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Old 08-23-2016, 11:52 PM   #1
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Customs problems

My wife and I recently returned from the Gulf Islands of BC to WA State and were met with a threat of $10,000.00 dollar fine and our boat confiscated for "not checking in with customs immediately upon return from a foreign country" from the US customs agent at Friday Harbor.

Obviously there is more to this story. We left Wallace Island with a planned stop at Ganges Island and would make the trip to the San Juan's and customs at Roche Harbor the next morning. Unfortunately Ganges was packed tight so we proceeded Eastward. We hit some weather and outgoing tide which put us coming into Roche in the dark which I chose not to do. We anchored out at Stuart Island after dark and headed for Friday Harbor first thing in the morning. There was no cell service (AT&T).

All was going good until the agent asked when we returned to US waters and I truthfully said "last night at 2100 hours. OMG I think she about had a stroke. We were ordered to go to the office where we waited for over an hour for a decision to be made about our fine and impoundment.

After the decision by her superiors was made we were allowed to leave with a warning citation and a lecture on proper reporting.

What the take home point was, it is a mandate by the US Government for all of us to report entrance either in person to a customs agent, by cell phone, direct line from customs docks or to the US Coast Guard by radio if there is no other alternative.

Has anyone else had similar experiences or am I the only one that did not know the law to the impth degree. I appreciate the job they do but this seemed a little over the top, when I truly believed I had done everything right and safe for my boat and passenger.
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Old 08-24-2016, 12:22 AM   #2
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We went through the Trent Severn Waterway in Canada this summer. Before we left, we researched the reentry requirements. It went OK, except that I had to explain to CBP, how their SVRS program worked since they agents had never used the system. It is your responsibility to know the rules. I found that the agents indeed did everything they could to make it work for us.
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Old 08-24-2016, 12:41 AM   #3
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Yup, that's the rule. As soon as you touch land, including dropping an anchor, you have entered and need to check in immediately. You did the right thing by keeping the boat safe, but should have called the CG via VHF to let them know what you were doing.
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Old 08-24-2016, 12:44 AM   #4
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While its true that ignorance of the law is no excuse, well at least for most of us!, it sounds like a typical case of govt overzealousness, if that is a word. If you were anchored out and didn't go ashore or anything like that, big freaking deal. You did everything else right but conditions dictated a slight deviance from preferred procedure. Pencil pushers. The few CBP folks I have talked to have all been easy to deal with, even at JFK, well mostly anyway. Glad you didn't get fined or worse.
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Old 08-24-2016, 01:10 AM   #5
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That's the law in every country I'm aware of and the USCG was very kind and friendly compared to what many would have done. Try the same in the Bahamas and you will end up paying. In other countries they will be more punitive.
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Old 08-24-2016, 02:41 AM   #6
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First, everyone knows the Friday Harbor Customs people are jerks. Use Roche, they are awesome.

Second, you should have dropped your anchor in the Gulf Islands. Period. Rules are rules, and government bureaucrats live by the rules. No offense, but that isn't the nth degree. It's pretty basic.

Third, it is ridiculous that thousands of illegals cross our Southern border every day, but a law-abiding citizen gets hassled coming home from Canada. But that is the (sad) state of our Union these days.
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Old 08-24-2016, 05:24 AM   #7
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Only time I ran across this was crossing back from Nova Scotia to Maine. Fog and seas were too heavy to continue so we anchored in Maine and called via VHF the Coast Guard. Told them that for the safety of the vessel we had decided to stop.

Right after we lifted anchor at first light we were boarded. We continued on with the Coast Guard boat pacing us. I handled the inspection while the Admiral steered the boat. No problem at all.

Be more careful in the Eastern Caribbean. $500US fines are given out freely for going to shore without having cleared in. Only issue is whether they spot you. Typically a boater can anchor if he arrives late in the day and check in in the morning. That works. Just don't admit to having gone out to dinner.

Friends arrived in St. Lucia from Martinique around 1 pm and didn't feel like checking in that afternoon, but went to dinner. Unfortunately a customs agent saw them at dinner and threw the book at them when they tried to check in the next morning. Passports seized, fines levied etc.
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Old 08-26-2016, 11:59 AM   #8
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We did 2 trips to Canada a year apart and came back into the US once thru Oswego, the next time thru Clayton.
Each procedure was so totally different it could have been a different country.
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Old 08-26-2016, 12:25 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Robster_in_edmonds View Post
First, everyone knows the Friday Harbor Customs people are jerks. Use Roche, they are awesome.

