BY GARY MAY
In the post-9/11 world, security has become a top-of-mind issue. And it’s not just those who travel to the United States by air or motor vehicle who have to think about what documents they need and procedures they must follow.
Recreational boating is a growing pastime and, with the Canada-U.S. border splitting many of our lakes and rivers right down the middle, lots of boaters like to slip in to a marina on the American side for a visit. But before you step ashore, there are a few things you need to know about dealing with the United States Customs and Border Protection Service.
First, just as you must do at all U.S. border crossing points, you need to have your passport or NEXUS card. Identification requirements are exactly the same when you arrive by pleasure craft as they are for arriving in the U.S. by any other mode of transportation.
(NEXUS is an inspection program that allows pre-screened, low-risk travellers quicker access to the U.S.)
Landing permit good for one year
Second, American border officials advise it’s a good idea to get a Canadian Border Boat Landing Permit (I-68). Like a NEXUS pass, an I-68 permit allows boaters entry to a U.S. port for recreational purposes by simply reporting to Customs and Border Protection by phone.
Keep in mind that failure to report to border officials can result in significant penalties, including a fine of $5,000 for a first offence and $10,000 thereafter. U.S. authorities can also seize your property — including your boat. In addition, any boat master who is convicted of intentionally breaking the law may be fined another $2,000, or face a year in jail, or both.
Dave Kerr, vice-commodore of the Cobourg Yacht Club, knows how important it is to abide by the law and says he shakes his head when he hears stories of Canadian pleasure boat skippers trying to sneak in to a U.S. port without checking in with Customs and Immigration. Etched indelibly in his mind, he says, is the image of yellow police crime scene tape wrapped around a Canadian pleasure craft that had been impounded at a New York marina.
'Remember, they're armed'
“You can’t play with these guys,” Kerr told MyNewWaterfrontHome.com. “Remember, they’re armed.”
While an I-68 permit makes it easier to enter the U.S., the permit is good for just a year. So each year you must report in person to obtain a new one, which means a trip to a land-based port-of-entry — such as Buffalo, Detroit or Wellesley Island — prior to your first boat crossing.
To find out at which locations you can obtain an I-68 permit, you can call a service port in:
• Detroit, 313-442-0368
• Buffalo, 716-843-8300, or
• Cleveland, 440-891-3800.
An I-68 permit costs $16 for an individual or $32 for a family, and any child aged 14 or over must have a separate form.
You are not required to get a permit, but it could facilitate those subsequent crossings. According to U.S. regulations, boaters without a permit must call 1-888-523-2628 between half an hour and four hours before their arrival to let the officials know when and where you’ll be arriving, who’s onboard and details of official documents. You’ll be directed to the closest port-of-entry, or a videophone at a public marina for a two-way, audio and visual interview.
When in doubt, carry your passport
In practice, it’s not usually very complicated, says Kerr. He says many pleasure craft skippers without I-68 permits dock at their U.S. port-of-call and contact U.S. officials via the videophones that are installed there. He is asked for his passport information and boat name and registration number, as well as how many others are onboard.
Once he’s been approved for entry, the others may then leave the boat and they, too, must check in through the videophone link.
Kerr says he’s been crossing Lake Ontario since the mid-1980s and he’s learned that as far as documentation goes, “a passport trumps everything.”
When you return to Canada, the boat’s master must go to a designated telephone reporting marine site at the marina and call the Canadian telephone reporting centre at 1-888-226-7277. No one else may leave the boat until authorization is given by Canadian Border Services.
So now you know!