Boating and the US/Canada Border

BSomers - July 9, 2017




for Boats in the U.S. & Canada

U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Canada Border Services Agency



Update as of July 2017:

Recent legislation by the Canadian Federal Government has caused updates to the reporting requirements for both visiting and Canadian boaters.

If you are the owner/operator of a private vessel carrying 29 people or less you are exempted from reporting to Canadian Border Service Agency when you are crossing the Border if you meet the specified requirements.

Reporting Exemptions

If you are visiting Canada, you are not required to report to the CBSA if you:

  • do not land on Canadian soil and do not anchor, moor or make contact with another conveyance while in Canadian waters, and
  • do not embark or disembark people or goods in Canada.

If you are returning to Canada, you are not required to report to the CBSA if you:

  • did not land outside Canada and did not anchor, moor or make contact with another conveyance while outside of Canadian waters, and
  • did not embark or disembark any people or goods while outside Canada

Review the CBSA Reporting Requirements for Private Boaters:



This document has not been reviewed by US CBP OR CanBSA.  It represents a summary of a presentation made by representatives of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (US CBP) and the Canada Border Services Agency (CanBSA) at the Windsor Yacht Club on Wednesday, March 20, 2013. It was titled Boating and the Border.

The representatives from the US CBP were from the Detroit Sector. The CanBSA representatives came from Windsor. You must be prepared to encounter different interpretations of the regulations on a regional basis.

Also realize the answers given by these officers reflect their beliefs concerning the rules they are charged to enforce and our interpretation of their statements. We should all be prepared to encounter an authority whose beliefs may not completely jibe with these.

Recently it appeared that CanBSA had escalated the reporting requirements for private boats operating in the vicinity of the Canada US border. However, in a conversation with a CanBSA representative, I was informed that the body of the current Canadian Regulations have actually been on the books for several years. Recent modifications have been made, such as the ability to use a cell phone to report in, making it more reasonable to expect compliance with these regulations. The current effort at educating the boating public is an attempt to “promote compliance”.

Be aware Customs considers all water vehicles to be governed by these regulations. This includes vessels such as Sea Dos, Kayaks and fishing boats.

Source information is available at these government web sites.

US Customs and Border Protection:

US CBP web page specifying Pleasure Boat Reporting requirements.

Canadian Border Services Agency:

CanBSA Reporting Requirements for Private Boaters:

CanBSA Disagreements, reviews and appeals:

The Shiprider program is at:

Importing or Traveling with pets in Canada:


Abbreviations used herein:

US Customs and Border Protection- US CBP

Canadian Border Services Agency – CanBSA

Telephone Reporting Center-TRC


Reporting Requirements in the UNITED STATES


1.   Overview

The reporting requirements for landing a vessel in the United States have not changed (as of April 2013).

The key to facilitating a “hassle free” entry into the United States is having appropriate documentation.

The preferred documentation for landing a vessel in the United States is a Nexus card or an I-68 form. These documents allow for remote clearing of the vessel and all passengers. Remote clearing can only take place if ALL passengers on the vessel have this documentation.

Nexus provides the opportunity to report in by phoning in up to four hours ahead of landing. The I-68 also provides the opportunity to report in advance by phoning in up to one hour before landing. Precise information as to the place of landing and the time of landing must be given if an advance report is made.

To further facilitate expedient clearing, a BR number (Boater’s Registration Number) is encouraged for each person who regularly and routinely crosses the border by boat. The BR number allows all information embedded in the Nexus registration to be available to the US CBP Officer and eliminates the need to repeat and record all such information on the phone in report. A couple of simple key questions may be asked to confirm identity.

In the absence of these documents, a Passport is required. However, utilization of a Passport creates an absolute requirement that the individual (and therefore the vessel and all other passengers) be inspected face to face. This could cause significant delay in clearing because the dispatching of officers is subject to their availability. As well, you could be directed to report in person rather than having officers dispatched to the vessel. If you are directed to report, you must do so over land as you have already “landed”. The cost of doing so (cab fare etc.) could be prohibitive.