But that is the (sad) state of our Union these days.
Robster, I have found just the opposite. Roche Harbor customs people were jerks to us when we crossed through there.

I agree 100% with your second statement.
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Old 08-26-2016, 12:54 PM   #10
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Well Bob, knowing the rules are the Captain's duty. Quite simply you snuck into the country and were likely assigned a red check mark for your future travels by boat . It is a big deal especially given the numerous illegal related intercepts made by CGs on both sides.

Hopefully others intending cross border travels will learn from this thread.
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Old 08-26-2016, 01:33 PM   #11
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The whole system is a joke!!
We entered from Bahamas to Lauderdale 5 years back. We called Homeland Security by cell phone upon entering US waters and were instructed to show up at the office located at Port Everglades. After mooring we took a taxi to Everglades. The office was so isolated that we required the taxi to wait for us -taxi bill about $50. Upon entering the office we showed our passports and left. Process took 2 minutes and the officer could not have been less interested!! BUT, there could well have been 10 persons on our boat, not just the two of us. We could well have been carrying contraband. Neither actually applied but who knew!! A totally pointless PITA!!
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Old 08-26-2016, 03:46 PM   #12
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We registered with SVRS and it worked well on our return from the Bahamas. One phone call when were within cell range and all was done. When we were getting ready to enter Canada through the Great Lakes, I tried to make a float plan in preparation for returning with SVRS. CBP said they didn't know anything about it and referred me to Homeland Security who didn't know anything about it and referred me to USCG who didn't know anything about it and referred me to CBP... Finally talked with one guy at USCG who said to file the float plan online & all would be good. Returning to US water a few months later we called the SVRS number and they claimed they could find no record of us on their computer and we would have to check in directly at a CBP station. Luckily one was close by and when we checked in they said they didn't trust anyone on SVRS - they felt it was mainly drug runners who used it because an inspection was not required.
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Old 08-26-2016, 03:59 PM   #13
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The whole system is a joke!!
We entered from Bahamas to Lauderdale 5 years back. We called Homeland Security by cell phone upon entering US waters and were instructed to show up at the office located at Port Everglades. After mooring we took a taxi to Everglades. The office was so isolated that we required the taxi to wait for us -taxi bill about $50. Upon entering the office we showed our passports and left. Process took 2 minutes and the officer could not have been less interested!! BUT, there could well have been 10 persons on our boat, not just the two of us. We could well have been carrying contraband. Neither actually applied but who knew!! A totally pointless PITA!!
Don't worry, before long you can dock your boat next to a giant wall at the border and check in.
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Old 08-26-2016, 04:03 PM   #14
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We registered with SVRS and it worked well on our return from the Bahamas. One phone call when were within cell range and all was done. When we were getting ready to enter Canada through the Great Lakes, I tried to make a float plan in preparation for returning with SVRS. CBP said they didn't know anything about it and referred me to Homeland Security who didn't know anything about it and referred me to USCG who didn't know anything about it and referred me to CBP... Finally talked with one guy at USCG who said to file the float plan online & all would be good. Returning to US water a few months later we called the SVRS number and they claimed they could find no record of us on their computer and we would have to check in directly at a CBP station. Luckily one was close by and when we checked in they said they didn't trust anyone on SVRS - they felt it was mainly drug runners who used it because an inspection was not required.
Wifey B: Darn, we're on it and have no drugs. We got cheated. I'll complain to them about that.

SVRS works great in South Florida. Requires educating them a bit on the Great Lakes although we've filed out float plans through it and called. Where did you try to use it that they said all the above? Must have been Michigan. They don't accept SVRS. Did you end up using OARS? For NY it was easy, just calling 1-800-827-2851. We called that number and we were in. Just gave them the float plan number.

