Sunset on St John

Sailing Guide to the USVI Waters

July 7, 2023

Are you dreaming about a sailing excursion in the heart of the Caribbean? If the answer is yes, welcome aboard your all-encompassing sailing guide to the USVI waters! This guide will serve as your trustworthy first mate, whether you're a seasoned sailor commanding your vessel with ease or a beginner eager to plot your first course.

Together, we will chart a captivating journey through the USVI's unique offerings - from their distinctive characteristics to the finest sailing routes, well-equipped marinas, secure anchoring points, and less-explored treasures. Brace yourself to unfurl the sails, bask in the azure hues of the sea, and discover the best-kept secrets of this tropical paradise from the comfort of your own vessel.

Let’s read on and get started on the unforgettable sailing adventure that awaits you!

USVI Sailing Overview

The U.S. Virgin Islands, an unincorporated territory of the United States, is a sailing haven nestled in the Caribbean Sea. Made up of three main islands - St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas - alongside numerous smaller islands, cays, and islets, the USVI offers diverse sailing experiences to suit every sailor's preference. From the bustling harbor of Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas to the serene anchorages of St. John's National Park and the rich historical landmarks of St. Croix, the USVI presents an exquisite blend of natural beauty, marine biodiversity, and cultural heritage.

With untouched natural beauty, pristine white-sand beaches, and a year-round tropical climate, the USVI offers an inviting playground for sailing enthusiasts. With trade winds blowing consistently at 10-20 knots throughout the year, the USVI provides excellent sailing conditions for most of the year. However, the peak sailing season is generally from November to June, which allows sailors to avoid the Atlantic hurricane season. The region's calm, clear waters, combined with its well-charted seascape, make it a suitable destination for both seasoned sailors and beginners.

The islands' proximity to each other also allows for shorter or longer sailing trips, depending on your preference and skill level. Whether you're keen on a day trip or a week-long voyage, the USVI has plenty of options to offer. Chartering a yacht, renting a sailboat, or even joining a crewed boat tour are all feasible options for exploring this vibrant archipelago.

Lastly, the USVI's sailing community is friendly and welcoming, with numerous regattas and sailing events held throughout the year. This is a place where sailors can not only experience the exhilaration of sailing but also connect with others who share the same passion.

Next, let’s explore some important navigation guidelines and regional quirks.

9 Things to Know When Sailing in the USVI

1. Familiarize Yourself with Local Customs

A key aspect of USVI tourism involves immersing oneself in local customs and practices, which extend beyond land to the sea. As you sail, make sure to respect maritime etiquette, understand how to interact with other sailors, and demonstrate respect towards local fishermen.

Adhering to customs such as right-of-way rules and mindful anchoring near fishing grounds ensures a harmonious journey and preserves the welcoming spirit of the USVI sailing community.

Additionally, embrace the unique culinary delights that the islands have to offer. Food is an integral part of the USVI culture and, whether it's freshly caught seafood, delightful pastries, or local fruits, experiencing the national cuisine adds a flavorful layer to your sailing adventure. Whether you dine aboard or sample the local fare at various stops, don't miss out on the opportunity to indulge in the authentic flavors of the USVI.

2. St. John Sailing

Recognized for its remarkable biodiversity and unspoiled coastlines, St. John is a tranquil oasis that offers an idyllic setting for a vacation. St. John USVI vacation rentals, villas, and condos dot the landscape, providing comfortable accommodations with stunning views of the Caribbean Sea.

The island, almost entirely enveloped by the Virgin Islands National Park, is a natural wonderland abundant with secluded bays and spectacular beaches. 

Begin your adventure at Cruz Bay, the island's hub for shopping, dining, and nightlife. Here, the vibrant community vibes meet the tranquility of the seascape, and a quick dinghy ride can take you to the Honeymoon Beach mooring field. Available for day use free of charge and for overnight stays at a fee, these mooring sites are a gateway to the island's aquatic wonders.

The allure of St. John's waters is undeniable. Take a dip at Caneel Bay or Trunk Bay, both of which provide excellent snorkeling experiences. Nearby Maho Bay is ideal for a tranquil outing, whether it's paddleboarding, beachside strolling, or snorkeling with sea turtles. The island also houses Cinnamon Bay, a go-to for water sports enthusiasts offering rental equipment for various activities.

As dusk arrives, settle in to watch the awe-inspiring Virgin Islands sunset, ideally with a local Painkiller cocktail in hand. This final spectacle encapsulates the idyllic allure of St. John, a testament to the unforgettable experience the island offers its visitors. This unique blend of natural beauty, historical charm, and diverse recreational activities makes St. John a haven for sailors and tourists alike.

3. St. Thomas Sailing

Known as one of the top yachting destinations in the Caribbean, St. Thomas is home to the Yacht Haven Grande in Charlotte Amalie. With its 46 mega yacht-ready berths, Yacht Haven Grande is a paradise for sailors, featuring a comprehensive range of amenities including dining, entertainment, provisioning, and service options. Moreover, it serves as the base for the Moorings Charter Yacht operations in the USVI, making it a key point of interest for both seasoned and novice sailors.

