REPORTING REQUIREMENTS for small vessels (private boats) in the U.S. & Canada… Great Lakes Region
As reported by Brad Somers, Rear Commodore (Ret)
This document has not been reviewed by US Customs and Border Protection OR Canadian Border Services Agency.
The primary focus of this information is private vessels operating between Ports in the Great Lakes Region. While these regulations undoubtable apply for other areas there may also be additional requirement when operating beyond the Great Lakes.
Be aware Customs considers all water vehicles to be governed by these regulations. This includes vessels such as Sea Dos, Kayaks and fishing boats.
It is assumed that operators and passengers are Canadian or US Citizens, or Permanent Residents of Canada or the US. Note; Permanent Residents of Canada should be prepared to prove their citizenship since your visa privileges are dependent on your Citizenship not your residency status.
If you are going to be operating a vessel in foreign waters, for example a Canadian vessel on a sightseeing trip that crosses into US territorial waters, with no intention of landing or satisfying any of the requirements that would normally require you to report into customs, could still be stopped by a patrol vessel and inspected. It is a good idea to have documentation supporting the citizenship of those on board and the ownership of your vessel at all times.
Also, be prepared for regional “variations” or interpretation of rules. Different Regions may choose to interpret regulations and requirements differently, to address regional issues.
Source information is available at these government web sites.
Both US and Canadian Governments have made great strides in providing information on the internet. Some of these sites are listed below and will also be highlighted throughout this document.
US Customs and Border Protection: www.cbp.gov
US CBP web page specifying Pleasure Boat Reporting requirements. http://www.cbp.gov/travel/pleasure-boats-private-flyers
Canadian Border Services Agency: www.cbsa.gc.ca
CBSA Reporting Requirements for Private Boaters: http://www.cbsa.gc.ca/travel-voyage/pb-pp-eng.html
CBSA Disagreements, reviews and appeals: http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/recourse-recours/menu-eng.html
The Shiprider program is at: http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/ibet-eipf/shiprider-eng.htm
Importing or Traveling with pets in Canada: http://www.inspection.gc.ca/animals/terrestrial-animals/imports/policies/live-animals/pets/eng/1326600389775/1326600500578
Abbreviations used herein:
US Customs and Border Protection- CBP
Canadian Border Services Agency – CBSA
Telephone Reporting Center-TRC
Alternative Inspection System – AIS
Trusted Traveler Program – TTP
Reporting Requirements in the UNITED STATES
Reference web site; https://www.cbp.gov/travel/pleasure-boats-private-flyers/pleasure-boat-overview
All vessels over 30 feet must have a USER FEE DECAL. They are good for one year and can be ordered. https://dtops.cbp.dhs.gov/main/#
If you are a new boater or are heading into an area you are unfamiliar with it can be helpful to refer to CBP website Pleasure Boat Locations; https://www.cbp.gov/travel/pleasure-boats-private-flyers/pleasure-boat-locations. You will be able find ports of entry and what Alternative Inspection System they participate in. Also, phone numbers are available to get local information.
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 or I-68 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.
BR numbers can currently be obtained as part of the process when applying for an I-68 or a Nexus card. Just ask to be included in the program during your interview. Also, as part of the process for registering in the Small Vessel Reporting System you will receive a BR number along with your password to access the system.
US reporting requirements:
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 their arrival to CBP immediately.
Unless you are participating in one of the Alternate Inspection Systems (AIS) you must be prepared to present yourself, the vessel and all passengers for a face-to-face inspection.
Alternate Inspection System
Participation in an AIS does not a guarantee that you will receive remote clearance. Granting entry remains up to the discretion of the interviewing officer.
Currently 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.
Note: Remote clearing for any AIS can only take place if ALL passengers on the vessel have this documentation.
This year CBP is in the process of implementing a new reporting system called ROAM, for “Reporting Offsite Arrival-Mobile”). This system will utilize a mobile APP which is available on iOS and Android. Search under ‘CBP Roam’.
Information on the ROAM app is at; https://www.cbp.gov/travel/pleasure-boats-private-flyers/pleasure-boat-overview/roam
Note; one of the requirements for setting up a ROAM account is having a login.gov account. You can create an account at; https://login.gov/ This is a separate site from CBP Decal program or the Trusted Traveler Program sites.
Note: Port Information and contact numbers for ports of entry are available on the interactive site: https://www.cbp.gov/travel/pleasure-boats-private-flyers/pleasure-boat-locations
Nexus remains the gold standard for travel program inclusion. There web site is at: https://www.cbp.gov/travel/pleasure-boats-private-flyers/cbbl Information on obtaining the card is along the menu on the left side of the page.
