Did you know that you can travel around the Bahamas by mailboat? Here is all you need to know about it.
Potter’s Cay Dock in Nassau is chaos by day or night. Either with locals drinking and trying to find a spot at their favourite conch stand at night or cars, trucks, boxes and household items being transported to the several boats at the dock daily. This is where Nassau behaves like Nassau and where life in the Bahamas begins.
This is also the place where I began my next adventure in this archipelago. But this time, I had no plans to travel by private plane from island to island or do photo shoots of pretty resorts. This time I wanted to get more involved with the real Bahamas and explore what makes the mailboat the bloodline of the Bahamas and Potter’s Cay Dock its heart.
Curious to plan such an adventure too? In this guide, I will share all the tips and information you need to know to have a smooth mailboat journey in the Bahamas.
Understanding the mailboat culture of the Bahamas
In some ways dirty, slow, and sometimes even crowded. Who would like to visit the Bahamas and go on a mailboat?
Mailboats in the Bahamas are more than just a transport method across the archipelago; they serve as a critical mode of transportation for residents and visitors alike.
The Bahamas is an archipelago comprising over 700 islands, many remote and isolated, and mailboats provide a lifeline between these islands, connecting communities and facilitating the movement of goods, services, and people. Many of the islands in the Bahamas do not have airports or regular ferry services, so mailboats are often the only way to reach these islands. Mailboats are also used to transport essential supplies, such as food, fuel, and building materials, to remote islands where these items are not readily available. Moreover, the mailboats play an essential role in the economy of the Bahamas, as they support many small businesses that rely on regular shipments of goods and supplies.
Locals love it, and some of the most experienced travellers in the Bahamas use it to experience something different. Travelling with a mailboat can’t be compared to any other method of transportation. After making several trips with them, I realized going on a mailboat meant travelling in the Bahamas looking for adventure.
Where can you travel to
For those wanting to experience this type of travel, preparation is key. You must contact the dockmaster to confirm all information, book your tickets at least 3-4 days in advance and expect the unexpected.
I arrived in Nassau several days before to ensure I could plan everything with enough time. Still, I forgot to consider things like the captain of one boat being sick or public holidays on one of the days I wanted to travel.
Fortunately, the timings and routes have stayed the same for the past 20 years, so having a rough idea of when you can depart, how long it will take, and who you should contact is easier than you might think.
These are the current mailboats accepting passengers in the Bahamas
Destination to South Cat Island (Smith’s Bay, New Bight)
- Name of the vessel: East Wind
- Departure: Tuesday 5:00 PM
- Return: Friday: 2:00 AM
- Sailing time: 10-15 hours
- Price: 60 USD
Destination to South and North Eleuthera (Governor’s Harbour, Rock Sound, Spanish Wells, Harbor Island)
- Name of the vessel: Eleuthera Express
- Departure: Monday 5:00 PM, Thursday 6:00 AM
- Return: Thursday 11:00 AM, Sunday 12.30 PM
- Sailing time: 5-9 hours
- Price: 40 USD
Destination to Grand Bahama (Freeport)
- Name of the vessel: Fiesta Mailboat
- Departure: Monday 5:00 PM, Wednesday 5:00 PM, Friday 10:00 AM
- Return: Wednesday 2:00 AM, Friday 08:00 AM, Sunday 3:00 PM
- Sailing time: 8 – 12 hours
- Price: 57 USD
Destination to Acklins & Crooked Islands (Spring Point, Cornel Hill, Long Cay)
- Name of the vessel: KCT, VI NAIS
- Departure: Monday 6:00 PM,
- Return: Friday 11:00 AM
- Sailing time: 30-48 hours
- Price: 90 USD
Destination to Exuma (George Town)
- Name of the vessel: Grand Master
- Departure: Tuesday 2:00 PM
- Return: Thursday 10:00 AM
- Sailing time: 14-20 hours
- Price: 50 USD
Destination to Andros (Fresh Creek, Stafford Creek, Blanket Sound, Bering Point)
- Name of the vessel: Lady D
- Departure: Thursday 10:00 AM
- Return: Monday 1:00 PM
- Sailing time: 5-9 hours
- Price: 45 USD
Boats like United Star, Lady Francis, Lady Mathilda or Captain Moxey go to more isolated places in the Bahamas, such as San Salvador. However, these boats only take freight; if you want to join them, you must discuss it with the captain separately. Here you can see a summary of all mailboats departing Nassau
You can also book with private companies that focus on tourism. Here are the timings and prices for these boats.
How to book your mailboat tickets to the Bahamas
The first thing you must do is confirm the departure times for the mailboats. This information is known by each boat captain and his office or by the dock master.
You can reach the dock master’s office at (242) 393-1064 or call the port department at (242) 326 7354. I also tried sending an email to the Port Department (email@example.com). However, I was not very lucky in getting the information back.
Once I got the details about departure, price, and timings confirmed, I got the boat’s office number from the dock master and called there to inform myself about the tickets. They re-confirm the prices and timings and told me where I could get a ticket and when.
NOTE: all of this has to be done personally. You will have to plan additional time to go to the boat’s office and get your ticket, as well you will also have to call back and forth several times to make sure it works.
Of course, going without a ticket is also possible, but it will be subject to availability and, in most cases won’t be enough space.
Tips for planning your island-hopping adventure in the Bahamas by mailboat
Before You Go:
Plan your Itinerary:
Before you begin your journey, you must clearly understand your itinerary and which mailboats serve the islands you wish to visit. The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism website is a great resource for finding which mailboats travel between the specific islands on your itinerary.
Get your Tickets:
Once you clearly understand your itinerary, the next step is to book your tickets in advance. You can either book your tickets through the mailboat company’s website or by contacting the office directly. Some mailboat companies also allow onboard ticket purchases, but booking in advance is always best to secure your spot. You may also find discounts for multi-leg trips or for booking online.
Check the Schedule:
Mailboats in the Bahamas follow a set schedule, so it’s essential to know your trip’s departure and arrival times. It’s always a good idea to check the schedule a few days before your trip in case of any changes or cancellations.
Expect the unexpected:
Boats departing half a day later, no seats available or issues with the ships are common. Try to keep your itinerary as flexible as possible to avoid unpleasant surprises.
Once in the Bahamas
Call the dock master:
This is the most important task after you arrive in the Bahamas. You need to find out when and where mailboats depart.
Call the boat captain’s office:
Here you can find all information regarding booking your tickets. In some mailboats, you can even book a bed. However, those are usually reserved for friends of the crew.
Prepare your trip by getting snacks, beer, water and everything you might be. This is crucial if you plan to take a mailboat to other islands. With waiting times at arrival, delays and other issues, a 6-hour trip can quickly become a 1-day journey.
On departure day
Mailboats in the Bahamas often run on a tight schedule, so you must arrive at the dock well before departure to ensure you don’t miss the boat. The ports can also be crowded, so coming at least 2 hours before departure is best. Also, these are not passenger decks, so finding the mailboat can take some time. I searched the mailboat location one day before as I wanted to make sure everything went smoothly.
Checking in for the mailboat is usually straightforward and similar to checking in for a flight. You’ll be asked to show your ticket and ID, and your bags may be checked for prohibited items.
There is no seat allocation- You simply get into the boat, find a spot to relax and wait for the ship to depart (waiting time can be between 1-2 hours.
Rides are long, so prepare to be entertained during the ride. You can either be inside a small room with AC or be out and share a beer with the locals. Food is also provided on the boat (rice and chicken), the only option. If you have any dietary conditions, be prepared to bring your own meals.
Read more: The art of slow traveling in the Bahamas