The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has started to enforce the cruising license for foreign flagged vessels travelling in US waters. The cruising license has been around since December 31, 1969, but the enforcement of the license started in January of this year.
My husband and I are very interested in these new requirements, as we keep our Canadian-flagged boat in Point Roberts Marina in Washington State. For years now, all we needed to do was to report our entry into US waters to Small Boat Reporting using our NEXUS and to purchase an annual User Fee decal. This has now changed as of January 2016, with the enforcement of the cruising license.
I spoke with Officer Gill at Customs Border Protection (CBP) to clarify the process and he was very helpful and answered my questions. The CBP website  also has some very good information and FAQs, but speaking to an officer in person helped clear up some of my remaining questions.
A cruising license is not a requirement for foreign-flagged vessels, but the license will save those of us who cross the border frequently some time and money. A foreign-flagged vessel without a cruising license must complete a CBP 1300 (Vessel Entrance or Clearance Statement) and physically report into a port of entry. The cost for the CBP 1300 is Navigation Fee of $19.00 US. This form must be completed for any movement within US waters. Boats also complete one when they clear/exit from US waters.
Fortunately, Canadian boaters are eligible for a cruising license (some countries are not). A cruising license can be obtained when entering the USA. It does require physically reporting to a CBP port of entry; examples would include Friday Harbour, Point Roberts, Bellingham or Blaine. At this initial check-in, the CBP will inspect the boat and the skipper will pay the $19 Navigation fee for the CBP-1300. The skipper then has the option of also applying for the cruising license for which there is no extra cost.
The advantage to a cruising license is that a boat now does not have to pay the $19.00 Navigation fee each time it enters and departs (the technical word is “clear) from US waters. Without it, the vessel would file a CBP-1300 and pay the Navigation fee in order to proceed between ports of entry.
The cruising license we obtain will cover us for the entire Puget Sound area. CBP includes the San Juans, Anacortes, Bellingham, Point Roberts, Blaine, Port Angeles, Port Townsend and Seattle/Tacoma in its definition of Puget Sound ports. Without a cruising permit, skippers would be expected to report their movements within the area, and with cell phone coverage issues, this could be problematic.
For the BCA members who will be traveling down the Coast to San Francisco or San Diego, once they have their cruising license, no other form is needed. The vessels will still have to report (call in) as they enter each district on their way south. Here is a list of the ports of entry .
Many BCA members keep their boats moored year round in Point Roberts and have been in the habit of purchasing the $27 annual decal. With the advent of the new cruising license, this decal is no longer necessary. The crew of Cariba had already purchased a 2016 decal, so Officer Gill informed me that the initial Navigation fee for the first CBP-1300 would be waived.
So how does one get a cruising license? Well, if your boat is already in US waters, i.e. Blaine or Point Roberts, many cruisers have been able to go to the office at the Border with their paperwork and apply. Otherwise, on your first entry to the USA, you must present your boat at a CBP port of entry for inspection and application.
A cruising license is effective for one calendar year. As a foreign-flagged vessel, we are not eligible for successive licenses. There must be a 15 day period where the prior license has either expired or has been surrendered. This rule initially caused us some angst, as we interpreted this to mean that our boat must be out of US waters for that time frame. But Officer Gill explained that this is not the case; the prior license simply must have expired/lapsed for more than 15 days. One option though, may be to time a trip with the expiration of a permit. There is no charge/clearance fee, so we could leave with a valid permit that is about to expire and come back after 15 days. We would then obtain a new one on our entry to US waters.
A cruising license does NOT change a boaters’ reporting requirements via Nexus or other means to check in with CBP. If you have a current cruising license, you will need it when reporting your arrival in US waters, but you will contact CBP in your usual manner to check in.
Our boat is currently moored at Point Roberts and when I spoke to Officer Gill in late March, we had no plans to exit and re-enter the US until leaving for the May Rendezvous at Bedwell Harbour. He assured me that we did not have to get a cruising license and that we could day sail with no worries in US waters. Our plan is to go up to the Point Roberts Border crossing in early May to get our license. Alternatively, we could wait till we return and instead of using Nexus, we could go to the Point Roberts Customs dock and call 360 945 5211. A CBD officer will then come down with the paperwork for us to complete; but we could assist by printing off a CBP-1300 from their website.
Officer Gill said that this process is new to the CBP officers as well, and there will be a learning curve for all involved. I believe this is why the Point Roberts CBP office has been allowing boaters to come to the office to get their initial license. The small boat reporting service is also always available to answer questions, especially if you call them in off peak times.
I would like to thank CBP Officers Colin Giddens; and Supervisory CBP Officer – Seattle Honor Guard Commander and Supervisor, Harmit Gill, for taking the time to review and give feedback on this article.