Note: Officers may exercise discretion based on all circumstances and take a phone check in.  One of those circumstances is the availability of staff to dispatch to the landing point. It would be recommended to establish this in advance.

Certain jurisdictions may have video telephones to facilitate reporting but this should not be counted upon.

As such, all persons on a vessel landing in the United States are encouraged to have an I-68 or Nexus.

All vessels over 30 feet must also have a USER FEE DECAL. They are good for one year and can be ordered.


2.   Reporting Requirements in U.S.

You must report to US CBP if you:

  1. Have arrived or returned from a “foreign location” (meaning that, as a foreigner, you have landed your vessel at a U.S. port and/or have contacted U.S. soil, or as a U.S. resident, you have returned from landing on foreign soil).
  2. Had contact with a foreign vessel or any vessel returning from a foreign location; or
  3. Received merchandise outside U.S. territorial waters (which generally and inherently requires that one of the two foregoing parameters have been met).

For Canadian boaters, just because you have crossed into U.S. waters and may be obliged to report to CanBSA on your return to Canadian waters, this does not create a reporting requirement to the US CBP when you cross into U.S. waters. (Assuming you do not otherwise fulfill any US requirement to report to US CBP.)

For US boaters if you cross into Canadian waters and are required to contact CanBSA there is no requirement to report to US CBP upon returning to US waters unless you fulfill one of the US requirements for reporting to US CBP.

For your assistance, a schedule of U.S. reporting phone numbers for Michigan are listed at the end.


3.   US Penalties

Often times for a first offence, a warning will be given. However, given the gravity of the situation, an initial contravention could result in a fine which, if levied, now carries a minimum of $5,000.00.

Additionally you could be stripped of your Nexus or I-68 privileges.

Second offences carry a $10,000.00 minimum fine, and at that time the vessel is subject to seizure. Incarceration is also possible.


4.   Canadian Extended Visits to U.S. via Vessel

Canadians who have crossed into the United States by a vessel are required to re-report into US CBP every 72 hours if they have not left the country.

Note: This was stated by officers from the Detroit sector during the Windsor seminar (Mar 2013). Phone conversations with two different Field officers from the Detroit area confirmed this requirement.

Outside the Detroit area I would recommend calling in every 72 hours unless you have checked before and this is not required in the area you are visiting, or, on the initial report, have been advised that this procedure need not be followed.


Reporting Requirements in CANADA


1.   Overview

The key again is having appropriate documentation to facilitate a hassle free report.

Again the Nexus is the preferred document and offers remote clearing.

Passports and other Canadian identity documents (such as an Enhanced Drivers License) will require a face to face inspection. This can cause substantial delay and further you can be directed to report at a specific port.


2.   Reporting Requirements

Canada requires a report to be made any time a vessel enters into Canadian waters from foreign waters.

The Canadian reporting system is a centralized system (the “TRC” administered out of Hamilton, Ontario) and the phone number for reporting is 1-888-226-7277 (1-888-CAN-PASS). Or 905-679-2073 (long distance charges may apply).

  1. For Canadians

July 2017 Exemption

If you are returning to Canada, you are not required to report to the CBSA if you:

  • did not land outside Canada and did not anchor, moor or make contact with another conveyance while outside of Canadian waters, and
  • did not embark or disembark any people or goods while outside Canada.

If you are returning from having landed in the US you are required to report by phone from a designated marine reporting site. If you had not landed in the US, and everyone on board was Canadian citizens and permanent residents, you should have the option of calling from your cell phone at the point where you entered Canadian waters.

Boats that are travelling along the international border and may cross and return multiple times on that voyage need only report once, on their initial entry into Canadian waters, in that particular journey.

The “in-transit exception” – discussed below, does not apply to Canadian vessels in any manner.

  1. For Visitors

July 2017 Exemption

If you are visiting Canada, you are not required to report to the CBSA if you:

  • do not land on Canadian soil and do not anchor, moor or make contact with another conveyance while in Canadian waters, and
  • do not embark or disembark people or goods in Canada.

