SailNet Community banner
1 - 20 of 79 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
9 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
If all goes according to plan, I will soon become a yacht owner and join the world-wide cruising community!

But as I read books and blogs and study the wealth of information out there on how to cruise on a sailboat, one particular topic causes much anxiety in me: customs & immigration (C&I).

Here is the situation, as I understand it: Yachters are at the bottom of the priority list of bureaucrats who write C&I regulations. When foreign visitors arrive via other modes (airlines, passenger or cargo ships, highway checkpoints, etc), they can be herded like cattle thru the C&I formalities. Not so with smaller boats, which can potentially enter a country with an ocean-front border almost anywhere. And of course your typical sailing yacht only has a couple of persons aboard.

We yachters are not trying to immigrate, commit acts of terror, or smuggle people or illegal contraband. We just want to come and visit your beautiful country! The worst thing we might do is spend money purchasing food and supplies from your native merchants! So, you can understand my befuddlement and concern, especially when I read horror stories of yachters who, despite their good-faith efforts to comply with C&I rules, are harassed or cough up big bucks at the hands of overzealous, inconsistent, petty, or rogue government officials.

But, it is what it is, and the best we all can do is arm ourselves with knowledge. And so I have oodles of questions about how best to travel the world by boat with the minimum of C&I pain, and good information is hard to find and very scattered. I wish someone with good experience in this area would write a book, something along the lines of: "International Customs & Immigration 101 for Yachters."

And that is why I am here at this forum today. I have some basic, preliminary questions that I have never seen asked. Now I understand that every country on the planet has its own C&I bureaucracy, regulations, and infrastructure, and there can often be vast inconsistency even within a single country. Still, some global generalization is feasible, and needed.

But for the purpose of this discussion, let us consider the Bahamas, a popular yachting destination, and a place that is definitely on MY bucket list:

• Scenario #1: I sail to the Bahamas, drop anchor at some remote, uninhabited island, and come ashore. Do I need to check in with C&I? It's a serious question. Is there, like, a Bahamian Coast Guard or Border Patrol that patrols remote islands to verify C&I compliance? What is the worst case outcome?

• Scenario #2: I sail to the Bahamas, and drop anchor at the largest city, Nassau, but fail to check in with C&I. Then I come ashore in my dinghy to buy groceries. Who is going to check my papers? If I only stay one day, who will know?

• Variation on Scenario #2: I don't come ashore. Am I still in C&I violation (because the harbor is considered part of The Bahamas, or something along those lines)? How would they know I'm there? Does someone watch every vessel entering & leaving that busy harbor? What if I just leave my Q flag flying? Even if the Bahamian Border Patrol pays me a visit, how can they prove that I've been there a week?

• Scenario #3: I anchor just outside the Nassau harbor, and don't check in. (I may even come ashore in my dinghy to buy groceries.) How far out does the Bahamian Border guys patrol for C&I compliance?

• Scenario #4: I heave-to just outside the harbor.

These are all questions I've never seen asked! Again, one could substitute in any location on the planet and get entirely different answers, but you see where I'm going with this. And it would be great to get a global country-by-country C&I comparison, to see where the best and worst places are to visit.

Experienced cruisers, let's hear from you!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
9,376 Posts
Noonsite is a great resource. http://www.noonsite.com/

If you really want answers to questions of legality, check with a lawyer who specializes in the topic.
 
  • Like
Reactions: blowinstink

·
Senior Member
Joined
·
19,484 Posts
"How lucky do you feel?"...;)

Many of the countries in typical cruising areas have little/no patience with anyone who flaunts the rules - often especially the paperwork. Worst case could well be confiscation of the vessel and/or some confinement. Checking out can be as important as checking in, esp at the 'next place'...
 
  • Like
Reactions: chuck5499

·
Sailboat Reboot
Joined
·
652 Posts
"How lucky do you feel?"...;).
I share Faster's comment. You want to roll the dice - lose your boat, go to jail, or at least have a huge hassle. Do it. IMHO there is no place worth the risk. Remember that as a foreigner in most countries you will have none of the rights and protections you have in the United States.

The only exception to the rule is "the right of innocent passage." See Innocent Passage Legal Definition

I have read, but can't find the reference, that one can actually anchor if necessary for the "safety of the ship and/or crew" - for example if bad weather is forecast - but one can never go on shore.

