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The Canadian/US Border – A Mariner’s Guide

Micahel Leahy from the excellent Great Lakes Sailing site has written a highly informative mariner’s guide to the Canadian/US border.

  1. Introduction
  2. General Information
  3. Information for Canadians Entering the US
  4. Information for Americans Entering Canada

 

Introduction

For many sailors, a US-Canada border crossing is a technicality in our lives. Canadians and Americans share one of the most successful national ‘friendships’ in the world. We have a common language, shared values, similar traditions and a long history. We work together, play together and, despite rivalries over the Stanley Cup or World Series, when the chips are down, we fight together. When we think about it, maybe when crossing the border to a sports event or a weekend shopping trip, we are mostly concerned about long line-ups or processing times.

But, the US-Canada border is a lot more than a technicality. It is a real, legal and properly policed boundary between two sovereign nations. And, it needs to be treated as such. Each country has detailed, well-established procedures for entering their national territory. The challenge is sorting out all of the information that is floating around out there to ensure that when you cross the border or arrive in either country, you entry is smooth and problem-free.

What this section does is try to clearly outline your duties and responsibilities when undertaking a US Canada border crossing. The information presented here is from the official government agencies of the relevant country. I would strongly urge you to avoid – like the plague – all of the many ‘sea lawyers’ out there who lurk in the many sailing forums and chat rooms. Advice from them is frequently incorrect, based on outdated sources or simply reflective of a political rant.

PLEASE – READ THIS
 

I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. This is my understanding of the regulations as they stand at the time of writing – May, 2012 regarding a US Canada border crossing. The only authoritative sources of information are the official publications of the relevant government border agency. The links in the following articles will take you to pages on those agencies’ websites that I believe will be helpful. However, it is your responsibility to ensure that you are in full compliance with each country’s customs and border regulations. By clicking through to the specific information pages, you acknowledge this.

 

General Information

If you want to truly enjoy all of what the Great Lakes have to offer, US-Canadian border crossings are inevitable. The following information applies generally, regardless of whether you are Canadian or American, leaving or returning to your home country.

Both countries maintain active surveillance on the Great Lakes. In fact, that was a central topic at a recent Maritime Security Conference held in Toronto. I have read remarks in sailing forums that suggest otherwise but common sense says that every country is going to use all methods possible to protect their borders. And this certainly applies to the US Canadian border.

There is a Maritime Security Operations Centre, there is the joint Canada – US ‘Shiprider’ program whereby each country’s patrol vessels have law enforcement officers from the other country on-board to eliminate jurisdiction problems, etc. In all cases, treat it seriously, have your proper paperwork on hand and be prepared to be asked to produce it when required.

Landing

You have ‘landed’ in Canada when you enter Canadian territorial waters. You are not considered to have landed if you are “in transit”, defined as proceeding directly from 1 point outside of Canada to another point outside of Canada in a continuous, uninterrupted passage with no delays or stop-overs. You have ‘landed’ in Canada if you are weaving in and out of Canadian waters, for example if engaged in recreational fishing.

You have ‘landed’ in the United States when your vessel first comes to rest in US waters, whether at anchor, at a dock or beached.

Identification

Never leave home without acceptable identification. I believe that this should always be the case regardless of whether or not you intend on crossing the US Canadian border. You just never know what situations may develop.

The Master of the vessel (usually the owner/operator) is fully responsible for ensuring that there is complete documentation for every person on-board. The preferred piece of identification is a valid passport There are other acceptable forms of identification as well. For Canadians, some of these would include an enhanced driver’s license, a NEXUS Card, a Permanent Resident Card or a Secure Certificate of Indian Status. For Americans, in addition to a valid passport or secure or enhanced driver’s license, other acceptable identification would include a U.S. Passport Card, a NEXUS Card or a FAST Card.

If you have minor children on-board, you should be aware that with any US Canadian border crossing, customs and border officers are particularly vigilant because of the problems of missing children, runaways, parental kidnappings and human trafficking. Ensure you have proper documentation.

Documentation

It important to carry the ownership and insurance documentation of your vessel. If you have prescription medications in your medical kit, make sure you have copies of the prescriptions to match them.