Still great for Bahamas as many make day runs. We go back and forth a lot.
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Old 08-26-2016, 04:15 PM   #15
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Wifey B: Our one entry on this trip was complicated by change of persons aboard while in Canada. They ended up ok though. We've encountered that before and in checking out of other countries. It's like, "Where's Carmen?" "Oh we traded her in on Jennifer."
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Old 08-26-2016, 04:23 PM   #16
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Serious question. I came back into the US this summer and checked in at Friday Harbor. I had not gotten the reentry sticker before leaving (I had checked on Canadian rules but not US rules doh!). I told the agent at Friday Harbor and she said "No problem, I'll have you fill out the form and pay when I meet you at the dock". We were the only boat on the customs dock at the time. By the time the agent made it down to the dock 15 minutes later, the dock was packed with boats and there were 3 more waiting to come in. Both the agent and I forget about the reentry sticker. She cleared us to reenter and asked that we move our boat off the dock ASAP.

So, I never paid the US the $25 or $30 reentry fee. I don't mind doing it, I am just not sure of how to go about taking care of it at this. Also, I don't want to have problems with US customs in the future. Any ideas?
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Old 08-26-2016, 04:56 PM   #17
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Crossing into US waters from Mexico gets the same result, at least if you are caught. Boats returning Mexican waters that never touched land (or another vessel) are not required to report, and during fishing season that seems to be the vast majority of boats, and it seems that many don't clear in when they should. The wait can be hours.

One time we were returning from Mexico but by-passed San Diego intending instead to check in at Long Beach. A small USCG vessel intercepted us north of San Diego, apparently randomly but, based on the nature of their questions, I think they had a pretty good idea that we had not only been in Mexican waters but on Mexican land. (It wouldn't be hard to know -- my AIS was transmitting since leaving Ensenada.) Their first question was something like "where are you going" (Long Beach), then "where have you been" (Mexico), "did you clear customs in San Diego" (no), then "Don't you know you are required to -- why didn't you?" Maybe the guy was testing me, but he didn't seem to know that I had the option of clearing in Long Beach (or even Redondo Beach, if my boat would fit on their dock) as long as that was my first port of call. I encouraged him to talk to his commanding officer, instead he let me go with a "warning".
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Old 08-26-2016, 05:14 PM   #18
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So, I never paid the US the $25 or $30 reentry fee. I don't mind doing it, I am just not sure of how to go about taking care of it at this. Also, I don't want to have problems with US customs in the future. Any ideas?
Do it online - https://dtops.cbp.dhs.gov/main/#%20
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Old 08-26-2016, 05:43 PM   #19
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Crossing into US waters from Mexico gets the same result, at least if you are caught. Boats returning Mexican waters that never touched land (or another vessel) are not required to report, and during fishing season that seems to be the vast majority of boats, and it seems that many don't clear in when they should. The wait can be hours.

.
Our only time from Mexico to the US was Cancun to Key West and SVRS worked well for that.

I haven't entered the US from Mexico on the West Coast, but I don't believe San Diego accepts SVRS.
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Old 08-26-2016, 07:17 PM   #20
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NSAIL has it right--purchase the decal for each year in advance, then you don't need to worry about it.

As for the negative comments in this post, people are people and my experience is that you usually find what you expect to find and you either bring out the best or worst in others by your attitude. Your attitude is practically the only thing you really control in this life.

On the topic of checking in or not at Friday or Roche, a few years back there was an impatient boater who tied to the customs dock in Friday Harbor but didn't like the amount of time it was taking, so he cut loose and went to Roche. The customs agents at Friday made note of it and alerted other customs stations. He had already touched US soil at Friday when he docked. When he got to Roche and seeing how busy it was, he and his party decided to anchor and go ashore for lunch. When he and his party got back from lunch, he hoisted anchor and motored over to the customs dock. Anchoring he had touched US soil again. Going ashore he touched it again. When he got to the customs dock, they were waiting for him. A discussion ensued. I think they ultimately let him go.

They're not dummies; they are on watch for illegal activity just like that. They are not soulless bureaucrats. They have a job to do and it's a serious one with serious consequences if they screw up. They are not just keystone cops with attitudes. The rules aren't rocket science and they are in place for a reason and we have to expect that we are expected to follow them. Customs doesn't know you from Adams-off-ox. They don't know if your are entering the country illegally with the intent to do something bad or if you are just another goofball who thinks the rules don't mean what they say.
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