When transiting the west coast of the US, foreign-flagged boats must travel under a cruising license. When checking into the US in the Pacific Northwest, ask Customs & Border Protection for a cruising license if they do not offer it when you tell them your plans, as it is not a requirement if you are staying in the PNW. Make sure you have your boat’s registration papers and the passports of all crew members. We checked in at Roche Harbor in the San Juan Islands, where they were stern but helpful.
You must check in by phone with Homeland Security as soon as you arrive at each new port and we were told that we could receive a $5,000 dollar fine if we did not do so. We were given a list of phone numbers along with our cruising license but we have met boats that did not get this list of phone numbers. Ask for it as it is extremely helpful.
In Washington and Oregon, we phoned at each port we made, using the phone number of the nearest office on our list. If it was not the right place to call, they were helpful about giving us the right phone number. Sometimes we could only leave messages on their voice mail with our information and phone number; it seemed they were fine with that and did not call us back to confirm anything. Once we reached San Francisco the procedure changed slightly and we were only required to check in once in each jurisdictional area, e.g., San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Ask them to clarify where the areas begin and end.
When you check out of San Diego, take your cruising license, boat registration papers, and passports to the Customs & Border Protection office at 1005-610 W. Ash Street, San Diego. You must surrender your cruising license and you will receive a clearance statement that should be presented to the Mexican Authorities upon arrival in Mexico. You will have 48 hours to depart the USA after surrendering your cruising license. If for some reason you stay longer, they require you to return to the Ash Street office to redo your paperwork.
All in all this was not onerous but having a cell phone made it much easier to check-in at each port in a timely manner.