A Complete Guide To Sailing The British Virgin Islands

Whether you’re new to sailing or have been doing so for years, sailing the British Virgin Islands (BVI) needs to be on your bucket list.

It was once only for those equipped and trained to sail but it’s now open to anyone. If you don’t have your ASA Sailing Certification, you can easily hire a captain or rent a power catamaran to experience one of the best and most unique vacations of your life. We spoke to Nadine Gregerson, who helped write this guide and has plenty of experience sailing the BVI’s.

We cover the best practices and tips along the way to aid in your trip planning and sailing experience.

Sailing BVI

Why You Should Sail The BVI’s

The BVI is made up of a handful of bigger islands as well as more than 50 other smaller islands, with only 16 or so inhabited. They are located to the east of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands (USVI) and northwest of Anguilla.

The islands are scattered close to one other, making most seen by the naked eye and an easy sail. This is with the exception of Anegada, which is 15 miles north of Virgin Gorda at sea level.

How To Get To The BVI’s

A typical visit includes flying into the airport at St. Thomas, USVI, and taking a public ferry, private water taxi, or an additional small plane flight to Tortola, BVI, with a stop at customs. Each experience is unique and is partially dependent on the time of day that your flight gets in. 

On my first visit from the Midwest back in 2012, we had a layover on the way and due to the public ferry schedule, spent a night at Emerald Beach Resort, catching the ferry in the morning.

When we visited in 2020 and again in 2023, we opted for a private water taxi service which was quite a luxurious and exciting way to kick off your British Virgin Islands vacation. 

It allowed us to get right to our catamaran and sleep aboard in the marina so that we could get fully unpacked and ready for the journey ahead.

If we didn’t have a tight timetable, my recommended approach would be a 7-day sail and a few days pre- or post-sail in a local resort, VRBO/Airbnb, or hotel in either the British Virgin Islands or US Virgin Islands, affording you time to explore more of the mainland. There are many beautiful resorts in the British Virgin Islands that are worth staying in.

How To Charter A Boat

Catamarans lined up

There are a variety of yacht charter companies to consider on these islands. We’ve typically chosen Lagoon Catamarans between 45-52 feet in length from Virgin Island Sailing. 

Considering it’s your living space for a week, we like to look for a forward area with cushions for sunbathing, a covered flybridge for the captain, indoor and outdoor refrigerators for beverages, A/C, and a water maker. We also choose newer models. 

Depending on the age of a boat, you can sometimes experience issues with wear and tear. While not a huge deal, if electronic wenches are not in working order, they can contribute negatively to your ability to sail.

This is another reason to lean on Facebook groups to ask if anyone has previous experience with your charter company, or more specifically, your boat, and in what standing it was in before your vacation.

BVI Sailing Itinerary

Most people that sail the British Virgin Islands hit up the following BVI hot spots.

If you want to spend more time exploring and find your evening’s mooring later in the day, be sure to learn about the BoatyBall system and be prepared each morning at 7 am to try to reserve your ball for that night. 

Tip: We like to watch the week before our trip and plan our route to lose some of the typical weekend-to-weekend counterclockwise traffic, as well as have a few phones ready each morning to attempt to secure a reservation.

1. Virgin Gorda

The Baths

There is so much to see and do in Virgin Gorda. From The Baths in the south to the North Sound, it’s truly a fun island to spend time exploring.

We typically will look up the cruise ship schedule and try to hit The Baths when there are fewer people or right away in the morning before it gets busy. 

From hiking between the massive granite boulders, swimming in the crystal blue water, and sunbathing on the powder sand beaches, you’ll have a blast and the pictures to prove it.

There are National Park day-use mooring buoys that allow you to dinghy up and swim in to explore this beautiful BVI destination. 

Tip: Apps like Windy will help you understand the forecast in case there is a north swell and red flags at the beaches of The Baths. Mooring is not allowed and you’ll have to plan to find a mooring in another bay and taxi over to The Baths. 

If you plan to spend the night in the North Sound, there are many options to either reserve a BoatyBall in Leverick Bay or Bitter End Yacht Club (BEYC) near Saba Rock.

BEYC has some fun water toys, and if you hit it right, watch for Drake and the orange flag serving frozen Rum Runner drinks. And no trip is complete without a visit to see the rebuilt and architecturally amazing Saba Rock.

If you are visiting Virgin Gorda Monday to Wednesday, look into and reserve your spot at the Leverick Bay Pirate show (seasonal).

Saba Rock

There is a large selection of fantastic restaurants, too. Members of our group taxied down and highly recommended CocoMaya’s Latin Asian Restaurant.

2. Anegada (1-2 days) 

Anegada Sunset

Set sail early and make it out to Anegada, which is weather-dependent and approved by your charter company.

