This is principally for VFR flight (see Footnote 1 for IFR flights) and also includes airport choices and Customs/Immigration information.
Before getting into the Bahamas flight info, please note that the most challenging part of your cross-country trip is the leg from your home airport to So. Florida. Several days before departure, plan the trip carefully using up-to-date sectionals. Get latest NOTAMs. Avoid Prohibited and Restricted Areas, as well as MOAs and Class B. Plan your refueling stops conservatively (I like www.airnav.com to find best fuel prices). Just prior to departure check weather carefully. Filing a flight plan and using flight-following are highly recommended. For your whole trip remember to monitor 121.5.
For the So. Florida-to-Bahamas leg, please note that VFR flight at night is not permitted. Reading my Ditching Checklist Page is recommended, but since your longest over-water hop is 30 minutes and you ought to be at altitude (over 6,000 feet recommended) before entering it, you might choose to disregard some of the preparations suggested there (but an aviation life-jacket is required for each occupant). In the following procedures I've assumed - for fuel costs reasons - that you will refuel and depart from Okechobee (OBE).
- Before Flight. At OBE fill your fuel tanks to the brim, get weather briefing and file international VFR flight plan direct to MYAT (26.75N, 77.4W).
- Open Flight Plan. Do it after achieving some altitude by calling Miami Radio on 122.4.
- Flight Following. Highly recommended. Call Miami Center on 132.25.
- Before Entering Grand Bahama TCA. If you are flying below 6,000 feet and didn't get flight-following, you must contact Freeport Approach Control on 126.5. You'll get a squawk code and be flight-followed over the TCA.
- On Descent Call MYAT. Do it on 122.8 at 20, 10, 5, and 3 miles out, transmitting your location/altitude/intentions and asking for traffic in the area and active runway, but do not switch to 122.8 until flight-following has been terminated, and between transmissions cancel flight plan as per point 6 below.
- Cancel Flight Plan. Do it in between above transmissions, when you have a clear view of the Treasure Cay area (even if MYAT is still not discernible) but above 2,000 feet if possible, by calling Freeport Radio on 122.3 or Nassau Radio on 124.2 (if you are unsuccessful, tell Bahamas Customs upon landing).
- Landing. Straight into runway 14 is generally OK if traffic and wind conditions permit.
- Immigration and Customs. Formalities and costs are minimal. Organizers will endeavor to meet registered attendees that arrive Friday between 3PM and 5PM.
- Before Flight. From Treasure Cay call 1-800-WX-BRIEF or 1-305-233-2600 to file your international VFR flight plan to the So. Florida airport of entry of your choice (see Footnote 2), making sure you put "Advise Customs" in Remarks.
- Open Flight Plan. Do it after achieving some altitude by calling Freeport Radio on 122.3 or Nassau Radio on 124.2.
- Climb Above Grand Bahama TCA. Climb steadily as you head West, to get above 6,000 feet and avoid the TCA (if you enter the TCA you will have to contact Freeport Approach Control to get a squawk code and then exit the TCA and go back to squawking 1200 in order to perform the next step).
- Get Customs Squawk Code. Do it by calling Miami Radio on 126.9 (or 122.4 or 126.7). You should make contact by the time you are at 5,000 feet and before crossing 78 deg longitude, and you must be squawking the assigned code before crossing the outer ADIZ line. Do not cross this ADIZ line without it!
- Flight Following. After you're squawking the Customs code, if you had flight-following on the outbound leg and want it now to approach the U.S., call the Miami Center frequency which handed you off to Freeport Approach Control and request it like this: "We're currently squawking wxyz for Customs identification and would like flight-following to ...". If they can handle you, they'll assign you a new code.
- Approaching Airport. Follow proper procedures, making sure that you call Approach Control for Class B or Class C, or the tower for Class D.
- Cancel Flight Plan. Do it by contacting local FSS when you are in sight of the airport (ask permission of the Approach Control or tower to change frequency for a couple of minutes). If you can't do it in flight, ask Ground Control if they will do it or call 1-800-WX-BRIEF promptly.
- Immigration and Customs. After landing at your selected airport of entry, each occupant will need to fill out a simple form and show a U.S. passport (expired is OK) or an original birth certificate along with a photo ID, and the pilot must fill out a second form and show pilot's license and medical certificate.
- Flying Home. You can refuel here or take a short hop to OBE. Have a safe trip home, taking the same care you took when you flew down.
- For IFR it is highly recommended that you call U.S. Customs at 305-526-7155 from The Bahamas within 24 hours prior to your return to the U.S. to notify them of your arrival and to get a notification code; putting "Advise Customs" in your return flight is a substitute if the FAA advises Customs, but if it fails to do so (and it has happened to a friend), you are subject to a fine of up to $5,000.
- U.S. Customs closes at 5PM at TMB, OPF and FXE; 7PM at FPR; 8PM at PBI; midnight at FLL; and never at MIA. The phone notification of Customs recommended for IFR in the footnote above doesn't hurt, but, because you will be issued a special Customs squawk code in flight, I have never, ever heard of a problem and I don't do it.
DISCLAIMER AND RELEASE: The author believes that the information presented here is generally accurate, but it is provided without any warranty. The information is presented for reference only, should not be relied upon, and should be used only to augment other information obtained from official/reliable/credible sources. If some of this information conflicts with that obtained from other sources, ignore this information. Finally, you use this information solely at your risk and, by using it, you agree to release the author from any liability.
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