Also, in my travels I have been amazed at the ignorant Americans who believe that since they are not in the United States they can do drugs with impunity. Bad decision - if the C&I people decide to make an example of you your can kiss your A### goodbye for a good part of the rest of your life - not to mention your boat and all your possessions too. I have seen it happen to others.

Last thought - I have been in and out of dozens of ports where the C&I people filled out the paperwork, didn't inspect my vessel, and just collected the appropriate fees. I have also had my boat fairly deeply searched - every area tossed, every cabinet opened, etc. It is all in the luck of the draw.

Fair winds and following seas :)
 

·
TROUBLE
Joined
·
963 Posts
If you plan to cruise out of the USA, best study up on the locations before hand. That is your responsibility. Ok, it's a bit of work, but cruising isn't all fun and games you know? You need to know where the Ports of Entry are, what the gun laws are (if you're packing), what the pet laws are if it applies to you. You will need a current passport, but in some cases will need a visa (depending on your nationality). Sorry, but if you don't educate yourself, you are asking for serious trouble. Same thing if you ignore the rules (checking in).

Don't go ashore and not check in! And if you are in the Bahamas, don't forget cash for the cruising permit....

Also, you will need to call and get a clearance number when arriving back in the US, and have 24 hours to present yourself to Homeland Security. Good luck if you don't.

Ralph
 

·
Administrator
Beneteau 393
Joined
·
9,579 Posts
As this is a first post for someone its either one of the best polmacist posts or troll posts I have read :)

If you are not a troll then just sit back, relax and get the chip off your shoulder!

Boats are not herded through like aircraft cattle because you are a vessel thats considerered to be very similar to a cargo ship or cruise liner. You carry your nations flag on its stern and theres a history hundreds of years old about how ships enter another country.

Do you know why theres a 3 mile limit of territorial waters? Because thats the range of a cannon in old sailing ship days.

You deal with history, soveringty, and that you are a ship that engenders respect.

If you could expect a cargo ship to enter the Bahamas like you suggest then you can do the same. But you have the same liabilities too... I.e your ship will be seized.

You sail into whats called a Port of Entry and you go see Customs, Immigration and the Harbor Master. You fill out paperwork in each office and you pay a fee in many offices.

Its easy and everyone does it.

But if you prefer to have your boat siezed and youself thrown in jail then do it any way you please.

For the specifics of each country see Noonsite.com. If you prefer not to read Noonsite you will have a short and arduous cruising life. And none of us are likely to roll out of bed to help you.


Mark :)
 

·
Mermaid Hunter
Joined
·
5,674 Posts
Not so with smaller boats, which can potentially enter a country with an ocean-front border almost anywhere.
You must enter at a Port of Entry. As others have noted, see http://noonsite.com .

So, you can understand my befuddlement and concern, especially when I read horror stories of yachters who, despite their good-faith efforts to comply with C&I rules, are harassed or cough up big bucks at the hands of overzealous, inconsistent, petty, or rogue government officials.
There is the odd systemic problem but generally people run into trouble because they either don't follow the rules or because they display an arrogant or other unfortunate attitude.

But for the purpose of this discussion, let us consider the Bahamas, a popular yachting destination, and a place that is definitely on MY bucket list:

• Scenario #1: I sail to the Bahamas, drop anchor at some remote, uninhabited island, and come ashore. Do I need to check in with C&I? It's a serious question. Is there, like, a Bahamian Coast Guard or Border Patrol that patrols remote islands to verify C&I compliance? What is the worst case outcome?
You need to go to a Port of Entry first and directly. Worst case you will be jailed and your boat confiscated. There will be fines.

• Scenario #2: I sail to the Bahamas, and drop anchor at the largest city, Nassau, but fail to check in with C&I. Then I come ashore in my dinghy to buy groceries. Who is going to check my papers? If I only stay one day, who will know?
As soon as your anchor touches the bottom within territorial waters you have entered the country and are responsible for clearing in. See worst case above.

• Variation on Scenario #2: I don't come ashore. Am I still in C&I violation (because the harbor is considered part of The Bahamas, or something along those lines)? How would they know I'm there? Does someone watch every vessel entering & leaving that busy harbor? What if I just leave my Q flag flying? Even if the Bahamian Border Patrol pays me a visit, how can they prove that I've been there a week?
See above - you are in the country when you anchor in territorial waters.