These documents can be carried in a waterproof case, available for inspection upon request. As Master, you are responsible for this. As a parent, you will likely have to organize it all for your family yourself anyways. However, if you have guests on-board and plan to enter another country, it is only prudent to ask to see each person’s documentation – I would hate to sail across one of the Great Lakes only to be turned back because someone didn’t have their documents. Or worse, be accused of attempting something illegal and having my boat seized. It does happen and I suspect the expensive taxi ride home would be an unhappy trip as you contemplate what you have lost.

Items on board

Know what you have on-board. Normal consumables are no problem. However, customs and border authorities are concerned with smuggling which is alive and well on the Great Lakes. With reference to Canada, there are specific prohibitions on bringing certain firearms into the country. Nothing will slow down your entry into Canada as much as discovering that your guest has slipped a hand cannon into the bottom of his or her duffel bag.

Each country has reporting requirements for large amounts of currency (CAN$10,000 and US$10,000). Failure to declare such amount can result in penalties including seizure of the money and possibly seizure of the boat. The best advice is to bring what you need and no more. Use a bank card as ATM machines are common. The Port Reviews list, where possible, the closest ATM to the harbour.

Both countries have stringent laws regarding illegal drugs. Again, as Master, it is your responsibility to ensure that everyone on-board is in compliance with the law. Take no chances here. Personally, I have no problems speaking to a guest directly about this and, if I have any concerns at all, asking to see their kit. After all, its my boat on the line – and yours too! That said, seizure of your boat will be among the least of your problems if illegal drugs are found on-board.

The purpose of these general remarks is just to have you think about some of the other issues involved when you begin to plan a cross-border adventure. US Canadian border crossings are not difficult or stressful – if you come prepared.

 

What Every CANADIAN Needs To Know About Crossing The Canada US Border

ENTERING THE UNITED STATES

As a Canadian citizen, when you cross the Canada US border, you must report to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) for inspection.

You arrive in the United States when your vessel first comes to rest in US waters, whether at anchor or at a dock. You would also be considered to have arrived in the United States if you had contact with another foreign vessel or a vessel entering US waters from foreign waters.

DOCUMENTS

When you cross the Canada US border, you must have documents that are Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative – compliant. These would include avalid passport, Enhanced Drivers License, NEXUS./ SENTRI / FAST / Card.

If you are a Canadian citizen entering the United States by pleasure boat, you will need the following documentation:

For each person on board:

  • Name
  • Date of Birth
  • Passport, NEXUS, FAST card, Enhanced Drivers Licence or Secure Certificate of Indian Status
  • Boat Registration or licence number
  • Boat name
  • Boat length
  • CBP decal number for vessels 30+ feet
  • Dinghy licence and papers
  • Copies of prescriptions for any prescription medication
  • Value of any declarable merchandise
  • U.S. marina at which you arrived or will be arriving

MINOR CHILDREN

 

Parents who share custody of their children should carry copies of the legal custody documents. It is also recommended that they have a consent letter from the other custodial parent to take the child on a trip across the Canada US border. The parents’ full name, address and telephone number should be included in the consent letter. Although not necessary, the letter could be notarized to confirm its validity.

Adults who are not parents or guardians should have written permission from the parents or guardians to cross the Canada US border and to supervise the children. The consent letter should include addresses and telephone numbers where the parents or guardian can be reached.

CBP officers watch for missing children and may ask detailed questions about the children who are travelling with you.

REPORTING PROCEDURES

When you cross the Canada US border and arrive in the United States, Customs and Border Protection clearance may be obtained by one ofthree methods listed below:

1) Be in possession of a pre-approved Form I-68 or NEXUS/SENTRI/FAST member card, and call one of the following numbers to report your arrival up to 4 hours in advance;

  • Minnesota/North Dakota: 1-800-505-8381
  • Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula: 1-906-632-2631
  • Port Huron area: 1-810-985-9541 ext. 235
  • Detroit area: 1-313-393-3793 or 1-313-393-3949
  • Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Duluth, MN: 1-888-523-BOAT (2628)
  • New York State: 1-800-827-2851

 

Only the Master or designee may go ashore to report the arrival to CBP either in person or if participating in the I-68 or NEXUS/SENTRI/FAST programs, by telephone. No other person may leave or board the boat and no baggage or merchandise may be removed or loaded until the report of arrival is made and release granted by a CBP officer. Each crew¬member and passenger must also be in possession of an I-68 or NEXUS or SENTRI or FAST card to qualify for phone-in reporting.

