Arrivingfrom Canada? Boaters should be aware of new customs regulations

Published on Thu, Apr 27, 2006 by ack Kintner

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Arriving from Canada? Boaters should be aware of new customs regulations

By Jack Kintner

As the boating season gets underway, skippers entering U.S. waters should be aware they are no longer allowed to show up unannounced at the Blaine Marina visitor’s dock to clear customs. Except for vessels where all passengers on board are enrolled in an alternative inspection program such as NEXUS, an appointment must be made to clear customs in Blaine. The change took place in January of this year.

NEXUS members may still clear by phone, but everyone on board must be enrolled in the program or one of two legal alternatives (see sidebar).
Though Blaine is still an official marine port of entry for the U.S.

Customs and Border Protection service (CBP), changes initiated by CBP’s parent agency, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, have reduced to five the number of places where boaters not participating in NEXUS may clear by just showing up without having first made an appointment.

The list includes Port Angeles, Roche Harbor, Friday Harbor, Anacortes and Point Roberts, but not Blaine.

This has led to some local confusion both about how to clear customs under the new system and frustration over why Blaine, with two 300 plus slip marinas right on the border, was excluded from the list.

Blaine harbormaster Pam Taft expressed concern about the changes but referred specific questions to the Port of Bellingham, operator of the Blaine marina. “We’re looking into this, believe me, especially with the regatta coming up,” Taft said. She also has been handing out copies of a CBP pamphlet that outlines the new procedure.

According to the pamphlet, CBP scrapped the free Small Boat Reporting System that allowed enrollees to pull into Blaine and clear customs by phone. The new system “requires physical reporting to a designated local CBP office,” the pamphlet states, which means that with the exception of NEXUS members, anyone entering the country by boat must report to one of the five sites listed above.

Local phone numbers for each inspection facility are listed in the pamphlet. After regular business hours boaters are to call a toll-free number but “must be made available for inspection at a CBP designated area for possible boarding at the time of report,” the pamphlet states. Qualifying boaters (e.g. enrolled in NEXUS) call the same toll-free number to clear, but the CBP reserves the right to require a physical inspection.

A CBP inspector who spoke only on condition of anonymity said that “often we’re down to one man later in the day at some facilities, so if the toll-free number doesn’t answer then give us 10 or 15 minutes and try again.”

As when using the NEXUS lane on the highway, boats must also be free of material such as fresh eggs or anything else requiring a physical inspection. Boaters with cell phones are encouraged to call the toll-free number as soon as they enter U.S. waters. Finally, the pamphlet does not specify how long before arrival an appointment must be made, just that one is required.

The I-68 form works like a NEXUS card except that it’s only good for a year. It’s available locally and so can be acquired in less time than a NEXUS, making it useful for people who are in the area for only a short time.

For more information call 332-6318.

Clearing Customs
You may clear customs at Blaine only if:
All passengers have a valid NEXUS, SENTRI or I-68 form and nothing is on board that would require further inspection and you are cleared to do so by calling 800/562-5943, or make a prior appointment with Blaine CBP at 332-6318.

The CBP defines “regular business hours” as 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., expanding to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. between May 14 and September 16.