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10 tips for an easy Bahamas crossing

The Bahamas loves general aviation pilots. And pilots love going to the Bahamas. It’s a short flight from the Florida coast over the Atlantic Ocean that transports you to beautiful beaches, delicious seafood, and so much more. A Bahamas flight requires a certain amount of preparation, but with these tips you can make your trip without too much stress.

AOPA Technical Editor Jill Tallman approaches Freeport on her first flight as pilot in command to the Bahamas. Photo by Lisa Wood.

  1. Start gathering paperwork now. No matter when you think you might make the trip, it’s never too soon to start gathering paperwork for the pilot and the aircraft.
    • Is your passport current?
    • Customs sticker: These are valid for one calendar year. Order one at the start of each year and it’s ready when you are.
    • Station license (airplane). This is valid for five years.
    • Restricted radiotelephone operators permit (pilot). This is valid for the holder’s lifetime.


  2. Beg, borrow, or rent. Life vests are a requirement for every person in the airplane. I borrowed two from a colleague who has made numerous trips over water. He also had a softcover copy of the Bahamas Pilot’s Guide, which I also borrowed, even though I had downloaded it to my iPad. A backup is always good. I rented a life raft (not required but a good idea) from Banyan Air Services at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport for $35 per day, and considered it cheap insurance.


  3. Go with other pilots. During my first crossing as pilot in command, I wanted the comfort of traveling with other pilots, some of whom had made the overwater trek and some who hadn’t. It’s great to be able to compare notes before and after flights.


  4. Plan your exit strategy. You can depart from any airport within range. I chose Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport because of Banyan Air Services, the fixed-base operator. Banyan is known for its expertise in Bahamas travel. Why not launch from a place where you have experts on hand for last-minute questions?


  5. Set up eAPIS in advance, at home, with good Wi-Fi. Create your Electronic Advance Passenger Information System (eAPIS) account well in advance; a confirmation email with activation key from U.S. Customs and Border Protection can take as long as a week.


  6. File your eAPIS manifest and notices of departure/arrival in advance, at home, with good Wi-FI. Similarly, don’t leave it to the day of departure to complete the eAPIS manifest or notice of arrival or departure. You can file this well in advance; the cutoff time is one hour before the flight. Filing it as early as you can gives you a little extra time to breathe while you prep for the flight.


  7. Brief and practice ditching strategy with your passenger(s) in advance. Who will be in charge of the life raft? Who’s going to hold the satellite phone? Do you have a tool to break aircraft windows? Review ditching videos and articles at home before the trip.


  8. Fill out Bahamas Customs forms online. Use this link to prefill in a Form C7A with everything except your time of arrival. Print out four copies; this saves you from having to make duplicates when you arrive in the Bahamas at your airport of entry.


  9. Speaking of forms... There are forms, forms, and more forms—not to mention receipts. I brought a single folder to carry these items; next time I’ll use a thin binder with pockets.


  10. Know your position. Freeport’s Grand Bahama International Airport is a towered airport but does not have radar. VFR and IFR pilots may be requested to give a position report. Arriving at Freeport, we were prepared to give radial and distance from the ZFP VOR, and we were watching our position relative to other fixes on the Miami sectional.
Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman

AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who is part-owner of a Cessna 182Q.
Topics: Travel, Bahamas, International Travel

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