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We checked into the Bahamas via boat (our own small sailboat) with me, wife and small children (all under 8 yrs old). I was dead tired that day from a long over-night sail in bad weather. I checked in and I swear the officer said 180 days. It is in fact a 90 day stamp which is typical and we just realized that. We are now 11 days over stayed and will likely be 14 days before I can get to a location with a customs office.

We are still stuck off a remote island due to weather, unable to safely leave. However, I can hire a local with a float plane to fly me to Nassau and meet with customs to renew the 90 day pass to a 180 day which is typical according to other sailors. I cannot however find any information on what to expect assuming a non-lenient customs officer, assuming the worst possible outcome.

Mainly, my concern is getting stuck at a customs office (or jail) leaving my wife and kids 200 miles away on a boat at anchor with more storms coming in 3 days and their lives being at risk as it is not possible for them to move the boat to safety from the current location. What are the stated (not the "likely") possible consequences? I cannot risk being detained at all - whatsoever. Fines are one thing, but the safety of my family depends on detention not happening.

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    Can you not simply sail away to another island?.. – JonathanReez Feb 8 at 2:26
  • Could the local with the float plane move your family to a safe place where they can stay while you deal with customs? – Patricia Shanahan Feb 8 at 3:25
  • @JonathanReez I suppose... illegal however as you are supposed to clear-out. My understanding is we'd be barred from re-entry for forever if we did that. To get to another country (US would be easiest) could take more than a month at this point waiting for a weather window that is safe. The weather this time of year is typically quite bad. We aren't a boat that is equipped for long passages (say if we wanted to go to Cuba, Dominican, Jamaica). You don't just do those kind of trips on a whim in a boat that was never really outfitted for multi-day passages. – maplemale Feb 8 at 3:53
  • @PatriciaShanahan Yes, we could all get on the plain and head to Nassau, leaving our boat, home and all we own in life un-attended at anchorage. I'm calling customs in the morning and throwing myself at their mercy, asking them what should be done. If, as I suspect their answer is: We can't advise you, you screwed up, come to an office with the entire family - we will do that. Or, we will simply remain here illegally waiting for a weather window to leave and never come back. My ultimate fear is that they hold us or confiscate the boat and we are left with nothing due to my idiotic mistake. – maplemale Feb 8 at 3:55
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Answering my own question from our recent experience and final outcome.

First: "Customs" is not the institution responsible in this case. It is actually Immigration. Customs has nothing to do with it / no say.

The "consequences" as we discovered can be many and severe or none at all (our case). The actions are mostly up to the officer to determine based on the intent of the offender and / or the severity of the violation. Calling ahead and notifying Immigration is "always the right thing to do." It would seem that doing the best you can to comply and "not putting your family in a safety risk" due to rushing in bad weather, is all an acceptable course of action in this one case. However, again the consequences could still have absolutely been applied. Consequences entailed: Forced deportation and possibly blocked from re-enter + $3k fine per person and potential jail time if fines are not payed. All of these "consequences" where named at our meeting and it was repeatedly reiterated that our situation was "not good" but that we did the right thing by calling ahead, explaining the delay and getting to an immigration office as soon as possible.

No vessel confiscation was mentioned and I cannot find written documentation of the possibility. Only the fines, deportation and potential blocking from re-entry which seems to be more reserved for repeat offenders. However, none of this seems documented anywhere and this answer is 100% experience based and verbal quotes from Immigration Officials here in the Bahamas.

  • Assuming the officer(s) you speak to are not {censored}, the fact that weather prevents you from moving the boat should make a big difference. – WGroleau Feb 18 at 22:28
  • Possibly the vessel might be confiscated if the fine was levied and the overstayer(s) were unable to pay. – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Feb 19 at 6:00
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    @RoddyoftheFrozenPeas You may be right about that... however, the only documented cases I can find of vessel confiscation (in Bahamas anyway) was related to illegal activity such as poaching, unclaimed firearms, drug trafficking etc. Those, however, are just public cases that made the news. So who knows. One additional thing I was mistaken about was the requirement to "clear out". There is no such requirement for vessels in the Bahamas. Had to do it over again, I would have just cleared into say Cuba or DR and then back to the Bahamas - problem solved. I should probably edit my answer... – maplemale Feb 19 at 14:24

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