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Old 25-03-2014, 06:45   #1
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Question for American expats re: USCG documentation

We've kept the boat we bought in 2012 documented with the USCG. We're US Citizens, and full time residents of the Turks and Caicos Islands with no plans to live in the US again anytime soon. If ever. Nor do we plan to sail in US waters.

We've had to go through a juggling act with cruising permits here, and have not imported the boat to the TCI because the import duty has been up at 46% for a couple of years now. It's a pain, as we can only have two 3 month cruising permits in a calendar year. So we have to either take the boat out of the country for six months of the year ( could be two 3 month trips) or put it on the hard here.

Now, we've just been told by local Customs that they are changing this next month. New import duty on our boat will work out to be around 17%. Not great, but it sure beats 46%.

We're trying to make a decision as to whether or not to import the boat. It would mean giving up the USCG documentation.
If you retired to, for example, Panama, Honduras, Belize or Mexico as legal residents, do you still keep your boat US flagged?

I kind of like the idea of our transom saying "Twisted Sheets, Turks Islands" but I want to be reasonably confident that giving up 28 years of USCG documentation is not a mistake. I'm not seeing any big advantages to being US flagged over anywhere else. And in fact some disadvantages. The USCG can, for example, legally board a US flagged vessel anywhere on earth, with no reason or recourse. It's not that we have anything on board to hide from them, but something in me doesn't like that they can just stomp onto my boat whenever they feel like it. This is not the case with non US boats, the way I understand it. I don't see any benefit to the USCG doc in foreign waters. We're not going to be calling them for help here. And if we did, we're still US citizens with those rights no matter what boat we're sailing. Of course we pay US taxes.

Do any of you other cruising expats have any input to this?
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Old 25-03-2014, 07:30   #2
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Re: Question for American expats re: USCG documentation

Sounds like your position is well considered.
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Old 25-03-2014, 08:03   #3
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Re: Question for American expats re: USCG documentation

For a cruising boat, which crosses international boundaries often, USCG doco is handy because it is widely recognized. But your T&C doco should work too...just not as familiar to officials (similar to the State vs Fed doco debate already beat to death here on CF).

If the USCG is operating in foreign waters in cooperation with local authorities then they can and will board your boat regarless of country of registry. Have seen this in a number of venues in the NW & SW Carib. A piece of paper is not an effective counter argument to automatic weapons.

Re experiences in other venues:

I've lived in Belize & Guatemala and had USCG documented boats in both. In both cases I've kept USCG doco because of import duties and because the boat clears in/out a lot. I've also carried Belize registration because the boat was used commercially in Belize, but kept USCG doco.

Import duties are crazy in Belize too, but compromises can be worked out with the right contacts (don't know how "flexible" T&C officials are). Guatemala temp paperwork is easy and can be extended for a full year so no big reason to import there.

Belize also has a retirement program under which you can import a boat (and other personal goods) duty free, provided it is for personal use only (no commercial use). Does T&C have anything similar?
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Old 25-03-2014, 08:15   #4
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Re: Question for American expats re: USCG documentation

Actually, while the USCG can operate in foreign waters with a cooperation agreement. I think it is that if the US has cooperation agreements with other countries, they can board those boats regardless of waters. These countries include many of the common ones with cruising boats.

I am not certain of this, but I have certainly seen them board non-US flagged vessels in non-US waters.

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Old 25-03-2014, 09:19   #5
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Re: Question for American expats re: USCG documentation

Some good points here, thank you.

I hadn't hought about the universal acceptance of the USCG doc. I HAD thought about the relative ease of taking a TCI flagged vessel to Cuba.

While I suspect that surrounding countries are familiar with the TCI, I can only imagine what their documentation looks like. In almost ten years here we haven't ever seen a trailer license plate or the lights plugged in. The only documentation you get with a vehicle purchase here is a bill of sale. No title.

This place would be a banana republic, but someone keeps stealing the bananas.

I just emailed my insurance company to find out if they would care about the flag.
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Old 25-03-2014, 09:53   #6
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Re: Question for American expats re: USCG documentation

Why not dual registration?
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Old 25-03-2014, 10:37   #7
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Re: Question for American expats re: USCG documentation

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tingum View Post
Why not dual registration?
Don't know about TCI specifically, but many countries require importation first.
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Old 25-03-2014, 10:59   #8
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Re: Question for American expats re: USCG documentation

Importing a boat to a foreign country does not necessarily affect your US Documentation status. For example, my documented vessel was "imported" to the BVI every year for over a decade.

