Taking Pets To The
(previously published in Blue Water Sailing)
how the daydream begins. It starts with a vision of your dogs running free
along crescent-shaped beaches as you walk hand-in-hand with that someone
special on a deserted tropical
island. Palm trees sway in the breeze, reaching up to meet the day's last
glimmer of sunshine. Your toes dig into the soft white sand, waves lap
against the shore and crystal-clear waters wash over your feet. Out in the
harbor, the sailboat that's carried you across oceans to be here waits
patiently for your return. When the sun starts its decline into the
distant horizon, you're bathed in the warm glow of red, orange, and yellow
light. And then just as it disappears, you see your first 'green flash.'
This is no daydream. This is the Bahamas.
miles from the Florida coastline, the Bahamas stretch out hundreds of
miles from the northwest tip of the Abacos to Great Inagua Island, just
north of Cuba's eastern shore. Most people associate the word 'Bahamas'
with Nassau or Grand Bahama Island. Those are only two of the country's
more than 700 islands and cays (pronounced 'keys'). The islands of the
Bahamas are divided into several geographic and political groupings; much
like the states within the United States. Most islands in the archipelago
are sparsely populated, or completed deserted, and separated by shallow,
protected waters which makes this a cruiser's paradise. What makes the
Bahamas even more appealing is how easy it is to bring your dogs with you.
process of bringing your pets to the Bahamas begins a few months before
you plan to arrive. The first step is to apply for an Import Permit from
the Bahamas' Ministry of Agriculture, Trade, and Industry. Applications
for permits can be obtained by either writing to the Ministry or by
downloading the form from the Internet (See side-bar below). Sending your
completed application, along with a $10 processing fee, by Priority or
Express Mail appears to increase your chances of a faster turn-around
time. In addition to the Import Permit, your pets must be older than six
months of age and have a current rabies vaccination. Lastly. a
veterinarian needs to certify your pet's health prior to your arrival in
the Bahamas. A health certificate form is provided with your pet permit
package and must be dated within 48 hours of your arrival.
veterinary health certificate was the most difficult requirement for us
given that traveling by sailboat requires a careful watch of the weather
before crossing the Gulf Stream. Departures are often aborted at the last
minute due to changing conditions. Because of this, we arranged for a
veterinarian in Florida to complete our form and leave it undated. In
return, we promised to make our crossing within two weeks of the exam. We
dated the form as we departed Florida and had no problems importing Max
and Bailey into the Bahamas.
our first trip to the Bahamas and the crew was anxious to make landfall
after an overnight sail. Max and Bailey, our two Golden Retrievers, were
especially anxious. We'd promised them long walks on those crescent-shaped
beaches, refreshing swims in clear water, and plenty of their favorite
tropical treat - coconuts! However, they were willing to wait for all that
fun if we'd just find them a piece of Terra Firma where they could answer
Nature's call after the long passage. They say you can always smell land
before you see it when making landfall. Max and Bailey smelled land long
before we did. I guess their yearning was greater than ours. But, we still
had to clear them into the country before they could depart the boat. That
was something they didn't understand and something we hoped would go well
since this would be our first attempt at entering another country with our
dogs. As the sun came up we raised our yellow quarantine flag, as required
for all new arrivals, and made our way into the marina at West End, Grand
After tying 'Charbonneau' up in the marina and filling out the Immigration
and Customs forms, I was off to see the local officials. They were located
just around the marina in a small, bright pink building. The building
looked extremely 'friendly'. I hoped the officials inside would share that
attitude - and they did. Clearing into the Bahamas was very
straightforward. After a short fifteen-minute visit and paying our entry
fees -- $100 for a cruising permit and fishing license - we were cleared
into the country (note: fees increased to $300 per boat in 2003). As he
finished filling out forms and stamping our papers, the smiling official
passed them back across the counter and said, "Welcome to the
Bahamas." I raced back to the boat, replaced our yellow quarantine
flag with our Bahamas courtesy flag, indicating our clearance, and we were
off to the beaches of West End.
