Cruisers Vacation in El Salvador
Crossing the Bar
About the Bar

The entrance into Bahia del Sol can be intimidating but most bars can be crossed safely with experience or proper guidance. November through February the entrance is fairly tame, even flat but some days can be quite exciting. During the summer months the condition of the bar varies due to swells originating the the southern ocean. It is not for the faint-hearted and any bar crossing can be dangerous but disasters are rare.

The entrance bar is 3/4 mile from the estuary and has an average depth of 12 feet. The channel moves during the year and you must have a pilot to make a safe entrance.

Always send an email a few days before leaving your last port so we can send you important arrival information. If you are sailing during the summer months it is best to let us know a week or so ahead of time so we can check the long-term bar forecast.

You should adjust your passage to arrive at the entrance an hour or so before high slack tide during daylight hours. Please note that El Salvador is always on Central Standard Time - no adjustment for daylight/summer-time.

If you arrive too late you can anchor and wait for the next high tide. If you want to anchor, do so in 35 feet or more, west of the entrance cut, 1 mile away is usually enough. Check to be sure you anchor out of the surf zone. When transiting between your anchor location and the pilot meeting area, be sure to stay in 30 feet or more of water (which means you will probably head more offshore to avoid the sandy build-up at the mouth of the estuary. Watch for waves ahead and from the south.

About one hour before you arrive you can contact the hotel on VHF channel 16 by calling "Bahia del Sol" and tell them you need the pilot.

IMPORTANT NOTE: We highly recommend that outboard powered boats NOT attempt to enter Bahia del Sol because of limited manuverability.

Preparation & Planning

Before crossing the bar, we recommend the following

  1. Run your engine at high speed for 5 minutes to make sure it does not overheat. If you are having overheating problems then it is better to run the engine at a lower speed when entering rather than risk engine failure in the entrance. Let the pilot know if you are having problems with your engine so he can adjust his decisions.
  2. Check the steering, throttle controls, and make sure that everything on the deck is secured.
  3. Ensure all loose items are stowed especially in the cockpit.
  4. Close all port lights, hatches, and companionways. Be sure to latch sliding hatches.
  5. All crew members must be above deck.

At the appropriate time the pilot will come out to guide you over the bar.


Directions from the pilot are via VHF radio. Assign a person to man the radio and forward instructions to the driver. Since no one can be below deck during entry you must have a VHF in the cockpit or a portable radio. If you do not have a portable radio the pilot can provide one.

Please note that all VHF radios along the Pacific coast are programmed to "US" not "INT" or "CA".


The pilot will meet your boat and ask you to follow him slowly towards the entrance. Only one boat at a time can enter but while one boat is going in the others can stage close by so no time is wasted. Be aware that bar conditions change rapidly during the change of tide so one boat may cross in just a few minutes while others have to wait for quite a while to enter

Once you are headed in do not turn your boat around unless clearly directed to do so by the pilot. During this time, the pilot will be judging the wave periods looking for a lull. He will want you to move as close as possible to the bar so when the lull occurs you can quickly pass through. He may have you start, stop, or engage reverse periodically to accomplish this. When the lull happens he will ask you to apply full throttle and follow in his direction over the bar

Wave approaching from behind - 07:23:04

Wave picking up stern - 07:23:22

Surfing the wave - 07:23:25

The large powerboats that go through the entrance everyday have enough power to easily get over the bar before the next wave set comes in. However, slow boats do not so the next wave set will usually catch up. Have someone watch behind and inform the helmsman of the progress of the waves. When the wave picks up the boat, you will surf until the wave passes under the boat.

At this time it is important to ALWAYS do your best to keep your boat perpendicular to the incoming waves rather than trying to follow the pilot. Depending on the force of the wave, it is not unusual to use quite a bit of rudder to accomplish this. The pilot will get out of your way so do not worry about running over him. Normally, two quick and exciting surfs and you are over the bar. Ignore your depth meter because sometimes suspended sand will give you a false reading.

Power boats.

Yachts and power boats will be directed to power behind the wave in front. Once you apply full power do not slow down unless directed to do so by the pilot.

Welcome to El Salvador!

All the above instruction may seem a bit unnerving but crossing the bar is normally safe, quick, and easy.

After crossing

The main entrance to the estuary is about 3/4 mile past the bar. After crossing, you can slow your engine and steer up the middle into the boca (mouth) of the estuary. After passing through the boca you will turn left into smooth water. Get out your dock lines and fenders. Be sure that your fenders are dragging well in the water because the docks are very low. The pilot will direct you to a slip where you meet the immigration and port officials to complete your check-in.


Hotel Bahia del Sol has on-site port authority and immigration service. To enter the country they will ask for a copy of your passport, boat documentation, the original exit Zarpe from your last foreign port and US$12 for each passenger's 90-day visa. No need to fly the Q-flag. It is all very low-key and friendly.

Visas obtained in El Salvador are issued for 90 days and are good for four Central American countries: El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras but only for those traveling by land. If you take your boat to one of the other countries you will have to get a new visa and a Zarpe.

Tourists who wish to remain in the four-country region beyond their initial 90-day visa can obtain a one-time in-country (not required to leave) 90-day extension by applying at Migration in San Salvador and paying $25. You will be required to show reason why you cannot leave the country (hurricane season, illnesses. etc) and have a resident or company sign an affidavit to “sponsor” you. Forms are available on-line and you will need two photos. When that visa expires, you are required to leave the four-country area, the nearest being Mexico, Belize, or Costa Rica. Many cruisers schedule their inland travel to include travel briefly outside the four-country region to renew their visas just prior to the expiration date.

Port fees are $1 per day to use Salvadorian waters. The fee is payable in 30-day increments up to 90 days. After 90 days you must renew your permit at the port offices (AMP) located on the hotel grounds. The permit has unlimited renewals. If you leave your boat unattended over 90 days you can pay for your permit when you return.


At some point you will continue your travels and leave Bahia. The hotel needs 24 hours notice of your plans to leave. More time is even better for planning purposes. Departure is almost always at high tide but some exception can be made during neap tides.

Make sure your bottom has been cleaned and pay extra attention to the prop. If you have been here for some time run your engine at full speed under load. When leaving with a group we can safely take three boats.

Please leave the dock at the designated time to make good use of the tide time and proceed at a quick pace. Don't motor slowly in the estero so you can store your last minute items. The bar is about one mile from the marina and it takes at least 30 minutes to get out against the current.

Waiting for wave to pass before moving ahead

If you delay the tide may change before you get to the bar which will make the bar rough or impassable. Regardless, the pilot boat can only keep track of the first boat in line so the other boats are sort of on their own until the first boat clears the bar. Again, with a flat bar this is not a problem but if the waves are up, the following boats may encounter waves without receiving the pilots advise. We do our best to judge bar conditions before departure, but we can not predict sneaker waves or wind waves. If you encounter any large, incoming wave it is best to cross them at slow speed. If waves are breaking, stop the boat before the break and let the white water pass underneath. Do not move ahead unless directed by the pilot.