Customs & Immigration

Written By:  cws-admin March 3, 2017 at 5:21 pm

When a yacht or any other type of pleasure boat arrives in the United States (”US”), the first place it docks must be at a Customs port or other place where Customs service is available.

American pleasure boats that are not documented by the US Coast Guard, but are owned by citizens living in the US, must comply with federal laws relating to identification numbers issued by a state, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa or the District of Columbia. A pleasure boat is one that is not engaged in any foreign trade or commercial activity. Pleasure boats may not carry merchandise or passengers for pay.

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.

US Customs is now part of the Department of Homeland Security and is called Customs and Border Protection. Security has increased at entry points to the US for both US and foreign-flagged vessels.

An American pleasure boat arriving in the US from a foreign port or place is not required to make formal entry provided the vessel is not engaged in trade; the vessel has not visited any hovering vessel; the master reports arrival as required by law and is in compliance with US customs and navigation laws; and any article on board required by law to be entered or declared is reported to Customs immediately upon arrival. If these requirements are not met, the vessel must make formal entry with US Customs within 48 hours after arrival.

An American pleasure boat must also obtain clearance from US Customs before leaving a port or place in the US and proceeding to a foreign port or place if the vessel is engaged in trade, has visited a hovering vessel, or is not in compliance with US laws.

The master of a foreign-flag or undocumented foreign pleasure boat must report its arrival to US Customs immediately and must make formal vessel entry on a Customs Forms (CF) 1300 within 48 hours. In the absence of a cruising license, vessels in this category must obtain a permit before proceeding to each subsequent US port. Navigation fees will be charged for the formal entry, the permit to proceed, and for the clearance of foreign-flag pleasure boats. The master of every foreign-flagged vessel arriving in the US is required to make entry and the master must have a complete legible manifest consisting of CF 1300 through 1304 and a passenger list. Pleasure boats from foreign countries, without a valid US Cruising Permit, must obtain clearance before leaving a port or place in the US and proceeding to a foreign port or place or for another port or place in the US.

Cruising licenses exempt pleasure boats of certain countries from having to undergo formal entry and clearance procedures, such as filing manifests and obtaining permits, to proceed as well as from the payment of tonnage tax and entry and clearance fees at all but the first port of entry. These licenses can be obtained from the US Customs port director at the first port of arrival in the US. Normally valid for one year, a cruising license has no bearing on the dutiability of a pleasure boat. Under Customs policy, when a foreign flag vessel’s cruising license expires, that vessel may not be issued another license until the following three conditions have been met: (1) the vessel leaves the US for a foreign port or place, and (2) it returns from that foreign port or place, and (3) at least 15 days have elapsed since the previous license expired. (Customs Directive 3100-06, November 7, 1988.)

Every person entering the US must be seen in person by an immigration officer. US citizens should carry proof of citizenship, such as a passport or birth certificate. If your boat has anchored or tied up, you are considered to have entered the US. No one shall board or leave the boat without first completing customs processing, unless permission to do so is granted by the Customs officer in charge. The only exception to this requirement is to report arrival. If it is necessary for someone to leave the boat to report arrival to US Customs, he or she must return to the boat after reporting and remain on board. No one who arrived on that boat may leave until the Customs officer grants permission to go ashore. Violations may result in substantial penalties and forfeiture of the boat.

Every person entering the US must be seen in person by an immigration officer. US citizens should carry proof of citizenship, such as a passport or birth certificate. If your boat has anchored or tied up, you are considered to have entered the US. No one shall board or leave the boat without first completing customs processing, unless permission to do so is granted by the Customs officer in charge. The only exception to this requirement is to report arrival. If it is necessary for someone to leave the boat to report arrival to US Customs, he or she must return to the boat after reporting and remain on board. No one who arrived on that boat may leave until the Customs officer grants permission to go ashore. Violations may result in substantial penalties and forfeiture of the boat.

*The information offered in this column is summary in nature and should not be applied to specific cases or situations.