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Old 14-11-2017, 21:26   #1
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Immigration just to get fuel?

Going from Panama to Florida.
I have a sailboat that can only carry 65 gals of fuel. I burn .6 gals per hr. The route I am taking at this time of year will put me most of the time against the wind. I will have to motor. Therefore I will have to make 3 stops in three different countries just for fuel.
I met a delivery capt and he told me places to fuel up without checking in to immigration and customs. Corn Islands etc without checking in and out at customs nor getting new zarpes.. Just going in and getting out asap. I don't want to pay an immigration fee, cruising fee, etc. just to get fuel.
1-Has anyone done that and is it safe?
2-What would be the consequences if discovered?
3-Could I just fly the quarantine flag as it gives me 24 hours to check in?
Any advice?

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Old 14-11-2017, 21:52   #2
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Re: Immigration just to get fuel?

#2 your boat could be impounded. Likely getting it back after much haggling and a fine
#3 no such thing as a free ride for 24 hours just because you raise a Q flag. The flag actually means that you are requesting pratique, aka to clear in.
#1 sure people do it and get away with it. Some don't get away with it. It depends on what risk level you want to take.

Seems like buying some Jerry jugs or a flex tank might be in order.

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Old 14-11-2017, 23:49   #3
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Re: Immigration just to get fuel?

Sometimes a courtesy call to customs/immigration that you are stopping for just an hour for fuel then continuing on your way to a foreign destination will suffice.

If it is not convenient for them to attend, they will ignore you, but show them this courtesy and stay out of trouble
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Old 15-11-2017, 05:59   #4
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Re: Immigration just to get fuel?

Greetings and welcome aboard the CF, Goden.
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Old 15-11-2017, 06:19   #5
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Re: Immigration just to get fuel?

Do people get away with it? Sure. It's called violating the law, and there are people who make their living doing that. We have a name for them -- "criminal."

This, of course, is a pretty minor crime. Not much worse than speeding, in my book. But it is still a crime, and "my book" doesn't cover the laws in whatever country you might get caught in. If you DO get caught then expect to be treated like a criminal.

Penalties vary from country to country. As mentioned, a courtesy call might be enough to get officials to look the other way in some countries. In others, it might not. In some countries the penalties might be very minor. In others they might be extremely severe.

Your life, your boat, your choice. As Dirty Harry might say, do you feel lucky?
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Old 15-11-2017, 09:15   #6
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Re: Immigration just to get fuel?

In the NE US at least you are not allowed to take on anything or remove anything or allow people on/off board (except for the Captain to contact CBP) until CBP has shown up and cleared the boat.

They get VERY prickly if you do anything otherwise. I know from experience.

I think it is doubly true for foreign flagged vessels.

CBP operates in a regional structure and it could be that other regions are different. Keep in mind most of them are ex-military and in general trained to be pretty unfriendly, albeit not necessarily unprofessional. You could call the office in your region and ask. They will be happy to speak with you. Also, if you don't get the answer you want, call back during another shift and try again. That has worked for me as well.

And the previous posters are right. They will not hesitate to confiscate your boat, and by the way good luck getting it back. The gummit makes lots of money auctioning confiscated property, even from people that were not convicted or even charged with crimes. I am not exaggerating. The law allows it.
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Old 15-11-2017, 10:20   #7
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Re: Immigration just to get fuel?

I have done that trip twice...Panama to Caymans to Mexico to Key West. While I sailed 80% of the way I did check-in and fuel in Grand Cayman and Puerto Morelos, stayed a week in each and had a good time. Panama to Grand Cayman is a lovely reach and it keeps you away from the pirates in Nicaragua and Grand Cayman to Cancun can be a lovely run off the wind. Mexico to Key West might require full tanks.

Immigrations in Caymans have been known to issue fines for minor infractions and the Mexicans impound boats. However, the fuel dock at the El Cid marina in Puerto Morelos is fairly remote but very accessible and you could fuel there and say you planned to check-in at Isla Mujeres. Checking in and out of Mexico can cost $200+. My Hispanic wife gets way with things like that but then she sounds like the Immigration Officer's abuela you don't!