know how your dogs will react to a new place. Max and Bailey took to the
Bahamas as though they were born there. Once off the boat they raced from
place to place, using their noses to investigate every tree, fence post,
and grassy knoll for 'doggie emails' left by other dogs. After a thorough
investigation, and leaving a few 'doggie emails' of their own, Bailey
found his first coconut of the trip. Janet and I laughed as he picked it
up and would run a few steps before losing it. Each time he'd lose it, the
coconut would roll down the sand towards the water where Bailey would save
it just before it rolled into the surf. Needless to say, we all slept well
that first night in the Bahamas. I remember drifting off to sleep with
thoughts of all the places we'd see as we traveled through the Abacos,
Berry Islands, Nassau, Exumas, and the Out Islands. Max and Bailey's
Bahamian Adventure was now in full swing!
five months were amazing! We spent our days sailing in pristine
exploring places that see few visitors, and thoroughly enjoying the
company of our dogs. Max and Bailey would join us as we hiked along
palm-lined paths leading across islands and opening up onto secluded
beaches and coves. The dogs would search the shore for coconuts. They
quickly learned that if they'd chew off the outer covering, I'd crack open
the nut and treat them to some fresh coconut. And, after those long hot
days, we'd all go for a refreshing swim. It really was as good as the
of the Bahamas were exceedingly warm and friendly. The country certainly
has that 'laid back' quality you look for in the tropics. Every new town
welcomed us with smiles as we walked the largest dogs they'd ever seen.
The children were especially drawn to Max and Bailey; taking turns holding
their leashes on our daily walks. During Easter weekend in Black Point,
Exuma, we looked like the local Easter parade. Over fifty smiling children
escorted us on our walk, each wanting to take their turn 'helping' us walk
them. The children pointed out their homes and we waved to their parents
as we were shuffled through the town. By the end of our visit, the entire
town knew the dogs by name and we'd met several new friends. It was a
magical moment that was only made possible by having Max and Bailey with
known before our arrival, but it seemed as if everyone in the Bahamas has
dogs of their own. Households with several dogs were very common. Unlike
the US where there are a variety of breeds, the Bahamas is home,
primarily, to a single variety -- the 'Potcake'. The Potcake is a
medium-sized dog with brown, black and white markings. To our untrained
eye, they resemble a cross between a German Shepard and Labrador
Retriever. The name Potcake, historically, comes from their diets. In
years past, commercial dog food wasn't readily available in the remote
islands. The dogs were fed after the family meals where leftover foods,
such as peas and rice, were scraped out of the pots and formed into sticky
cakes. Hence, the Potcake name.
We met several Potcakes in our travels. By far, the sweetest was Phoebe, a
puppy at the CocoDiMama resort in Alabaster Bay, Eleuthera. Phoebe's
owners are two young Italians, Federica and Enrico, who own the resort.
For almost a week, they welcomed the four of us to their resort where we'd
have lunch, while the three dogs played on the beach or just relaxed under
our table. By the time we hoisted the anchor and pointed the bow towards
our next adventure, Max, Bailey, and Phoebe had become fast friends.
availability of dog food hasn't changed that much in the Bahamas. We still
found it difficult to locate food and supplies for Max & Bailey. We
planned for this possibility by bringing a six-month supply of food with
us aboard Charbonneau. There is a limited selection of dog foods available
in the larger, more populated areas such as Marsh Harbour, Nassau, or
Georgetown, but the smaller islands and towns often had no pet supplies in
the local stores. The best chance of finding supplies was on the days when
the weekly mail boat arrived.
Veterinarians were also in short supply. It was typical to see posters
announcing which day the local vet would be in town for a particular
month. Our decision to work with our own veterinarian regarding medicines
and emergency care techniques prior to visiting the Bahamas seemed very
appropriate. We'd recommend the same to others who plan to travel in the
more remote areas of the Bahamas.
a few other tips for bringing your dogs to the Bahamas by boat. One of
most important is to equip your boat with a bimini or sun shelter. While
the trade winds provide a cool breeze throughout the winter months, the
sun can be very hot. Max and Bailey enjoyed lounging in Charbonneau's
cockpit with the wind blowing through their ears. However, once the sun
started peeking under the sun cover, they would run below for more shade.
addition, be prepared to be adventurous when trying to get your dogs to
shore. Most remote, uninhabited, islands have beaches to land your dinghy
on. Some islands are more rocky and lined with what the locals call 'ironshore'.
