The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

Pleasure Boat Entry to US – New Process for 2016

Sue Peck

Bayfield 36
May 19th, 2016

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.

Bedwell harbour customs dock (photo by Les Williams, unchanged, CC BY SA 2.0)

Bedwell Harbour Customs dock (photo by Les Williams, unchanged, CC BY SA 2.0)

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.

Happy Cruising!

Cover image: Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)


  1. Rob on Avant says:

    Interesting update on renewal. On the CBP website, they state “Under CBP policy, non-U.S. residents are not eligible for successive cruising licenses. A new license will not be issued unless the following two conditions have been met: (1) at least 15 days have elapsed since the previous license either expired or was surrendered, and (2) the vessel arrives in the U.S. from a foreign port or place. (Customs Directive 3130-006A) CBP will want to see foreign clearance paperwork as evidence that you are arriving from a foreign location.”
    I suspect this could be a major pain for Canadians with boats in USA marinas, if the directive 3130-006A is followed!

    1. Sue Peck says:

      Hi Rob…the officers I interviewed for the article reassured us that we don’t have to leave the marina/USA in order to get a new license. The only requirement is that the previous license must have expired minimum of 15 days. They are struggling to learn and implement this new process as well and are feeling the effects given their manpower issues at the Point Roberts crossing. I think as time goes on the process will be easier and less of a headache than we first thought.


    Thank you for your detailed article Sue. As master of s/v Skana, a Canadian vessel permanently moored in Squalicum, Point Roberts I recently completed this process. Firstly, let me thank the staff at the CBP Bellingham Airport office for being friendly, informative and accommodating.
    Key pieces of information you need to produce are: Information Identifying yourself – Nexus, Boater Registration # and Drivers License. Information about the boat – BC registration #, Manufacture, Vessel Name, Type, Length. Confirmation of Moorage – Moorage agreement. If you have your current DTOPS decal take a picture and provide the number.
    As you mentioned, if you already paid the $27 for the DTOPS decal the cruising permit fee is waived and you no longer need to renew the DTOPS – just renew the cruising permit each year.

  3. Bob Fuchs SV Monte Cristo says:

    We just crossed from Victoria, BC to Friday Harbor Wa.
    We’re NExus card holders and had a previous Boater Registration Number (BR number).
    Before leaving I wanted to make sure all my ducks were in a row and followed the online instructions and was issued with a new BR number.

    I then called in as usual to the NEXUS 1-800 number.

    For some reason our new BR numbers were invalid, but luckily our old ones was still valid so so we used them.
    The custom agent then took our information needed to complete the cruising license and instructed us to call the Friday Harbor US customs office when we were 10 minutes out.

    The Friday Harbor Custom office had us check into Friday Harbor as if we were cleared, and then head up to the new customs office.

    Once we made it up to the customs office, our cruising licence was already prepared, and all we need to do was to show ID and pay our $19.00US.

    So all in all a pretty painless procedure.

    It’s seems if you’re a current NEXUS card holder and have been issued a BR number in the past, then all you need do is call the NEXUS 1-800 as usual and they will take care of the rest.

    Of course your experience may vary 🙂

  4. Sébastien Trudel says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write this down! We are in a similar situation, as we leave our Canadian boat in US water year-round, on Lake Champlain (NY and VT), which shares a border with Canada (northern lake Champlain becomes the Richelieu river, in southern Quebec). I had some questions remaining after reading the CBP website… Your blog post really clears it up!



  5. Sue Peck says:

    Just an update..we found the process coming back into Point Roberts last weekend to be easy. I called Nexus as per usual and the officer took all the required info over the phone for the permit and cleared us for entry to our need to stop at the customs dock. Once we arrived Brian took our paperwork up to the border office and came back a few minutes later with our permit!

  6. Sandy says:

    Hi Sue
    We have a bayfield 32 and are planning on sailing her down the ICW to the Bahamas starting next fall our port of entry will be Osweago the south side of lake Ontario. Do we apply for our permit before hand or were we enter

    1. Sue Peck says:

      Hi Sandy..nice to hear from another Bayfield owner! It is hard to know what to expect from individual entry points. I think Point Roberts was a bit unique in allowing boaters to go to their office to apply this past year as they had not enforced the rules around cruising permits in Washington state before. If you can call the US border in Osweago that might be your best course of action. Do you have Nexus or do you have to go to the customs dock? If you don’t have Nexus and have to go to the dock it would probably be easist to just do the permit then. Hope that helps!
      Fair winds!

  7. Rick Cooper says:

    Hi Sue,
    My Wife and I are Australian citizens and sailing on an Australian Registered vessel, our circumstances allow us to cruise for 3 months of the year which end in a couple of weeks and we intended storing the vessel for 9 months at Green Cove Springs in Florida. We will fly home for 9 months and then return for 3 months next year. we each have a B1/B2 visa valid for 5 years. We arrived from the Bahamas and had intended a trip up the ICW and around the Loop. We have been issued a cruising permit and have been told that we have to leave the US at the end of the 12 months for 15 days. I enquired about surrendering the current cruising permit when we fly out and then applying for a new on when we arrive back in 9 months and they were quite adamant that this was not possible and we had to leave the country. I spoke to a cruising couple in Puerto Rico who indicated that there were ways around the mandatory departure for 15 days but I have not been able to find a solution. I assume that any foreign national would not be able to complete the loop unless there was a way past this mandated departure. any advice or assistance would be of great benefit
    Rick Cooper
    SY 38 South

    1. Sue says:

      Hi Rick
      The officer I spoke with did say the cruising license was good for one year and has to have lapsed or expired for at least 15 days before one could apply for another one.. But as a previous comment noted on this article a ‘cruising permit can be surrendered or expired x 15 days” in order to apply for a new one. I tried to go to the link in the comment and the page was no longer available. I would have assumed you could turn it in early, but ask again and see.. I have sometimes found that some officers are less familiar with the rules than others. That said the political climate has changed at the US border since I wrote this article; not sure if that is having an impact.
      Sorry I can’t be of more help
      Fair winds!

  8. cheeki_miss says:

    We moor our boat at Crescent Beach Marina in Surrey, BC and planned to boat in the San Juan Islands this year, specifically Sucia Island. We are Nexus members. It was suggested to us when we called the small boat reporting line to find out about the process that the best time to go to Point Robert’s To get the cruising license is Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm. We followed this advice and arrived in Point Robert’s last Friday at 4:15pm and pulled into the customs dock. On our way to Point Robert’s we called in as soon as we entered US water and gave all our info as usual and I told the officer that we wanted to get a cruising license. He took all our info and then gave me the phone number for the Point Robert’s customs office with instructions to tell the officer that our info was already in the system.

    At the customs dock, there were already 2 other boats there. One had been there for just over an hour waiting for the customs officer to arrive. I phoned the number I was given and was told to wait for the officer to arrive. The officer arrived within 20 minutes, dealt with the other 2 boats, then came aboard our boat. They worked with us to fill out the CBP 1300 form, gave us our cruising license and we were on our way within 45 minutes. We are now good to cruise in US waters for 1 year without having to report in person, unless requested to do so.

  9. Jan says:

    If you are returning to the United States in an American pleasure boat by sailing from Mexico to Los Angeles, is it necessary to report in San Diego or can it be done upon arrival in Los Angeles?

    1. Anonymous says:

      Hi Jan
      I am a Canadian boater and I frequent the waters of BC and Washington state so don’t have first hand knowledge of your question. I am just making an assumption when I would suggest you report in to the first port of call… but having said that I wonder if you need to notify when in US waters. I would suggest calling CBP to inquire… Fair winds! Sue

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