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Author Topic:   US/Canadian Customs for GB/NC trips
Buckda posted 12-10-2001 03:55 PM ET (US)   Profile for Buckda   Send Email to Buckda  
Jim or Larry -

Do either of you know the SOP for customs if entering the NC/GB by boat? For example: If I left for a trip to manitoulin island from our summer home in the les Chenaux Islands in Michigan, what steps would I have to take to leave/re-enter the US, and enter/leave Canada via water?

jimh posted 12-10-2001 05:00 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
If entering Canadian water by boat you must report upon coming ashore. Usually there will be a telephone at the dock and you can call the Customs Office. They seem to prefer landline calls, not cellular. Perhaps that lets them know precisely where you are calling from.

The "normal" procedure is for everyone to remain on the boat, only the captain can come ashore to report.

Once in contact with customs the normal protocol is to ask a few questions. If you give the right answers they give you a reporting number. You enter this in the ship's log. This is your clearance. Then everyone can come ashore.

In some rare case they might tell you to remain there until someone came to meet you. Usually if everyone is an adult and a US citizen, and any minors on board are in the company of their adult, US-citizen-parents, there is no big deal. You call, you get the number. Don't lose the number.

They always ask about firearms and alcohol aboard. I bumped into a fellow cruising with a big sailboat (50-footer) who had an enormous amount of booze on the boat. I asked him what he says when Customs inquires about alcohol aboard.

"I just tell them, 'normal ship's complement of liquor'", he said. Amazing!

One day we were in Gore Bay with our club sailboat. The boat had entered Canada in June. It was late August. An Immigration Officer was checking all American boats in the marina for entry documentation. I explained we had come in via the normal highway route just a day or so before, the boat had come in months earlier. I looked up the number in the logbook and that was all I needed. Case closed.

One time we were returning the boat from the NC and sailing down the coast of Michigan. The boat had been in Candian water for three months. We were in US water for two days anchoring out. On the third day we came ashore at a marina and called in. It turns out that if your boat is longer than 30-feet they hit you with a "Use Fee" decal. This will cost you about $50 or more. I was not aware of this. When I landed I called customs on the telephone and told him I had a "thirty-foot boat."

"Oh," he replies, "do you have the decal?"

I had never heard of this, so he explained it to me.

"Darn," he says, "I'll have to drive down there and sell you one." (He lived about 60 miles away from where we were.)

"Wait," I said, "I just checked the manufacturer's specifications and the official length of the boat is 29-feet and 11-inches."

"Great," he replies, "you don't need a sticker."

It is best not to have "anything to declare" as this may prompt them to detain you until they can come inspect. In other words, don't mention you have 5,000 pounds of agricultural seeds or something else likely to be embargoed.

There is an elusive form called an "I-68" form. At one time you could get one just by dropping in at Immigration at a border crossing and filling out a form. I got one about 18 years ago. Possession of an I-68 form exempted you from reporting when making crossing by boat in certain areas, like Detroit-Windsor. This little piece of yellow paper was worn out and lost from my wallet years ago, but if they ask me, "Do you have an I-68 form?" I always say, "Yes."

I mean, I do have an I-68 form, I just don't know where it is at the moment! Hey, they should have their copy of it, too.

Getting the I-68 now is more of a hassle. I think they want a hefty fee for it, too.

Of course, all of these experiences apply to the pre 9/11/01 days. Your mileage may vary now.

Buckda posted 12-10-2001 06:13 PM ET (US)     Profile for Buckda  Send Email to Buckda     
Great info JimH! Thanks.

Being the impatient GenXer that I am, I also placed a call to Canadian and US Customs to find out about this.

The Canadian Customs people (being friendly Canadians) have developed a program called CANPASS-Remote Area Border Crossing (RABC) permit, which, it turns out, was developed specifically for people like us: Peopel entering the country "from Pigeon River through to and including Lake of The Woods (A fine idea for a Whaler trip, if I do say so), The Canadian shore of Lake Superior, and Cockburn Island." (visit or call 800-842-7647)
Turns out, you do everything in advance, pay the $30 permit fee and call (888)-226-7277 to report your crossing.

The US side is a bit easier, and in light of recent events, at tad scary.

For US:
If you do not go ashore (i.e. make the run from Drummond Island and fish for the day in the NC before returning to the US, you need do nothing (although I'd have a Ontario fishing permit, if I were you).
If you go ashore at any time in Canadian territory you should contact US Customs Inspector Dennis Baily at 906-493-5231 2-3 hours before you return to Drummond Island, where you will should meet him at Yacht Harbor to be cleared through customs.

As you said, JimH, the US Customs supervisor I spoke to commented that I should check back 4-6 weeks before any trip to be sure that there were no "new and improved" procedures, in light of recent events.

Hope this info helps someone else, too.