• Scenario #3: I anchor just outside the Nassau harbor, and don't check in. (I may even come ashore in my dinghy to buy groceries.) How far out does the Bahamian Border guys patrol for C&I compliance?
Ignoring the fact that the water is pretty deep outside the Nassau harbor, see above. RBDF patrol all over the place - out on the banks, Tongue of the Ocean, in and around the islands.

• Scenario #4: I heave-to just outside the harbor.
You can probably (not definitely, but probably) get away with this on the basis of innocent passage, but why? Fix something? You won't get much rest making sure no one hits you and you don't blow ashore.

Incidentally, innocent passage is not a panacea. It doesn't apply to inshore waters (like bays and harbors) and it isn't unusual to be stopped and searched especially in an archipelago like the Bahamas.

These are all questions I've never seen asked! Again, one could substitute in any location on the planet and get entirely different answers, but you see where I'm going with this. And it would be great to get a global country-by-country C&I comparison, to see where the best and worst places are to visit.
Your questions or reasonable facsimiles have been asked and answered dozens if not hundreds of times. There is general information that applies on the US Department of State website. There is good information on Noonsite. There is good detailed information (albeit with the occasional out of date phone number) on government websites, including that of the Bahamas.
 

·
Full time cruiser
Joined
·
540 Posts
we have sailed into probably 25 different countries over the past 8 years. unless you want major and i mean major problems you check into each and every country at the first port of entry you come to and do not stop along the way for a day or two.

for example one boat headed from montenegro to croatia, a short distance, decided to stop and eat lunch and take a quick swim before going on to the port of entry a few miles farther on. the coast guard came by and asked to see their paperwork. with none they got a huge fine and an escort to the port of entry for more grief as the customs guys boarded and tore the boat apart looking for illegal stuff that they did not find.

in belize one couple arrived after hours so thought what the heck and went ashore to eat and drink. they knew better. the boat was seen by the police along with the folks ashore and the next day when they went in to check in they got a huge fine. they knew the rules and chose to ignore them.

do not fool around with customs and immigration as when you get caught and you will get caught the consequences can be terrible.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
846 Posts
I would like to give some information for Aegean. Threre are a lot of island and are in the Greek territory. On the other hand, Eastern mainland is Turkey. A lot of sailors visit the nearby Greek islands without any legal papers and without checking in. This might be a nights stay during the travel or intentional travel to the island for entartainment. Generally no body is checking or if somebody comes to check, they will ask you to visit their office with your papers (which you do not have). I know staying in one of the islands for more than 3 days in the same location and when they asked for checking in I always answered: "The captain has all the papers and he is on his way to the office." If they insist on your papers and you do not have them, generally they will ask you to leave immediately which means less than 24 hours. Some Greek boats are coming to the Turkish side without any papers and even visit the cities nearby and no cares. If caught you will be asked to leave. This might be special to the Aegean because some Greek islands are inside the coves of the mainland. YOu can be sure to pass from the channel north of Simi Island if you are travelling from Knidos to Marmaris. I am sure this is not what the "Innocent passage" rules define but nobody is going to check that channel for passages.

This might be due to the special location of the islands and the main land in Aegean sea.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,833 Posts
I'll venture to guess that most cruisers here will say that you are a visitor in their country and should play by their rules. Just as most people in the USA wish that visitors here would play by our rules.
People living in the USA, often get the idea that every country gives a wagging finger and stern lecture to illegal aliens because that's the way the US handles it. I've traveled all over the world, and most countries are very strict about their immigration laws.

My brother had a Bahamian who worked on his place in Florida, who had been in the US illegally for 20 years (and he frequently went home to visit). Try going to the Bahamas and see what happens. He never had a problem until he went and filled out a request for a Visa, and then his problems started, (and last I heard, his case has been dragging on for two years now).

Try living in the Bahamas, for twenty years, without clearing immigration and see what happens. Our immigration laws are a joke. Not so much so in other countries.
 
  • Like
Reactions: SOVT

·
Registered
Joined
·
257 Posts
"How lucky do you feel?"...;)

Many of the countries in typical cruising areas have little/no patience with anyone who flaunts the rules - often especially the paperwork. Worst case could well be confiscation of the vessel and/or some confinement. Checking out can be as important as checking in, esp at the 'next place'...
"flouts the rules" -- Sorry, nitpicking, but it's one of my flaws...