Any U.S. boat entering Canadian waters has a duty to report with the exception that “boats in transit” do not have to report. If you intend to land you are required to report to a CanBSA designated marine reporting site and call the TRC from the phone provided to obtain clearance.

The “boats in transit” exception only applies if a U.S. vessel is traveling from point to point in the U.S. and its starting point and its destination point are different. The trip must be continuous, un-interrupted and without delays or stopovers. If a U.S. boat leaves a US port, crosses into Canadian waters and intends to immediately return to its U.S. port of origin, the “in transit” exception does not apply and the boat has a requirement to report.

In all cases, this “deemed landing” by crossing the international border on the water (unless the “in transit” exception applies), means that all persons on the vessel are subject to the usual border crossing and landing requirements. This includes laws governing the reporting of goods purchased or acquired outside of the country (including alcohol and tobacco), the carrying of firearms (which is generally prohibited in Canada) and the carrying of cash or negotiable securities in a value of $10,000.00 or more.

Private boaters that are strictly weaving in and out of Canadian waters but are not in transit, are required to call the TRC only once at the time of their initial entry into Canadian waters.

Your report can be made by cell phone. If you are without a cell phone you must proceed to a CanBSA designated marine telephone reporting site and place a call to the TRC to obtain clearance.

If this activity changes, i.e., the vessel docks in Canada or takes on new persons or goods while in foreign waters, the boaters must report to a CanBSA designated marine reporting site and call the TRC to obtain clearance.

3.   Canadian Penalties

The first offense carries a $1,000.00 minimum fine.

Second and subsequent offenses will trigger escalations in fines and depending on the nature of the contravention could result in seizure of the boat or incarceration or both.


4.   Practical Considerations regarding changes to Canadian Reporting  Requirements

Attendees at the meeting expressed great concern that these policy changes would:


  1. Complicate general recreational activities such as regular sailboat racing (for example from the Windsor Yacht Club every Wednesday night). The nature of sailboats which tack and jibe is such that it is unlikely that they could ever depart a border facility (like the Windsor Yacht Club) without crossing the international boarder and creating a reporting requirement. CBSA officers indicated that “pre-clearances” could be obtained provided that the vessel and all passengers were properly reported and all passengers carried the proper documentation. 


The whole season of racing could be reported and cleared in advance, subject to the caveat that each and every boat registered participated, and the crew on each and every boat remained unchanged throughout the racing season without creating a new reporting requirement (an impractical exception).


  1. The Canadian Government has spent a great deal of time, energy and money promoting tourism through transient boating which would likely be thoroughly discouraged by this new reporting requirement. Many of the attendees at the meeting have American boating friends who have expressed great concern about these reporting requirements and have indicated that they will necessarily have to significantly reduce or suspend their boating experience in Canada. The only thing that was offered in response by the attending officers was the “in transit exception”.


Policing and the Border Seminar - Windsor Yacht Club March 27, 2013


Canadian law enforcement officials showed up to explain their involvement and their mandate. This included the Windsor Police (local), the Ontario Provincial Police (Provincial) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP – Federal).

The RCMP is embarking on the “Shiprider program” in conjunction with the U.S. Coast Guard which will involve officials from both countries crewing on the vessels of both countries. This is designed to facilitate cross border pursuit in the event of policing and enforcement issues. The Senior Canadian Officer would be in charge when the vessel is in Canadian waters (regardless of the flag of the vessel) and the Senior U.S. Officer would be in charge if the vessel is in U.S. waters (regardless of the flag of the vessel). Their primary focus is security of country, terrorism, human smuggling, unlawful possession and trafficking in drugs and firearms and general safety on the water.


The Windsor Police and the OPP both expressed the primacy of their mandate as being safety on the waters. As such, the rather blunt suggestion was that the primary mandate of the Canadian police forces policing the Canadian waters did not involve enforcing reporting requirements.  The suggestion was that these requirements would only be enforced in companion with other more serious safety violations or criminal violations observed by Canadian law enforcement officers on the water. Simply put, the representatives of all these police forces indicate that they simply do not have the manpower to attempt to enforce the reporting requirements as primary charges. Nonetheless, they all urge compliance.