JBCornwell posted 12-10-2001 08:28 PM ET (US)     Profile for JBCornwell  Send Email to JBCornwell     
My son and I, and often his son or other grandson(s) fish LOTW for a week or so several times a year. We tow one of our Whalers to the Northwest Angle, passing through Manitoba to get there. The highway border crossing is conventional, with the usual interview (It wasn't mentioned above, but persons who have EVER had a DUI, DWI or similar conviction are FORBIDDEN to enter Canada by vehicle!).

From the Fish Camp we cruise daily into Ontario to fish, often stopping at resorts in Canada for refreshment or replenishment of equipment.

The RABC Permit that BuckDa mentions serves each adult and his dependent children for one year plus the time to the next birth date beyond.

It is much more convenient than the old system that had us checking through a customs office/marina upon every crossing.

LOTW, by the way, is a wonderful, wild, remote and uncrowded place to cruise or fish. Be sure to bring a spare prop, a good chart with depths, a competent pilot/navigator and a good GPS. There are thousands of islands, tens of thousands of miles of shoreline, and enough rocks within 18" of the surface to build the pyramids several times over.

Red sky at night. . .
JB :)

lhg posted 12-10-2001 09:35 PM ET (US)     Profile for lhg    
I've made at least four boating cruises from launching ramps in the States into the Canadian North Channel waters and British Columbia coast area, and never called in once, either to Canada when entering, or to the US when returning! Just never remembered that I should do this, I was having so much fun boating. Never did any fishing, though.

What would they have done to me if I was stopped?

jimh posted 12-10-2001 11:35 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
I think the secret to LHG's good luck is this: he's about 100 miles into Canadian water and he's in an 18-foot boat. There is no immigration guy who thinks you can cross 100 miles of open water in an 18-foot boat, so even if he were to spot a Whaler, he'd never think someone came across Lake Huron in it! He'd just figure you trailered it up to Canada and launched it a mile or two away.
jimh posted 12-10-2001 11:48 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Back to serious mode:

I don't think you need the RABC pass for usual NC cruising. If you depart Drummond Island you probably will not make landfall on Cockburn anyway. Go instead to Meldrum Bay. There you can report when coming ashore. Once in Canada you'll probably stay for a while.

Visit Cockburn Island (pronounced "CO-burn") on the way back to the States.

By the way, there is not much on Cockburn. I've never landed there but heard some stories from fellow cruisers. I have an article about it . A couple of years ago a woman who lives or vacations on the island wrote me a nasty eMail complaining about something I had said in the article. Not wanting to be an "ugly American" I revise the material she found offensive or inaccurate, but I don't think she was entirely happy still.

There are only a few--maybe 3 or 4--people who live there year-round, and perhaps a few more in the summer. Most of island is pine timber being cut for paper mills.

A great place to stop is PILOT COVE on the NE coast of Drummond. With low water about the only boat that can get in there would be a Whaler (with the engine tilted up), but once across the bar you can ride out a hurricane there. A cool place and home to 10,000 perch by the way.

kingfish posted 12-11-2001 09:25 AM ET (US)     Profile for kingfish  Send Email to kingfish     

On one fine day in July this past summer I started out from Cedarville in my Outrage 22, ducked into Detour to fuel up, then went back outside (South) of Drummond Island, up into the NC via False Detour Passage between Drummond and Cockburn islands then cruised off the North side of Cockburn and Manitoulin Islands to the Little Current area, gassed up and rested a little, then turned around and went back the same way. (130 miles and change each way.)

I'm a little embarassed to say that it never even occurred to me to check into customs going either way!

We have some property near Little Current, and if I was stopped somewhere by Canadian Customs I might have been tempted to lie and tell them I had just come from there rather than tell them I had just crossed the border without checking in. Upon reflection now, I'll bet that if I had been stopped, and if I had tried that tall tale on them, they could have followed up and caught me in my lie by checking the computer records I'm pretty sure they keep of each license plate that crosses and when, and found that my license plate didn't cross where and when I said it did.

My mistake was innocent, for what that is worth, as was LHG's, but I have no idea what they would have done with either one of us. Or if what they would do is different since September 11. I am pretty sure that if someone had a gun in the boat under those circumstances, especially a handgun, things would not be pretty.

It sounds clearly that for day cruising and fishing in Canada and returning to a home base in the States like what you are contemplating and like what I did this past summer, the RABC permit would be the most convenient way to be legal. I suppose I would still have technically been in violation of the US regulations because I did touch down momentarily on Canadian soil, but didn't check back in with US Customs upon my return.

Maybe they would all have taken pity on someone crazy enough to have made the run I did (if I could convince them it was the truth).