The island’s capital, Charlotte Amalie, is a treasure trove of attractions for St. Thomas visitors. A short cab ride or moderate walk from the marina leads you into town, where you can explore duty-free shopping along narrow colonial streets and alleys, dive into the history of Fort Christian and Bluebeard’s Castle, or experience the thrill of a cable car ride to the top of Paradise Point. Here, you can savor tasty frozen mudslides while taking in breathtaking views of the island.

St. Thomas' coastline, stretching from the north to the south, is dotted with numerous enticing destinations for boating, swimming, diving, and exploring. Lovango Cay, located off the northeast coast, has been a favorite among snorkelers. Today, with the opening of the Lovango Resort & Beach Club, this small island is even more appealing, boasting a managed mooring field and inviting boaters to enjoy dining, drinks, or shopping at the beach club.

Other notable sites include Turtle Cove at Buck Island, a U.S. National Wildlife Refuge renowned for its local population of green sea turtles, and Christmas Cove off Great St. James Island, a popular overnight anchorage on St. Thomas’ east end. Additionally, St. Thomas offers a unique experience in the form of the Pizza Pi VI pizza delivery boat, which brings food directly to sailors in the bay. For those looking for secure moorings, provisioning, and other boater services, four marinas, including Compass Point Marina in nearby Banner Bay, provide excellent options.

4. St. Croix Sailing

St. Croix, located about 38 nautical miles from St. Thomas and St. John, is the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands and a destination unto itself for sailors. This splendid island is a unique blend of rich history and remarkable natural beauty, with a captivating past echoing through its architecture, cuisine, and vibrant festivals.

One must-visit location is the historical Christiansted, a well-protected bay offering beaches, dining, shopping, and nightlife within easy reach. You can also explore the Buck Island Reef and the Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve, both national parks offering unique experiences like a bioluminescent bay and a reputed landing site of Christopher Columbus. If you're up for an unforgettable adventure, a trip to Buck Island and its picture-perfect beach, hiking trails, and stunning reef trail is highly recommended.

St. Croix has four marinas, plentiful day-use moorings, and overnight stay options around the island. Cheney Bay is an accessible anchorage offering a nice beach and excellent snorkeling, with direct access to Green Cay Marina and the Tamarind Reef Resort. Don't miss the diving opportunity off the Cane Bay Wall, an awe-inspiring site where the ocean floor drops into the depths of the Puerto Rico Trench, just 100 yards offshore.

Lastly, make sure to visit the Saint Croix Sailing School, a registered non-profit community sailing center open to all. It's an invaluable institution promoting sailing for all ages and skill levels. St. Croix, with its diverse blend of historical and natural attractions, makes for an exceptional and memorable sailing experience.

5. Navigation Skills

While the USVI waters are generally calm and well-charted, strong navigation skills are still critical. Keep updated charts handy, and familiarize yourself with local landmarks, sea depths, and potential hazards to ensure a safe and smooth sailing experience. Understanding tidal flows, wind patterns, and how to use both modern and traditional navigation tools will greatly enhance your safety and enjoyment while sailing the USVI.

6. Monitor Weather Conditions

With trade winds blowing consistently at 10-20 knots throughout the year, the USVI provides excellent sailing conditions for most of the year. However, the peak sailing season is generally from November to June, which allows sailors to avoid the Atlantic hurricane season. The region's calm, clear waters, combined with its well-charted seascape, make it a suitable destination for both seasoned sailors and beginners.

Despite the predominantly pleasant climate, sudden weather changes can occur. Regularly check weather forecasts and be prepared to adjust your sailing plans if necessary. It's advisable to download reliable weather apps that provide real-time updates and alerts for your sailing area.

Apps like PredictWind, Windfinder, and NOAA Weather Radar are known for their accurate weather predictions and real-time updates. These tools not only keep you informed about the weather conditions in your sailing area but also assist in planning your trip better. With these resources at your fingertips, you can ensure you're not caught unawares by changing conditions and can navigate the USVI waters with confidence.

7. Equipment Check

Ensure your sailing equipment is in top condition before embarking on your journey. Check your sails, rigging, engine, and safety gear thoroughly. Also, ensure you have enough provisions and fresh water onboard to cater to your needs for the duration of your trip. Always have a checklist handy to ensure that everything, from life jackets to navigational equipment, is in working order before you set sail. Safety should always be your utmost priority when sailing.