Formed by coral and limestone, you can rent motorbikes and travel the loop around the island or stay on the pavement and only a short trip to explore both directions. 

Watch for goats, donkeys, cattle, flamingos, and tiny lizards along the way! No visit to Anegada is complete without a visit to Tipsy by Ann and Cow Wreck bars on the northwest side. Make a dinner reservation and enjoy locally caught lobster! 

We had our trip’s favorite lunch snacks, including the Jerk Wings, at Tipsy by Ann while playing bean bags and swinging on the beach. The views and ocean/beach colors are amazing, you won’t be disappointed. 

Tipsy bungalows

Others in our party also enjoyed an early morning fishing trip, and I’ve heard really great things about the snorkeling excursions. We hope to one day spend a night at Tipsy by Ann’s beach bungalows. 

3. Jost Van Dyke (1-2 days)

Bubbly Pool

Another favorite of ours is Jost Van Dyke. On the east side, you can’t miss Foxy’s Taboo and a short hike to the bubbly pool. It’s a natural rock formation that allows the waves of the Atlantic thru to a small swim spot. 

Make a stop to stand up paddleboard or kayak near Green Cay. Swim up to the tiny one-acre Sandy Spit sand dune and go snorkeling to see its magnificent coral reef off the south side.

In this area, you can also find the popular Great Harbor, with lovely restaurants and bars such as Foxy’s Bar which often has live music. 

Further west, you’ll find White Bay which offers a gorgeous swimming area and sandy beach ideal for spending the day people-watching and exploring the great restaurants and beach bars like the Soggy Dollar Bar.  

On the east side of White Bay, you can find another beach bar known as Alice’s & Ivan’s Stress Free Bar, where members of our crew enjoyed pizza and drinks while some of us went out diving with JVD Scuba and saw reef sharks.

On your way in or out of JVD, stop at Sandy Cay to play a game of frisbee or paddle ball on the beach. There used to be a trail around the island, but it’s still being rebuilt after Hurricane Irma.

Sandy Cay Beach

Watch for different species of birds and other wildlife that live on this nature preserve. 

4. Norman Island

The Indians

Never miss a snorkel at The Indians. The massive rock formation is surrounded by magnificent coral gardens and a tunnel, and an outstanding amount of fish life. 

You often must make rounds waiting for a daytime mooring ball to open up or let your crew dinghy in and snorkel around the rocks.

No sailing trip to Normal Island is complete without a visit to The Bight. Norman Island is home to three caves to the west that are fun to swim/snorkel and explore. Tie up your dinghy and bring a dive flashlight if that makes you more comfortable. 

If snorkeling is not your thing, grab a drink at Pirate’s Bight and stretch your legs by taking in the sights of Norman’s hiking trails with glamorous views of the Sir Francis Drake Channel and the deep blue Caribbean

Tip: If on-island at sunset, pack your bug spray and prevent yourself from welts post-visit. 

Norman Island Hike

Lastly, check out Willy-T’s floating pirate ship bar & restaurant anchored in the bay. And if you’re feeling really adventurous, jump off the second level into the waters below.

Just don’t forget to secure your belongings. If you like it a little quieter, choose a mooring away from the nightlife. 

5. Salt Island

Offshore from the western coast of Salt Island, you won’t want to miss another popular spot for snorkeling and diving. The RMS Rhone was a British iron steamship sunk by a hurricane in 1896.

Because of the clarity of the water, it’s visible when snorkeling, and you can still make out the masts, propeller, rudder, and bow of the ship. 

There is lots of marine life, especially if you travel to the edge of the island and in Lee Bay. The last time we visited Salt Island, we saw a small nurse shark. It’s one of the uninhabited islands of the British Virgin Islands.

6. Cooper Island 

Cooper Island Sunset

Sunsets and dinners at Cooper Island Beach Club never disappoint. While they serve smaller portions, your taste buds won’t be disappointed.

The family-owned restaurant is sharply focused on sustainable tourism, which is always nice to see. 

Rebuilt since Irma, it’s a beautiful place to visit and soak in the sunsets. Manchineel Bay is another place offering abundant marine life for snorkeling lovers who sail to Cooper Island. 

7. Tortola

BVI Sunset

No sailing vacation would be complete without a visit to Tortola, BVI. There are many stops around Tortola you can consider as you plan your trip. It’s a large island 12 miles long with a population of around 35,000. 

You’ll find various bays and beaches around Tortola. Smugglers Cove and Cane Garden Bay are two of the most popular beaches in Tortola. 

Our latest visit to the BVI included a night in Sopher’s Hole to refill our water and gasoline, pick up some souvenirs, as well as a private evening on the beach with Bonfire Bliss BVI.

They took care of everything, from our transportation to our fantastic meal and beach games around a private bonfire. 

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