Thanks for the info.


gunnelgrabber posted 12-11-2001 11:58 AM ET (US)     Profile for gunnelgrabber  Send Email to gunnelgrabber     
kingfish,lhg,jimh et al,..that's all very relevant timely stuff. i keep an rabc for quetico park tripping, but i've always longed to see that area you guys operate in there around georgian bay, north channel etc. since 9/11 they keep talking about more changes in border security. wish it wasn't that way. so please do keep the rest of us limited participants up on the changes in this regard?..thanks...lm
lhg posted 12-11-2001 03:07 PM ET (US)     Profile for lhg    
Thanks, Kingfish. It's nice to know I'm not alone!
Buckda posted 12-11-2001 06:21 PM ET (US)     Profile for Buckda  Send Email to Buckda     
Kingfish -

Don't you have a 22 guardian? (btw, that's what we've got - operate out of Hill Island in Cedarville).

LHG, Kingfish, et al - I didn't mean to draw any attention to anyone not following regulations to the letter...I just figured after Sept. 11 it was a good idea to be "in the know" about what we needed to do...

I figure that even if you make a mistake somewhere along the way, if you can show that your intent was to be lawful, etc. your chances of that little conference with Customs Officials will go that much better - and I'm all for that.

I think one of the things we forget about Canada - it's such a beautiful country, and very SIMILAR to us...but it's still a foreign (and soveriegn) country....years ago on a trip to Romania I learned that you ALWAYS respect the laws and customs of the country you are's always better to be safe than sorry.

Of course, I totally agree with the point that most customs officials would assume that an 18 ft. Whaler in the middle of Georgian Bay entered behind a vehicle in the Detroit/Windsor area or at the Sault. Who would believe it - except a fellow Whaler owner? Wait a minute, don't Canadian officials use Whalers too?!

JB - is it possible to take a Whaler from LOTW to Lake Superior? The border area looks pretty remote along that route. Is it restricted to kayaks and canoes?

kingfish posted 12-11-2001 06:52 PM ET (US)     Profile for kingfish  Send Email to kingfish     

No, Outre' is a '92 Outrage 22 (with a radar arch and full Mills canvas)- there are some pre-arch photos of her in a couple places in the earlier Cetacea pages. We were in Cedarville July 14-July 21, stayed at an old resort just South of town. We visited some friends on Hill Island one evening during our stay, and had the canvas up due to wet weather almost the entire week, except for the one day of blazing good weather I made the big run. (Now that I think about it, even with the good weather I left the canvas up.)

It was our first time around the Cheneaux, and we loved it! I didn't see your Guardian, but I did see another 22 with an arch and canvas about half way to Hessel. It was a little older than mine, and apparently set up for fishing. Really pretty area, and we hope to go back.

jimh posted 12-11-2001 11:42 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
[administrative post]
Buckda posted 12-12-2001 11:12 AM ET (US)     Profile for Buckda  Send Email to Buckda     
Kingfish -
Actually, the Guardian hasn't been in the water much this year. The lake level in front of our summer place is so low that to extend a dock to a point with enough water for the Whaler would pose a navigational hazard to through boating traffic! We had it out for about a week, and simply anchored it out front, but the neighbor complained it was "blocking his view." Imagine! A beautiful "Bristol" whaler (restored '85 22' guardian)backdropped by evergreens and placid water....Blocking?!

Anyway...we've been forced to trailer it each time we wish to use it for the past 2 years due to the low water levels.

The boat's not set up with a top, but we've got all the appropriate gear for fishing (downriggers, rod-holders, etc) Also - if you see us, the paint job is a bit deceiving - we have black logos and black bottom paint, which typically belys the age of the boat. Lots of people think it's a mid-90's vintage Outrage (except, of course, for the hull design.

Perhaps we'll see you sometime in the Chenaux if you're up there again.

kingfish posted 12-12-2001 02:54 PM ET (US)     Profile for kingfish  Send Email to kingfish     
Sounds good-

We poked back in about as far as we could get in around Hill Island, and it certainly was evident how troublesome the low water is to just about everyone. Our friends had to keep their 23' Searay at the Marina whose name I can't remember, but is around the corner from the Cedarville municipal marina.

(BTW, the old resort we stayed at wasn't "South" of town - I guess that would have put it out in the water - it was West of town)

Buckda posted 12-12-2001 03:25 PM ET (US)     Profile for Buckda  Send Email to Buckda     
I figured you were "south of town" toward Snows Channel and Viking Marina (harbor?) al...Several resort cottages there (I guess thats more Southwest though).

I love that area. If there were a job I could take and just telecommute everyday, that is where I would live year round. Maybe the future will allow that sort of thing. (*sigh*)

kingfish posted 12-12-2001 05:40 PM ET (US)     Profile for kingfish  Send Email to kingfish     
Man, talk about directionally impaired!! (talking about me)

Your description of the relative location of Viking Marina (*that's* the one that I couldn't remember)to Cedarville, has caused me to finally get my bearings - we were *East* of Cedarville. I should have just said, "towards Detour".

I think I've got it right this time (if not, there's only one compass direction left!).

Good grief!

One thing I do know is that there is some phenominal perch and walleye at the Snows Inn.

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