In principle, I agree totally, though. The ways in which Customs agents and their associated coast guards can make you life utterly miserable with absolutely zero recourse on your part means that "demonstrable best effort" on the cruiser's part is pretty much expected. If you know where you're going when you start, collect printouts of all the forms you'll need (or even might need) beforehand. Heading to Turks and Caico from Miami? Might as well have paperwork for Bahamas, Haiti and the DR just in case. Have passport. Have courtesy flag(s) already purchased. Stay 12 miles from any shore that you don't want to check in to. If you do want to check in, head for a largish port, hoist your Q flag, and (if you don't already know) hail the port on your VHF, tell them where you are and that you're inbound, and ask where to tie up and whom to report to. They may come out to meet you. You may be directed to a special dock. You may end up just tying up at a transient dock and be told that the captains must go to an address the following morning. Bring everybody's passports, your credit card, your ATM card that works internationally, and your own pen. Do not grumble over the cost of the cruising permit and/or entry card (EG Bahamas is BSD150 for 34ft and under, BSD300 for larger (where 1 BSD = 1 USD), plus BSD20 per person. Don't like it, don't go there). When cleared, Go straight back to your boat, replace the Q flag with the courtesy, hand out the inbound cards as appropriate, and head off to wherever you're actually staying. Don't forget to check out again when leaving, which in Bahamas means filling out another customs form and turning in the immigration cards you handed out to the crew when you checked in.

Edit to add: Oh, and if you can, get destination's local currency sufficient to cover the fees before departing for your destination. You'll look even more like you're at least making an attempt to not be a huge bother to the officials, which will make them a lot more cheerful about getting you processed and on your way.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
257 Posts
We yachters are not trying to immigrate, commit acts of terror, or smuggle people or illegal contraband. We just want to come and visit your beautiful country! The worst thing we might do is spend money purchasing food and supplies from your native merchants!
Nope. The worst you might do is be coming there to kidnap citizens and sell them into a life of sexual slavery, murdering all who get in your way. The way to convince people that that isn't what you're up to is to comply with their rules, and be open and above-board in all your dealing with those entrusted with the care and safeguarding of their own citizenry.

So, you can understand my befuddlement and concern, especially when I read horror stories of yachters who, despite their good-faith efforts to comply with C&I rules, are harassed or cough up big bucks at the hands of overzealous, inconsistent, petty, or rogue government officials.
There are probably bad government officials out there. But the fastest way to make one turn that way is to presume that that's the case and try to evade them. And most of those horror stories I've heard usually have an element of "Wait, just WHY did your crewmate dive down into the cabin as soon as you were told to heave to for boarding? Why the sudden urgency? To go get a sandwich? Really? Why was he in the forward cabin when the coastie handcuffed him? Is that where the sandwiches are normally kept?" around them...
 

·
Senior Member
Joined
·
19,484 Posts
"flouts the rules" -- Sorry, nitpicking, but it's one of my flaws...
You're right, of course.. Thanks!

.. seems we may have chased the OP away!?
 

·
Dirt Free
Joined
·
3,398 Posts
Simi Island if you are travelling from Knidos to Marmaris. I am sure this is not what the "Innocent passage" rules define but nobody is going to check that channel for passages.
.
"innocent passage" is a nice thought and may be a courtesy but it is not a "rule"
 

·
Sailboat Reboot
Joined
·
652 Posts
"innocent passage" is a nice thought and may be a courtesy but it is not a "rule"
Actually it is not a law nor a rule. Since there is no real thing as "international law" but rather "treaties" and "agreements" it can't be a law. However, 168 countries plus the European Union are signatories of the UNCLOS. The UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) makes it more than a "rule" for the signatory countries.

More on the UNCLOS with more links here:

The United States is not one of the 168 signatories. More on that here:
United States non-ratification of the UNCLOS - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Fair winds and following seas :)
 

·
Dirt Free
Joined
·
3,398 Posts
Yes, I am aware of UNCLOS and that like all other UN agreements is most often ignored by the signatories as it carries no legal weight anywhere in the world.
 
1 - 20 of 79 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.
Top