8. Key Annual USVI Activities

Sailing aficionados will want to mark their calendars for a range of regattas, cultural festivals, and nature-centric events that highlight the vibrant culture and stunning natural beauty of the USVI. Here are some of the key annual activities that you don’t want to miss:

  • St. Thomas International Regatta: Known as the "crown jewel" of Caribbean racing, this prestigious sailing event occurs every March. It offers participants an unforgettable experience of racing amidst consistent winds and azure waters.
  • Martin Luther King (MLK) Regatta: Another highlight of the sailing calendar is the MLK Regatta, which takes place in January at the St. Thomas Yacht Club. It provides competitors with an opportunity to race against their neighbors from surrounding islands.
  • St. John Carnival: A vibrant celebration happening in late June, this event is replete with colorful parades, local music, and traditional dances that reflect the rich cultural heritage of the USVI.
  • St. Croix International Regatta: This event, which takes place in April, offers sailors the opportunity to race in the largest island of the USVI.
  • USVI Charter Yacht Show: Occurring in November, this event showcases a variety of yachts and is a must-visit for any boating enthusiast.
  • Sea Turtle Nesting Season: Nature lovers have the unique opportunity to observe the nesting season of green, hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles on the beaches across the USVI. Make sure you maintain a respectful distance to protect these magnificent creatures.

9. Traveling to the USVI

The most common way to reach the USVI is by air, with regular direct flights from many major cities in the United States to Cyril E. King Airport in St. Thomas and Henry E. Rohlsen Airport in St. Croix. For St. John, you can take a short ferry ride from St. Thomas. For more information on how to get to St. John, see Vacation VI’s page How to Get to St. John.

 If you're already in the Caribbean, you might also consider arriving by sea. Several ferry services operate between the USVI and neighboring islands. Alternatively, if you are chartering a yacht or sailboat, you can embark on your sailing adventure from various points in the Caribbean, navigating towards the USVI using the prevalent easterly trade winds. Remember to check the latest entry requirements and visa regulations if you are traveling from abroad.

Exploring the Sailing Routes, Marinas, Anchoring Points, and Hidden Treasures of the USVI

The U.S. Virgin Islands offer an incredible variety of sailing routes, anchoring points, marinas, and hidden treasures that make every voyage an unforgettable adventure.

  • Sailing Routes: The USVI's sailing routes are as diverse as the islands themselves. For instance, a popular route for many sailors is to start from the well-served marina in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, sail towards the peaceful waters around St. John, and finally make a longer passage to the historical island of St. Croix. Each leg of this journey offers unique landscapes, wildlife, and cultural experiences. Alternatively, you can opt for shorter routes between neighboring islands and islets, which allow for more leisurely exploration or a relaxed day trip.
  • Marinas: The USVI is well-equipped with state-of-the-art marinas that cater to sailors' needs. The Crown Bay Marina in St. Thomas is known for its excellent facilities and proximity to downtown Charlotte Amalie. Similarly, the American Yacht Harbor in Red Hook offers convenient access to St. John and the British Virgin Islands. In St. Croix, the Green Cay Marina provides a beautiful setting and full services. Each marina offers amenities such as fuel, water, power, maintenance services, and often grocery provisions and dining options.
  • Anchoring Points: Safe and secure anchoring points are plentiful across the USVI. In St. John, Maho Bay and Francis Bay are favorite anchorages due to their serene beauty and sheltered waters. Christmas Cove in Great St. James Island, a short sail from St. Thomas, is another wonderful anchoring spot known for its sea life. Teague Bay in St. Croix offers a well-protected anchorage and close proximity to the St. Croix Yacht Club.
  • Hidden Treasures: Beyond the well-known highlights, the USVI shelters numerous lesser-known gems. Discover Watermelon Cay's secluded beaches in St. John, and the historic Annaberg Plantation with its well-preserved 18th-century ruins. Inside Virgin Islands National Park, encounter ancient petroglyphs near the Reef Bay Trail. St. Croix presents unique treasures like Whim Plantation Museum, revealing the island's sugar-cane history, and Point Udall, the easternmost US point with breathtaking views. These off-the-beaten-path sites significantly enrich any USVI sailing journey.

Navigating the USVI by sail offers an unparalleled opportunity to explore these islands at your own pace, discovering their unique blend of natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. Whether you are looking for an action-packed sailing itinerary, a relaxed beach-hopping journey, or a deep dive into the vibrant ecosystems beneath the waves, the U.S. Virgin Islands have it all.

Your Comprehensive Guide to USVI Sailing with Vacation VI

Allow Vacation VI to be your comprehensive guide for your sailing trip in the USVI. We go beyond just facilitating boat rentals and pointing out ideal mooring locations when you book a stay at one of our luxury vacation homes or villas.

Our team specializes in understanding your unique interests and crafting an itinerary that perfectly answers the question of "what to see and what to do" during your USVI sailing trip. We draw from our local knowledge to recommend the stunning sights, thrilling activities, and cultural experiences that the USVI has to offer, all to ensure that your journey is truly memorable.

Call us today at 1-800-727-6610 to start planning your unforgettable USVI sailing adventure. We're ready to help you discover the enchanting sights, immerse in engaging activities, and experience the unique character of these beautiful islands. With Vacation VI, your dream sailing vacation is just a phone call away!


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