Island Hopping In The Bahamas

by Yasmina Platt
Published in Midwest Flyer – Dec 2016/Jan 2017

Hurricane season just ended November 30, 2016. Winter is here! Brrrr…. And so is the holiday season, with more PTO and time to spend with family. There’s no better time to “escape down” to… the Bahamas! With a little bit of preparation, it is not as hard as it may seem at first and the reward is incredible!

With over 700 islands and cays and approximately 60 airports to choose from, the opportunities in the nearby coral-based archipelago are endless. In this article, I summarize the trip my husband “Jared” and I took there in June, as an example.

Our route was KTME/TX – KHSA/MS – 40J/FL – KFPR/FL – MYNN (Nassau) – MYES (Staniel Cay) – MYCB (Cat Island) – MYLS (Long Island) – KFPR/FL – 40J/FL – KHDC/LA – business stops – KTME/TX. I will only talk about the international legs here and mostly only about the “aviation part” of our trip. You can read a full blog about it (with pictures) at http://www.airtrails.weebly.com.

Our original intention was to only fly to the “outer islands” and skip the busier, more touristic, and more expensive locations; however, enroute weather made us plan our first stop to Nassau instead of Fresh Creek (MYAF). Getting fuel and clearing Customs at MYLS was truly a non-event.

We filed our first international (ICAO) flight plan with

Flight Service over the telephone while in Fort Pierce, but filed an international flight plan back using ForeFlight.

We were able to talk with either Nassau Approach or Miami Center throughout the majority of the flight. We enjoyed having them on the frequency in case something happened and for the eventual traffic advisory. We also always monitored 122.8 Mhz on the second radio (and had 121.5 Mhz on standby), as it is the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) for all the airports we went to (and maybe all non-towered Bahamian airports).

One of the best benefits of flying yourself is the ability to sightsee from the air and spot places to visit later from the ground.

Clearing Customs at KFPR was also a non-event, but a lot more involved. We had to park in a certain area of the ramp, unload all of our luggage, and take ourselves and the luggage through the scanners at the Customs facility. An agent walked out to the airplane and looked through the windows also.

Here are some general planning tips, but I recommend you visit https://www.aopa.org/go-fly/destinations/international-travel/bahamas and http://www.bahamas.com/private-flying for details:

- Ensure you have all necessary paperwork for you (pilot), your passengers, your luggage, and your aircraft.

- Ensure you have the appropriate equipment for the aircraft and all those onboard (i.e. life vests, life raft).

- Become familiar with the Electronic Advance Passenger Information System (eAPIS). AOPA has a free online course you can take. You will have to file an eAPIS flight manifest (at least one hour prior to departure) when leaving and returning to the U.S.

- Hotels are scarce in the outer islands. If not actually booking reservations prior to the trip, you at least want to make sure they have availability and consider their minimum night stay requirements.

- Bring some cash (U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere) with you. You will at least need some cash to pay the $29/person Bahamian departure fee.

- Most flight planning apps (again, we used ForeFlight) provide all the information you need, from charts (WACs are best), to airport information, to filing flight plans. If you have ADS-B, it will work within 50 nm or so off the coast. Do some preliminary flight planning, especially to determine longest distance over water and “point of no return.” With over 700 islands and proper planning, you can almost always be within, at least, 25 nm of land.

- Consider departing from and arriving back at one of the U.S. Airports of Entry, where Customs & Border Protection inspections services are normally available, which also offer raft rentals, life vests, fuel, and anything else you may need.

- Arrive at and depart from one of 20 Airports of Entry (AOE) in the Bahamas.

- Avgas is currently available at nine (9) Bahamian airports, but you are never more than 20 minutes flying time away from fuel. We found that fuel is not any more expensive than at any of the larger FBOs in the United States.

- Only Nassau (MYNN) and Freeport (MYGF) have IFR approaches. Night VFR flying is prohibited in the islands. You should plan on “day, VFR flying” only!

- All aircraft must file a flight plan (VFR or IFR) within 25 nm of Nassau.

- Practice your crosswind landings and be ready for fairly changing winds while landing in the Bahamas.

- Review water ditching procedures. Not that you will need them, but better safe (or prepared) than sorry. While you are doing this, calculate your aircraft’s gliding capabilities and determine what altitude you feel comfortable flying at over water.

- Looking for information on a specific island or activity (beaches, boating, diving, sightseeing…)? You can find everything you need here: www.bahamas.com/directory

We loved our Bahamas trip and we are already thinking about a future visit to some of the other islands we did not get to on this trip, like Marsh Harbour (MYAM) and The Abacos, referred to as the “Boating Capital of the World.”

Go fly! Enjoy this awesome freedom we, pilots, have! This type of trip would not have been possible for us without GA.

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