-OR-

2) Utilize a CBP Videophone inspection station located in the following;

  • In MICHIGAN: Mackinac Island
  • In OHIO: Put-in-Bay (Bass Island), Cedar Point Marina, Brands Marina (Port Clinton), East 55th Street (Cleveland), Lagoons Marina (Mentor), Chagrin Yacht Club (Eastlake), Grand River marina (Fairport), Ashtabula Public Dock.
  • In ERIE, PA: Presque Isle, Dobbins Landing, Perry’s Landing, Lampe Marina.
  • In NEW YORK: Dunkirk, Erie Basin Marina (Buffalo), North Tonawanda, Youngstown, Wilson, Olcott, Point Breeze, Rochester, Sodus Point, Oswego, Sackets Harbor, Clayton, Alexandria Bay, Morristown, Ogdensburg, and Waddington.

 

If using a Videophone station to report your arrival, all passengers and crew must report to the videophone for inspection with your identity and citizenship documents ready for presentation. Have a pencil and paper ready to record your inspection receipt number, which the Officer will give you upon completion of your inspection. This is an eighteen digit number and must be provided to Border Patrol Agents or other Law Enforcement officers when requested.

-OR-

3) Report in person for inspection to the nearest open marine Port of Entry during the established hours. The following are designated ports of entry;

  • Milwaukee, WI (414) 486-7790
  • Chicago, IL (312) 296-6534
  • Duluth, MN (218) 720-5203
  • Baudette, MN (218) 634-2803
  • Crane Lake, MN (218) 993-2321
  • Sault Ste. Marie, MI (906) 632-7221 or (906) 632-2631
  • Port Huron, MI (810) 985-9541 ext.235
  • Detroit, MI (313) 393-3949
  • Toledo, OH (419) 259- 6424
  • Sandusky, OH (419) 625 – 0022
  • Cleveland, OH (216) 267 – 3600
  • Erie, PA (814) 833 – 1355
  • Buffalo, NY (716) 881-4447
  • Niagara Falls, NY (716) 282-3141
  • Lewiston, NY (716) 285-1676
  • Rochester, NY (585) 263-6293
  • Alexandria Bay, NY (315) 482-2065
  • Ogdensburg, NY (315) 393-1390
  • Massena, NY (315) 764-0677
  • Champlain, NY (518) 298-8346

 

After crossing the Canada US border, if you arrive at a marine Port of Entry after the normal business hours of a port, you must telephone the CBP to report. A CBP officer will provide further instructions regarding reporting and entry processing.

INFORMATION NEEDED

The following information must be available when reporting:

 

  • Name, Date of Birth & Citizenship of Master (with supporting documentation
  • Name of Boat
  • Boat Registration or Licence Number
  • U.S. Decal Number (if 30 feet or longer)
  • Name, Date of Birth, Citizenship of all passengers with supporting documentation
  • Home port
  • Current location

Here is a link to the US Department of Homeland Security that will give you additional information on crossing the Canada US border

Extended Visits

Canadians who enter the United States by boat are required to re-report into CBP every 72 hours until they leave United States waters.

 


RETURNING TO CANADA

If you have left Canadian waters and landed in the United States (i.e. docked or anchored in American waters), you are required to report to a CBSA-designated marine reporting site. Upon arrival at a CBSA-designated marine reporting site, call the Telephone Reporting Centre (TRC) at 1-888-226-7277 from the phone provided to obtain clearance.

If you have left Canadian waters and entered U.S waters but not landed in the United States (i.e. not docked or not anchored), you must still report in. You can contact the CBSA by calling the TRC at 1-888-226-7277 from your cellular telephone upon arrival back into Canadian waters.

