Deep Draft Cruising in the Bahamas

Owners of cruising boats with drafts > 6' who first look at a large-area chart of the Bahamas find it very off-putting when they see the vast areas of depths < 6' (or 2 m - 6.6' on the metric Explorer Charts). This can easily lead a captain to decide that the Bahamas is not a place for a deeper draft boat. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Essentially all of the Bahamas archipelago can be accessed by boats with drafts to 7' or more. True, as the draft increase, more care in navigation and accounting for tidal range (~ 3 to 3.5' throughout the Bahamas) is necessary for transiting the banks. Also, deeper drafts will somewhat limit the choice of anchorages and perhaps eliminate gunkholing.

As an example, SV Onward, has not found its winged keel and draft of 6.2' to be more than a relatively minor factor. For a look at the range of places Onward has visited throughout the Bahamas during 4 cruising seasons, check out the Google maps posted on its website:

Any prudent captain will carefully inspect the available charts and, in this case, the epiphany is in the details. The Explorer Charts, when examined in detail, clearly show the vast amount of good cruising ground available to deep draft boats. The mailboats that are the lifeline of the archipelago draw up to 8' and their routes are clearly shown (and are the basis of many of the Explorer Chart waypoints). As always, captains should seek local knowledge from local fishermen and residents as well as other cruisers when planning to transit areas that look challenging for their draft.

The Passage Reports section of the Guide has reports from vessels transiting some of the depth-challenged areas.

Acknowledgment: Thanks to Chris, SV Legacy, for suggesting this topic.
Updated: 27 Dec 10