Border crossing by boat getting harder

By Meg Olson

The rules are getting tighter for pleasure boaters who choose to cross the border.

At a March 4 meeting at the Point Roberts Marina, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) representatives outlined regulations and requirements for private boaters and changes occurring this year.

While CBP spokesperson Renne Archer said there were no “new rules,” Point Roberts Marina general manager Jacquelyne Everett said the old ones were being interpreted and enforced differently.

Under existing rules, “operators of small pleasure vessels, arriving in the United States from a foreign port or place to include any vessel which has visited a hovering vessel or received merchandise outside the territorial sea,” are required to report to CBP immediately.

Canadian vessels without a cruising license are also required to make a formal entry and pay a $19 fee every time they arrive from Canada, and obtain a permit to proceed if they travel to another location in the U.S.

“These rules have been around for a long time,” said Everett. “Last year was the first time they started enforcing them.” For Canadian boaters who keep their boats at the marina, having a cruising license is almost mandatory for practical purposes, and the recent meeting was aimed at helping them meet the requirements to get one.

“Our boaters are actually lucky because they can renew or apply for licenses at the land border here,” Everett said. The catch is, there is a 15-day waiting period for a renewal. “If they want to get one, the easiest way is to turn the old one in or apply at the border and leave the U.S. for 15 days.”

Rules for vessels fishing in Canadian waters and returning to the U.S. are also getting tweaked.

In the past, boats that didn’t contact another vessel or land in Canada were not required to report to CBP when they came back to the Point from a fishing trip in Canadian waters.

A CBP publication from 2014 states, “any small pleasure vessel leaving a United States port into international or foreign waters, without a call at a foreign port, does not satisfy the foreign departure requirement. Therefore, certain fishing vessels, cruises to nowhere, or any vessel that leaves from a U.S. port and returns without calling at a foreign port or place, has not departed the U.S.”

Vessels that leave the U.S. to fish in Canada need to report telephonically to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). “Whether or not CBSA actually requires the boater to report to a physical location, this is considered a call at a foreign port,” Archer said. “Vessels must only be in transit through U.S. waters to qualify for what we consider innocent passage.”

The current interpretation of the rules, according to Archer, is that “vessels that engage in fishing cannot claim the right of innocent passage,” and must report to CBP when they return to the U.S.

  1. An American boat fishing in Canadian water needs to report to Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) even if they are just passing through. I was not aware they had to report to CBP as well, when returning to the U.S. As you may know, an american fisherman got into trouble with CBSA about 6 years ago and had to fork over a big fine. There is a proposal in the Canadian Senate to modify this to be more in line with U.S. requirements for cruise-to-nowhere — especially along the border-that-can’t-be-seen.


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