Note that Canada Border Patrol currently has no dedicated vessels locally in the Windsor/Detroit area.


One other point of interest, in the Detroit/Windsor area and possibly along other Canadian waterways, you may see new speed limit signs. They are in kilometers per hour.

The correct speed in reduced speed zones is 5 Knots, however Canadian law requires posting in metric and requires speed on the water to be posted at the equivalent of speed over land. (5 knots works out to 9.3 kph). The signs will not show the decimal, and you will start to see 9 kph posted in speed zones.

kph = kilometers per hour


Michigan Ports

Reporting Procedures:

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

Detroit Area: 1-313-393-3793 or 1-313-393-3949

Port Huron Area: 1-810-385-3541 ext. 235

Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula: 1-906-632-2631


2. Utilize a CBP Videophone inspection station located at Mackinac Island


3. Report in-person for inspection to the nearest open Port of Entry during the established hours listed below. For the 2013 boating season these are:

Detroit Area: Call 1-313-393-3949 fro permission and instructions to report to St. Clair, Detroit, or Trenton.

Port Huron Area: Call 1-810-985-3541 ext. 235 to report to Lexington, Port Huron, or Algonac.

Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula: Call 1-906-632-7221 or 1-906-632-2631 to report to Sault Ste. Marie (12:00 PM to 8:00 PM), Drummond Island, or Roger City.

JensenNR's picture

I see in the news reports that the US Government wants to study a fee for crossing its northern border, and wonder if it eventually will trickle down to also be imposed every time a recreational boat gets processed. It is something to watch.

BSomers's picture


When you called the Telephone Reporting Centre (TRC) were you returning from having landed in the US or had you just crossed the Border back into Canadian waters and had not landed in the US? If you are returning from having landed in the US you are required to report by phone from a designated marine reporting site. If you had not landed in the US, and everyone on board was Canadian citizens and permanent residents, you should have had the option of calling from your cell phone at the point where you entered Canadian waters.

danielsharp's picture


We crossed the canadian border on Sat May 18, I called them on my cell as you suggested and and was told in no uncertain terms that this was unacceptable. I was to immediately proceed to a proper point of entry and call on the pay phone provided.

Daniel Sharp Port Captain Sault Ste. Marie, On

kellett1's picture

My family visited Thunder Bay last August (2012). Upon arrival I went to the marina office and phoned Canadian Customs. I was asked the nature of our visit, how many were on board, how long we were going to be in Canada and whether we had any alcohol or firearms. The whole process took about 10 minutes and the Customs Agent was very polite. Weather extended our visit another day and I called again and that took about 3 minutes. Once back in US waters (Grand Marais, MN) we were boarded, passports and boat were inspected and told to go on line and purchase the decal. Very easy.

Scott Kellett

Glider's picture

I used this program last year and it worked fine. Be sure to inform the CBP that your are reporting under the SVRS program as they will not find you just using NEXUS. The float plan requirement can be simplified by just filing a Canadian destination and an estimated US return date and port.

eemahoney's picture

I filed for the SVRS, I will advise if it seems to change anything. I did this because I do some Florida Boating, and occasionally return from the Bahamas. SVRS is applicable to Florida, the I-68 is Canada to US only. I would expect that SVRS will not get much activity on the Great Lakes, the interview process is the same as the I-68, or the Global Entry Trusted Traveler Program. One Benefit is it is free if you have an I-68 or Global Entry.

BSomers's picture

To my knowledge there was no comment on it at the Seminars. I downloaded the enrollment form last year. The information required seemed to be the same as we had already given out to get our Boating Registration number (BR number) a few years earlier so I didn't pursue it.
You will see that the US CBP did refer to the BR number during the seminar.

JensenNR's picture

Hi Brad,

Thank you so much for posting this information. It's very helpful. Was any mention made of the US' Small Vessel Reporting System (SVRS)?

All the best.