Nexus provides the opportunity to report in by phone up to four hours prior to your planned arrival, but no less than 30 minutes prior to landing.
The I-68 also provides the opportunity to report in by phone for US citizens and non-US citizens along the US Border with Canada. Persons who are not U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents of the United States may use Form I-68 for visits not to exceed 72 hours and to visit within 25 miles of the shoreline.
Link to I-68 website; https://www.cbp.gov/travel/pleasure-boats-private-flyers/cbbl
The OARS system (Outlying Area Reporting System) allows checking in at selected locations. If you plan to use this system I would highly recommend you call ahead to confirm locations and if the system is operational.
Link to OARS sight. (note, this sight is dated in 2014. It does not include information on OARS but does have a list of contact numbers); https://www.cbp.gov/travel/pleasure-boats-private-flyers/Reporting%20Requirements%20for%20Recreational%20Vessels%20Arriving%20in%20U.S.%20along%20Lake%20Erie%20Shoreline
SVRS (Small Vessel Reporting System) This system has not really caught on in the Great Lakes although people have reported using it. It is likely that it will be discontinued with the implementation of ROAM.
Link to SVRS info; https://www.cbp.gov/travel/pleasure-boats-private-flyers/svrs
If you are not participating in an Alternative Inspection System Passports are required. 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.
Failure to report entry into the U.S. can result in civil penalties, including a $5,000 penalty for the first violation, $10,000 for each subsequent violation, and vessel seizure and forfeiture. Any boat master who is convicted of intentionally violating the law is liable for a fine up to $2,000 and/or imprisonment.
Canadians who have crossed into the United States (using Nexus or I-68) 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 a seminar in Windsor Ontario (Mar 2013). It was confirmed again May 2018.
Outside the Detroit area I can only recommend confirming if this required.
Reporting Requirements in CANADA
The CBSA web site ( https://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/travel-voyage/pb-pp-eng.html ) does a very good job of informing what is required when you are required to report to CBSA. It is worth while checking it periodically to see if there are any changes.
The key again is having appropriate documentation to facilitate a hassle-free report.
Again, the Nexus is the preferred document.
Passports and other Canadian identity documents (such as an Enhanced Driver’s 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.
Effective June 2017 Canada brought is entry reporting requirement for private boaters (with less than 30 passengers) in line with the US regulations.
Entering Canada (effective June 2017)
If you are coming to Canada in a private boat (with less than 30 people aboard) you are required to report at a Telephone Reporting Site-Marine (TRS-M) or Direct Reporting Site for Marine Private Vessels (DRS/M). There is an interactive map of sites at: http://www.cbsa.gc.ca/do-rb/services/trsm-sdtm-eng.html
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) toll free. Or 905-679-2073 (long distance charges may apply).
Note: there are numerous TRS-M sites throughout the Great Lakes Region, the interactive map above will allow you to check in advance, if you are unfamiliar with the area.
If you cross the border into Canadian waters (as of June 2017) 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 have previously entered Canada by boat, and reported into CBSA, you will be on record, primarily, under the Registration number of your vessel. Customs will request your registration and confirm your identity. They will also want to establish the identity and documentation of anyone traveling with you. You will also be asked the standard battery of questions when crossing the border.
Note: weapons are frowned upon in Canada, do not show up at the Border with weapons on board unless you have made previous arrangements with CBSA.
Upon arrival the Telephone Reporting Centre (TRC) number is 1-888-226-7277.
If you have not reported into Canada by boat previously, when you do call in, you will have to be prepared to give your personal information and information about your travel documents. Note check web site https://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/travel-voyage/td-dv-eng.html for required documents.
You can also pre-register by emailing; firstname.lastname@example.org with your full name, date of birth, type of travel documents numbers, type, and expiry date.
You, of course, must still use the regular reporting methods to report in when you arrive.
Nexus holders, you can also use your Nexus Card for reporting within 4 hours prior to arrival but not less than 30 minutes prior to arrival. The Nexus number is; 1-866-996-3987.
Note: To participate in the Nexus program everyone on the vessel must have valid Nexus cards.
You can check for restricted and prohibited goods at:
It is worth while checking since there can be regular food items that may be prohibited.
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.
CBSA Disagreements, reviews and appeals: http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/recourse-recours/menu-eng.html
US and Canadian Ports of Entry. Locations and phone numbers.