You MUST have a zarpe for entering Mexico.

Follow the rules or sail more.

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Old 15-11-2017, 10:24   #8
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Re: Immigration just to get fuel?

Its going to be hit and miss. Do your homework and, where necessary, carry our any of the pre-registrations with these countries and follow their rules for inward clearances. If you have contact info, then contact them well in advance explaining your request. Only upon arrival are you likely to discover whether you will get a waiver or not. It may come down to how well the customs and immigration officers are enjoying their day and want to do any favors. No guarantees.

Suggest you stock up on jerry cans.
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Old 15-11-2017, 10:25   #9
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Re: Immigration just to get fuel?

I agree with those who say don't try to avoid customs. Not worth the possible consequences. I'm not sure of your normal cruising speed, but if it's six knots, for example, would it make sense to add four or five 5-gal diesel cans to your load to reduce the number of stops? Probably a good bit cheaper than clearing customs even one extra time.
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Old 15-11-2017, 12:04   #10
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Re: Immigration just to get fuel?

I'm just working out a sailboat delivery to Florida, so this is timely. I will have about 90 gallons leaving Panama, and it looks like Grand Cayman might be a good stop to wait for weather and fuel if I need it. Is there a fuel dock where I can bring 11 ft alongside?
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Old 15-11-2017, 12:51   #11

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Re: Immigration just to get fuel?

What do you call someone in a foreign vessel that sneaks in to your country, conducts a brief transaction at the shore, and then sneaks back out again?
Oh yes, DRUG SMUGGLERS. Or worse.
So you may understand why local officials really really may be upset at your fuel stop, and why they just might want to come by and tear your boat apart to see if that's what really was happening?

The world is not as casual as it used to be. I've had folks in uniform look at my papers and say "Uh, yeah, that's expired. But hey, it looks like you anyway, go ahead, have a good time." Not recently, and I wouldn't bet on it anymore.

You can buy jerry cans, or a fuel bladder, or you can roll the dice. I'm not sure what the situation in Panama is, but in the US? In most cities there are Chinese restaurants that buy cooking oil in 5-gallon metal containers, which they regularly put out in the trash. Perfect for diesel jerry cans, short term. And places that process pickles and feta chesese and olives, throwing out stack of 5-15-20-35 gallon rugged plastic cans. I expect that in Panama less of that will be thrown away, but for short term use? There must be places that are trashing good containers, that would either give them to you or sell them cheaply.
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Old 15-11-2017, 12:54   #12
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Re: Immigration just to get fuel?

One is never really free
Fly your flag into the fuel dock,,fill up ,,if no one
Shows up to check you in, get out of town asap..
But again ,,as the posts say ,if you get caught it
Coyld be expensive..
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Old 15-11-2017, 15:40   #13
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Re: Immigration just to get fuel?

I disagree with your premise that you will have to motor against the wind. Being the trade wind season you will have lots of easterly winds. Florida is north of Panama, not east. Sailing north from Panama may be a lively passage but you won't need to motor much. FWIW I sailed from Panama east to the ABC islands this time of year, something many "experienced cruisers" warned me against - what utter nonsense! It was slow going to be sure but otherwise a good sail. For your trip it will be easier with beam winds. You have a sailboat: sail it!

As for trying to skip customs & immigration - I agree that you might well get permission if you contact them first. Sneaking around behind their backs is a really bad idea. If you get caught things could get ugly. Even if you get away with it you may have increased the pain for others that follow. Many places have been closed to cruisers, or now have strict rules, as a result of such behavior. Please leave a clean wake.

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Old 15-11-2017, 18:30   #14
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Re: Immigration just to get fuel?

On you inbound call tell the agent it will be only a technical stop for fuel. Fly the yellow flag get the fuel and go. Have a good trip
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Old 19-11-2017, 06:57   #15
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Re: Immigration just to get fuel?

I would like to add to this question in a way. We will be travelling south from Canada. My husband has a record ( a DUI from 20 yrs ago) will we have problems stopping for fuel in US waters on the way?

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