Policy change makes life easier for boaters

Published on Thu, Jul 3, 2008 by Jack Kintner

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Policy change makes life easier for boaters

By Jack Kintner

Cross border traffic on the water is increasing with the onset of good weather. To the pleasant surprise of local boaters a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) policy change adopted this year makes it legal again for boaters who go into Canadian waters for recreational purposes, such as fishing, to return to the U.S. without having to go through a customs check under certain conditions.

“That’s the policy we are now instructed to go by from Washington, D.C.,” said director Mike Brydie of the Bellingham Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Port. “But it doesn’t necessarily mean that a boat won’t be boarded by enforcement officers from the air and marine group or the Coast Guard if they see you coming across the line,” Brydie said.

The new policy, announced in a June 10 press release from Tom Schreiber CBP’s Public Affairs Officer for Blaine, marks a return to a pre-9/11 policy that allowed small boats to venture into Canadian waters and return without having to check in as long as they didn’t “touch,” that is, as long as they didn’t tie up at a pier, drop their anchor or raft up with foreign vessels. The new policy has the same requirement.

Other regulations remain the same, including the requirement that everyone arriving into the U.S. by boat must report to customs immediately upon arrival “after having been at any foreign port or place, or having had contact with a hovering vessel,” according to a CBP press release issued June 10.

Blaine is no longer a marine port of entry. The nearest one is Point Roberts, where arriving vessels may simply arrive to clear customs at any time between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. for free.

An appointment arranged at least an hour in advance of one’s arrival is required to check in with the CBP at Blaine.

Inspectors can be scheduled during regular business hours to meet arriving vessels on the Blaine Marina’s visitor’s float in front of the port office.

“We know that 99 percent of the people we see at border crossings are who they say they are and are no problem,” said Schreiber. He outlined several ways to speed up the process, the best option being to enroll in the NEXUS program because it allows arriving boaters to be cleared by telephone and head straight for Blaine as long as everyone on board has a Nexus card or an annual version good for boaters only, the I-68 form.

The small boat reporting number is 800/562-5943 and is handled by Brydie’s office.
A NEXUS card is good for five years and costs $50. The I-68 form which, when approved, grants the same privileges for arriving boaters that a NEXUS card does, is good for a year and costs $16 for an individual or $32 for a family.

To get an I-68 form one must apply in person at any CBP crossing with proof of citizenship. Once issued, it allows the arriving boater to check in at Blaine by phone just as if he or she had a Nexus card. Though they’re available at any CBP office, Brydie said that his office at Bellingham Airport specializes in the forms and can get the applicant through the process in as little as 15 to 20 minutes without an appointment.

“Probably about 70 percent of local boaters are enrolled in NEXUS or use the I-68 form,” Brydie said, “because of the convenience of not having to schedule an appointment with customs if arriving at Blaine or having to go to the nearest designated port of entry at Point Roberts.”

Boaters who have NEXUS cards that are about to expire can use the I-68 form to cover the gap between the expiration of their old card and the issuance of a new one. Another thing that cardholders can do to expedite the process is to call the small boat reporting number anytime and request that a Boater Registration (BR) number be electronically attached to their NEXUS card. “Doing that before making a trip cuts the reporting time on the phone from seven or eight minutes down to two minutes or less,” Brydie said.

“The real reason is that it has to do with us being able to fill in our forms quickly and accurately. NEXUS card holders can just as well provide information we need from home instead of when they’re out on the water waiting to come in. We’ll then assign a BR number to your information and when you give us that BR number when arriving by boat it will quickly and accurately fill out the required fields on the computer.

Each boat has a master, by definition, even a kayak, and that number is normally reported first because we can fill in all the fields that way, as opposed to getting the number of a passenger that will say nothing about the boat.”

Boat owners are encouraged to bring in a copy of their vessel registration when applying for an I-68, and will need it when getting a BR number attached to an existing NEXUS card.

For more information and to apply for an I-68 form, call 360/332-6318. For NEXUS cards visit o www.getnexus.com.