Reporting requirements for private boaters
The official procedure follows:
If you are the owner/operator of a private boat entering Canadian waters, and you are carrying 29 people or fewer, you must report your arrival to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
Reporting from a CBSA marine reporting site
As owner/operator of the boat, it is your responsibility to report to the CBSA.
Go directly to a Telephone Reporting Site-Marine (TRS/M) and follow the instructions posted on location to contact the CBSA Telephone Reporting Centre (TRC) and request clearance to enter Canada. Only the owner/operator may leave the boat to place the call to the TRC. Everyone else must remain onboard until the CBSA gives authorization.
Report directly in-person at one of ten Direct Reporting Sites for Marine Private Vessels (DRS/M), which are CBSA staffed marine ports of entry.
New Reporting Exemptions
The reporting requirements for private boaters have changed. You no longer need to report to the CBSA if you meet the reporting exemptions detailed below.
If you are visiting Canada, you are not required to report to the CBSA if you:
--do not land on Canadian soil and do not anchor, moor or make contact with another conveyance while in Canadian waters, and
--do not embark or disembark people or goods in Canada.
If you are returning to Canada, you are not required to report to the CBSA if you:
--did not land outside Canada and did not anchor, moor or make contact with another conveyance while outside of Canadian waters, and
--did not embark or disembark any people or goods while outside Canada.
If you do need to contact CBSA, the process can be faster if everyone on the boat has a NEXUS card or a CANPASS card. You can call-in up to four hours in advance of the actual entry.
When you call in to CBSA the typical result will be the granting of permission to enter Canada and the boat will receive a reference number for the entry. If the boat stays in Canadian water for some time it is possible that a CBSA agent might be encountered again, at a marina for example, and typically the boat captain must provide the agent with the entry reference number received earlier, usually recorded in the boat's logbook.
A glitch occurs if you enter Canada by highway and tow the boat into Canada. Boats crossing the border by highway are generally ignored at the border entry and are not given a reference number. This situation occurred on my last visit to Canada. The boat crossed the border on a trailer on the highway, and I received no reference number for the boat's entry. A week later a CSBA agent at a dock asked me for my reference number. I explained the boat, I, and the crew had all entered Canada by highway at a border crossing entry point, and no entry number reference was provided. The agent informed me that I should explicitly ask for such a number from the border crossing agent.
I have not been back to Canada since then, and thus I have not tried to obtain a reference number for my boat entering Canada by highway. I suspect it will entail being further detained at the border crossing while the agents there try to figure out how to provide me with the necessary paperwork. When a boat enters by water, all you get is a telephone conversation and you write down the number on the back of an envelope or napkin (called a serviette in Canada), which you then recount to the next CBSA agent that asks for it.
An alternative method might be as follows:
--enter Canada by highway towing the boat on its trailer;
--travel on highway to a launching ramp at a location that is also a CBSA Telephone Reporting Site-Marine (TRS/M);
--launch the boat and tie to dock in Canadian water;
--do not allow anyone on the boat; this avoids having to report their entry into Canada by water, since they already entered Canada by highway;
--walk to the CBSA Telephone and report entry of the boat into Canada by water;
--receive a reference number for entry of the boat into Canada by water.