The jagged edges on this type of shore will quickly turn your inflatable
dinghy into a porous boat. You should check your charts for shore
conditions. Even the populated areas can prove challenging. Most have
docks with ladders for your use. If your dogs are as big as Max and
Bailey, you will want to look for cement stairs at the base of these
docks. It seems to be fairly standard to have steps leading up to the dock
on the very inside of the docks. To help other boaters with this problem,
Janet keeps a running list of dog friendly anchorages under the Sailing
With Pets section of our website. Sorted by location, she lists the
anchorages and gives specific advice for getting your dogs to shore.
through June is probably the best time to cruise the Bahamas, with March
through June bringing the finest weather. Last winter, daytime
temperatures averaged around 80-85 degrees while evening temperatures
hovered close to 70 degrees with lower humidity. December and January
present the greatest chance of foul weather as winter cold fronts move
across from the east coast of the US. The summer months promise longer
days, warmer nights, afternoon thundershowers, and the chance of getting
caught in the path of a Tropical Storm or Hurricane. If lobster is high on
your list of culinary delights, arrive before April 1st when lobster
season closes for the summer.
particular journey, we arrived in the Bahamas on January 10th and after
five months of exploration we turned Charbonneau's bow towards the western
horizon. We had traveled through the Abacos, the Berry Islands, Exumas,
Nassau, Eleuthera, and several of the out islands. It was a full winter.
trip would take us from the northwest Abacos directly to Charleston -- a
three-day sail. On our first night out the ocean's surface resembled a
still pond. And, just as the sun retreated over the horizon, we were
treated to another 'green flash.' With the Bahamas over our shoulder and
the deep blue ocean in front of us, we promised Max & Bailey that we'd
return again soon.
article was written about our experience with dogs in the Bahamas, the
same importation process applies for cruising kitties.
Instead of long walks on the beach, they might enjoy a few scraps as you
filet a four-foot Mahi Mahi. Either way, the Bahamas is a great
destination for cruisers and their pets. We saw several Island Packets
there last winter and enjoyed the camaraderie of an impromptu Island
Packet Rendezvous in George Town, Exuma. We're heading back to finish our
explorations of the Jumento Cays, the Exumas, and other out islands this
winter. We'll hope to see you there.
Embassy of the Bahamas
Fax: (202) 319-2668
2220 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Boats entering Bahamian waters must check in at the closest Immigration
and Customs office upon arrival. All crewmembers are required to provide a
valid passport or two forms of identification (drivers license, birth
certificate, etc.). In addition, you will need to show proof of boat
ownership and registration. A fee of $300 per boat is charged for cruising
permits of up to one year. This fee includes all costs for immigration,
cruising permits, and a one-year fishing permit. If bringing your pets,
see the pet importation information below.
Importation Requirements An import permit is required from the Ministry of
Agriculture, Trade and Industry (Nassau) for all animals being brought
into the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. Applications for permits, along with
a $10 processing fee payable by money order or cashier's check only, must
be made in writing to the Director of Agriculture, Ministry of
Agriculture, Trade and Industry, P.O. Box N-3704, Nassau, The Bahamas. For
more information, call 242-325-7502 or 325-7509.
for these permits can be obtained via the Internet at:
http://www.bahamas.com/travel_tips/index.html (Select 'Documents/Forms'
from the menu)
For the U.S. and
Canada, the following are the main provisions of the import permit as it
applies to dogs and cats:
(a) The animal must
be 6 months of age or older.
(b) The animal must
be actively immunized against the following diseases: Distemper,
Hepatitis, Parvovirus, Leptospirosis, Adenovirus and Coronavirus.
(b) The animal must
be accompanied by a valid certificate which substantiates that it has been
vaccinated against rabies within not less than 1 month and not more than
10 months prior to importation. Three year vaccines are acceptable within
34 months prior to importation.
(c) The animal must
be accompanied by a Health Certificate completed within 48 hours of
arrival in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas by a licensed veterinarian.
The permit is only valid for 90 days from the date of issue. Your stay in
the Bahamas is not limited to this 90 days. However, you must either
arrive in the Bahamas within that 90 days or apply for a new permit.