Ah, the location of the Gulf Stream. If you’re boating on the southeast coast of the US or heading to the Bahamas/Caribbean from the US, it’s a major factor in your navigation. Depending on where you’re going, the Gulf Stream can add or subtract 1 to 3 or even sometimes 4 knots to your speed.
Heading north, you want to catch the fastest part of the Gulf Stream. If you’re heading south, you want to try to catch a counter-current. And if you’re crossing from the US to the Bahamas or Cuba, knowing the speed will give you an idea of how far north (for the Bahamas) or east (for Cuba) you’re likely to be swept.
Most charts show the rough location of the Gulf Stream. However, it moves considerably from day to day and the speed changes as well. The best passages start with a current, accurate map of the Gulf Stream. Don’t rely on average positions: getting the up-to-date position and speed maps is as easy as a few mouse clicks!
There are a number of paid services for detailed information on the Gulf Stream. Probably the best known is Jenifer Clark’s Gulfstream. She provides very precise routing information for cruisers as well as professional mariners.
In addition to paid services, though, there is also a good source for free maps showing the location and speed of the Gulf Stream and counter-currents. The Gulf Stream location and speed maps from PassageWeather are not quite as detailed as the professional services, but I have always found them to be sufficient for our purposes.
PassageWeather is a free service, but they gratefully accept donations — if you find the maps useful, I’d suggest throwing in a dollar or two so that they continue to be available.
Florida-Bahamas Gulf Stream Location
If you are going from Florida to the Bahamas or back, there’s a one-click link for the current Gulf Stream map:
Other Sections of the Gulf Stream & Caribbean Current
To get to the Gulf Stream maps for the rest of the East Coast and the current maps for the Caribbean, it takes a few more clicks.
Start by going to the PassageWeather home page. You’ll see a map that looks like this:
Click on the area that you’re interested in, and then another similar map will come up for just that area. Again, click on the area you’re interested in. Finally something that looks like this will come up — note the Gulf Stream tab.
Click on that Gulf Stream tab and you’ll get a map with the Gulf Stream location clearly marked. Note the color differences for the speed (legend is at the bottom of the map) and the direction arrows for the stream itself and counter-currents.
Buttons under the map will let you see the forecast position and strength for each of the next seven days.
Why Current Information Matters
Don’t rely on an old map or even the “approximate location” of the currents that are marked on most charts. The location and the speed of the Gulf Stream can vary a fair amount. When we crossed from Florida to the Bahamas in May 2016, the stream was almost immediately outside the Florida Keys and running over 3 knots, and 3.5 knots for a short while a little further out with a pronounced counter-current flowing almost due south near the Bahamas.
As I’m writing this, the Gulf Stream is further offshore of the Keys, running 1.5 to 2 knots, and the counter-current nearer the Bahamas is running southwest, not true south. All this makes a big difference in planning a passage!
Next, learn how to use the Gulf Stream location and speed information:
This post was originally published in January 2018 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.