 

What Every AMERICAN Sailor Needs to Know About Entering Canada

ENTERING CANADA

As an American citizen, you must report to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) for inspection upon entering Canadian waters.

Entering Canada occurs when you cross the international boundary and enter Canadian waters. This is different from the US regulations which require you to report when your vessel first comes to rest in US waters, whether at anchor or at a dock.

This reporting requirement applies whether you land (ie dock), anchor or enter a river or canal system.

It applies if you are ‘weaving’ in and out of Canadian waters – for example while engaged in recreational fishing.

The only exception is if you are “in transit”, defined as proceeding directly from 1 point outside of Canada to another point outside of Canada in a continuous, uninterrupted passage with no delays or stop-overs. This is not considered to be entering Canada.

Here are the various situations which you may encounter entering Canada:

A) If you have left the United States and landed on Canadian soil (eg – docked at your favourite yacht club or marina), you must report to a CBSA marine reporting site and then call the Telephone Reporting Centre (TRC) at 1888-226-7277 (1-888 CANPASS), using the telephone reserved for this, to obtain clearance. Only the Master may leave the vessel to carry out this reporting procedure. Neither passengers nor goods may leave the vessel until it has been cleared into Canada.

B) If you are entering Canadian waters but do not land on Canadian soil, you still must report to CBSA. However, you can use your cell phone to call the TRC (1-888-226-7277 / 1888-CANPASS).

If you change your mind and decide you want to land on Canadian soil, even though you reported in by cell phone upon entering Canada, you must still report to a CBSA marine reporting site and then call the Telephone Reporting Centre (TRC) at 1888-226-7277 (1-888 CANPASS) ,using the telephone reserved for this, to obtain clearance. Only the Master may leave the vessel to carry out this reporting procedure. Neither passengers nor goods may leave the vessel until it has been cleared into Canada.

If you are entering Canadian waters with no intention to land on Canadian soil and do not have a cell phone to call in, you must report to a CBSA marine reporting site and then call the Telephone Reporting Centre (TRC) at 1888-226-7277 (1-888 CANPASS),using the telephone reserved for this, to obtain clearance. Only the Master may leave the vessel to carry out this reporting procedure. Neither passengers nor goods may leave the vessel until it has been cleared into Canada.

C) If you are ‘weaving’ in and out of Canadian waters (not in transit, as defined above) you must call the TRC (1-888-226-7277 / 1-888-CANPASS) upon first entering Canada to obtain clearance. However, you only have to do this the first time you enter Canadian waters.

When you call the TRC, expect a series of questions about the purpose of your trip, about yourself and any passengers, your vessel and any goods being declared. Keep your answers direct, to the point and professional. The CBSA officer will determine if any further inspection is required. If not, you will be given a clearance number. This number is your release and approval to enter Canada. Have a pen and paper ready to record it – preferably in your ship’s log. You will need it at hand throughout your stay in Canada.

If the CBSA officer decides that a further inspection is required, the Master will be ordered to ensure that all passengers and goods remain on board until an inspection team arrives.

DOCUMENTS

If you are a citizen of the United States, you do not need a passport to enter Canada. The preferred identification document is the NEXUS Card. It will allow for remote clearing. To use it, ALL persons on board must have a NEXUS card. Otherwise, entry must be done in person at a designated port of entry.

You and all on board, should always carry proof of your citizenship, such as a passport, birth certificate, certificate of citizenship or naturalization, as well as photo identification.

MINOR CHILDREN

Parents who share custody of their children should carry copies of the legal custody documents. It is also recommended that they have a consent letter from the other custodial parent to take the child on a trip out of the country. The parents’ full name, address and telephone number should be included in the consent letter. Although not necessary, the letter could be notarized to confirm its validity.

Adults who are not parents or guardians should have written permission from the parents or guardians to be entering Canada with them and to supervise the children. The consent letter should include addresses and telephone numbers where the parents or guardian can be reached.

CBSA officers watch for missing children and may ask detailed questions about the children who are traveling with you.