I'd keep the US Documentation for several reasons. The boarding issue is a straw man.

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Old 25-03-2014, 13:11   #9
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Re: Question for American expats re: USCG documentation

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Originally Posted by btrayfors View Post
Importing a boat to a foreign country does not necessarily affect your US Documentation status. For example, my documented vessel was "imported" to the BVI every year for over a decade.

...

Bill

True. My boat is both USCG and Belize.
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Old 25-03-2014, 13:18   #10
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Re: Question for American expats re: USCG documentation

what flag do you fly and which "hailing port" do you display on the transom?

I don't know for sure, but it was my impression that the reason the USCG can board boats here under the OPBAT agreement is because they have a law enforcement officer from this country on board with them. I don't believe that having an agreement per se gives the US people any rights to board non US boats outside the US unless accompanied by a representative of that country.

Not sure what that means in international waters if you are non US flagged.

Does the USCG have some right to board a non US boat in international waters without any just cause? Like, I can see chasing a drug runner into International waters, but just arbitrarily deciding to board, for example, a Brazilian ketch wouldn't seem reasonable.
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Old 25-03-2014, 13:22   #11
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Re: Question for American expats re: USCG documentation

In my case the Belizean registration is (was) just for the purposes to commecrcial (charter) use in Belize, flag and markings are still per USCG registration.

Now out cruising so only use the USCG doco.
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Old 25-03-2014, 13:26   #12
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Re: Question for American expats re: USCG documentation

I found the regs.
Jurisdiction - Chapter 3

So if you're flying a US flag, they can indeed do a "safety and document" inspection anywhere, any time.

If you're NOT under a US flag, the situation changes but no, they don't have the right to board and inspect a boat registered somewhere else, outside the US waters, on their own unless a crime is involved.

That pretty much answers that question.
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Old 25-03-2014, 14:35   #13
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Re: Question for American expats re: USCG documentation

If I understand the question is - does being USCG documented (ie documented in the USA) offer any advantage over being documented somewhere else?

Does it really matter when a boat is documented to most countries when visiting (I don't know but don't think so). Can you travel on US passport on a boat documented somewhere else (that you own), I don't really know but would expect the answer is yes.
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Old 25-03-2014, 16:16   #14
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Re: Question for American expats re: USCG documentation

yes, that's the question. More or less.

But when I asked that question I didn't realize that some people are USCG documented and also have some kind of registration with another country.

That's a little different. We live in TCI full time, and want to keep our boat here a lot of the time, too. Reading some of the responses here, I realize that I might not have to give up the USCG documentation, and can probably import the boat here. WHich just means pay a customs duty and then I can keep the boat here full time. That's a one time fee. There is no annual registration or such here for this kind of boat.

So my question evolves into do I want to be US flagged. It would bug the heck out of me to be in my country of residence in a boat that i imported here, and have the USCG land next to me and start inspecting my paperwork, whether I have all the proper placards, and a sign telling everybody on board ( i.e both of us) who' responsible for taking the garbage out etc.

IF I don't live in the USA, and am not sailing my boat in US waters, I guess I feel it's basically none of Uncle Sam's business how many placards, signs, life jackets etc. I choose to keep on board. That would be between me and the TCI. And they don't care. No requirements.

So right now, I'm leaning on dropping the US flag and just using a TCI flagged vessel. I might still get boarded for a drug or illegal immigrant search if the TCI guy on the USCG helicopter agreed, but the CG won't have any say on who takes the garbage out. Or what position the toilet discharge lever is in.
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Old 25-03-2014, 17:02   #15
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Re: Question for American expats re: USCG documentation

G'day, Mate. I know you asked specifically about areas of Central America, but with others reading the post, I will offer this about New Zealand. We imported our Mason to New Zealand over 10 years ago. We kept the USCG documentation to avoid New Zealand's Category 1 inspections of their registered vessels when heading offshore to the islands. Future American buyers of the could take advantage of this, while having the benefit of leaving the vessel in New Zealand for long periods of time. All the best. Cheers.
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