s not ideal, but … welcome to travel in 2022!
Thankfully, when Phillip and I underwent this process in early December, we were able to get free tests at a CVS location in West Palm Beach that provided online results within a few hours. Once we obtained our official negative Covid test results—digital pdf documents—we simply uploaded them to our Travel Health Visa profiles and paid the online $40.00 fee to obtain our Bahamas Travel Health Visas (also online digital pdf documents). Each Visa has its own profile number and QR code to make it unique to each applicant. For Phillip and I, the process of testing and obtaining our digital Travel Health Visas took one day to complete. Once obtained, we then uploaded our pdf Travel Health Visa to our “Create Inbound” Click2Clear profile and our pre-Bahamas online process was complete.
3. Documents Needed for Entry at Bahamas Customs
Phillip and I decided to check into West End, Grand Bahama, as we have been there before (in 2017, check out some videos on Crossing the Gulf Stream to West End and West End to Mangrove Cay). It’s a great, convenient entry to the northern Abacos. The channel to enter is also well-marked and very easy to navigate with a nice marina there if a day or two to wash the boat, do some laundry, and enjoy their wonderful restaurant, tiki bar, and beach are high on your list upon entry. (It was on ours!) Once we arrived at West End, we tied up at the fuel dock and Phillip, as our designated Captain, went to the Customs Office to check us in. He brought the following documents with him:
- Our passports
- Our USCG vessel registration
- Our Rotation Number from Click2Clear
- Copies of our Travel Health Visas (although he did not end up having to provide these)
- Copies of our negative Covid tests (although these, again, were not needed)
Phillip said the process, because we had completed our Click2Cleark online profile in advance, was very straightforward and easy. Once checked in, unless you’re headed straight out through Indian Cut (which we did) or around Memory Rock into the Grand Bahama Bank, stay a bit at West End and enjoy all that they have to offer.
4. Post-Dorian Update
Phillip and I have not been to the Bahamas since we scurried over in March of 2020 simply to bring our Niagara home before Covid shut the world down. Before that, our amazing Niagara had miraculously survived Dorian while docked at a fabulous hurricane hole in Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands. This tight little alcove in Great Harbour offers 360-degree wind and storm surge protection and has proven itself time and again—including with our boat during Dorian—that is one of the best places in the Bahamas to keep your boat during hurricane season. We were lucky, grateful, and wildly humbled that she survived that monster at Great Harbour Cay, as we know many other islands of the Abacos and sadly, many boats, did not. That said, a chance to see some of the Abacos post-Dorian was actually one of the reasons Phillip and I decided to pop over for a quick trip to the Abacos as weather allowed in December, as opposed to the more southern Bahamian island chains. The Abacos have always held a special place in our hearts and we wanted (hoped) to see that they had recovered from that horrendous storm in 2019.
After returning from those beautiful islands, Phillip and I are thrilled to report … THEY HAVE! While we only made it as far south as Green Turtle Cay (this time) what we saw along the way definitely showed some evidence of the monster that came through but, far more apparent, was the spirit of the Bahamian people to rebuild and recover. We were thrilled to find some of our favorite little places in Green Turtle Cay—Pineapples, Sids Grocery, the Green Turtle Club (and Tipsy Turtle Bar), and other little bakeries and storefronts, looked well and alive despite the devastation that Dorian doled out only a few short years ago.
Many more stories to share in this regard, in due time, but know that Dorian did not wipe out the Abacos entirely or the spirit of the Bahamian people! It was exceptionally comforting to see some of our favorite Abaco islands in such good shape post-Dorian.
5. Finding We Had the (Northern) Abacos to Ourselves
This one really surprised us, considering the number of cruisers we met along the east coast who said they, too, were planning to sail to the Bahamas this season, but to be quite honest we really had the place to ourselves. At most of the northern Abaco islands we stopped at (Allans-Pensacola, Powell, Manjack, Green Turtle) it was typically our friends aboard s/v Turtle, Spandana and Dev, with whom we buddied around the Abacos, and us. Just two boats. We will be excited to share more about the creative and entertaining crew aboard Turtle, with whom we shared a wonderful couple of weeks in the Abacos, as I mentioned, much to ourselves. But, simply as a travel update, know that we (strangely), throughout December, were surprised to see very few cruisers in the Abacos compared to previous times we have traveled through. This is likely a product of Covid and Dorian, but it was not a bad outcome for us at all. The place was serene and quiet, and there was plenty of room!
6. Creating a Click2Clear Outbound profile to Check Out
Unlike when we previously traveled to the Bahamas, you are required to physically check out of the country before leaving. Before, we simply weighed anchor and sailed back to the U.S. But, with the new Covid requirements, you are required to check out. Again, some great news: the process is wildly easy. Click2Clear comes back into play. The check-out process in West End required a simple login to Click2Clear to load our Inbound profile and duplicate it to create an Outbound profile (under Pleasure Craft > Create Outbound). This assigned us a new Outbound Rotation Number that we used to check-out at the Customs Office in West End. Once checked out, we were free to leave the Bahamas and sail back to the U.S.
7. Checking Back Into the U.S.
To check back into the U.S., we used the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s CPB Roam App on our phone. You can download it here.
We also needed to purchase a DTOPS decal that was needed for checking back in via the CBP Roam app.
This was, thankfully, another simple process with everything submitted and approved online. Much of the same information (vessel registration, crew list, port of departure and arrival, departure and entry dates, etc.) is needed to submit your check-in application via the app.
BAHAMAS, WE’LL BE BACK!
Just a few short weeks in the Bahamas is never long enough, but Phillip and I are grateful that our schedules and the weather lined up to allow us a quick preliminary trip over to check out the Abacos and get used to the new Covid check-in/check-out process. We hope this information helps some of you who are planning to sail there soon. Remember to check the latest Bahamas Customs postings for updates. We’re hoping to sail back to the Bahamas, perhaps the more southern island chains this next time, later in the spring, but all plans are fluid—as it seems they must be, more so than ever, these days. But, we’re not complaining! With just a few extra hoops to jump through, the beautiful Bahamian islands are there and waiting for you, too!