RETURNING TO THE UNITED STATES

The Master of any American pleasure boat must report to Customs immediately after arriving into the US from a foreign port or place and must also report any foreign merchandise on his boat that is subject to duty. The report may be made by any means of communication and should include the name of the boat, its nationality, name of the master, place of docking and arrival time. If an inspection is required, the Customs officer will direct the vessel to an inspection area.

Here is a link to the Canadian Border Services Agency that will give you additional information on entering Canada.

This link to CBSA will give you the location of all telephone reporting sitesin Ontario.

 

 

5 thoughts on “The Canadian/US Border – A Mariner’s Guide

  1. What does comes to rest mean in reference to entering the US? If I’m sailing along in Canada and I bump across that imaginary line but keep on sailing and still end up in Canada at the end of the day that’s not really coming to rest… am i still required to call into the US customs and then again to canada border services?

    1. No, sailing across the line does not mean you have to report to CBP. If you happen to touch foreign land, or a hovering vessel, then you are required to report.

  2. Hello,
    I am planning on buying a sailboat from a canadian marina located close to the U.S border. The saleman explains that if I purchase the boat in Canada, but then cross to the U.S and use it there for 6 months, I do not have to pay taxes (either canadian or american).
    I understand that this practice is legal/tolerated in Canada, but can U.S customs charge me user tax?

    1. Your salesman is telling a half-truth, while withholding valuable information you need to know. The simple truth is, you buying it as easy as him selling it to you, depending on what you are willing to believe.

      Your two most important decisions are:

      1. Where will you be registering it? You didn’t say.

      Yes, buying it in one country while registering it in another has serious monetary benefits. So, the true half is, if your intention is to buy it in Canada and register it in the US, you won’t have to pay US nor Canadian taxes while it is in Canada. This means you will have a ‘free tax ride’ …for the 6 months you are there. (Canada has the same reciprocal regulations.)

      Yanick, where you register your boat is far more important than where you bought it. But since you didn’t say where you would be registering it, here’s three scenarios:

      Scenario 1: If you buy a boat in Canada and register it there, you owe that country’s taxes at the time of registry, and it doesn’t matter if the boat is only there for a minute. You cannot ‘jump’ a border. Therefore, what he said isn’t exactly correct.

      Scenario 2: If you buy the boat in Canada but register it in the US, indeed, you can avoid taxes on your US registered boat, …..AS LONG AS YOU NEVER TAKE YOUR BOAT INTO THE COUNTRY YOU REGISTERED IT IN.

      Scenario 3: You buy a boat in Canada, register it in the US, and sail it everywhere but into the US. This is the only way you will avoid paying taxes on the boat …forever.

      Personally, that’s a pretty important piece of information to withhold.

      This leads to Question 2.

      2. Where do you plan to take the boat after the 6 months has expired? The moment you take a US (or Canadian) registered boat into the boat’s registered country, all the taxes (and duty) must be paid upon entry, as based on the value of the boat at time of entry. This should your biggest consideration, because it could cost you far more in the long run.

      More importantly, if a boat is registered in one state (or country), after a certain period of time (some are 45 days, some are 90, some are 12 months), the boat must either leave or change it’s state or country of registry. Even though you bought it years before, you will be charged taxes and fees based on the current assessed value.

      Worse yet, it won’t matter if the current registration still has months left on it; those ‘new’ taxes must be paid or they will likely take your boat. That means you could be paying taxes on it more than once.

      Bottom line: As long as you will be border hopping, I would register the boat and pay the taxes where it was the least expensive.

      As to your 6 month stay, whether you are a US citizen or foreigner, any foreign registered vessel is allowed to stay in US for up to 12 months from the date of check in. After 12 months, the boat has to leave for a minimum of 15 days before you can return for another 12 months.

      That said, visitors to Canada have varying requirements for the length of their stay, and need to check with the border agent to find out how long they are allowed. Most visitors are allowed to stay 6 months, and can apply for a 30 day extension. The same would apply to your boat.

      Good luck, and happy sailing!

  3. If I cross the border to the U.S. fishing. Then return do I have to report in? Even if I don’t touch land.

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