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Old 04-08-2015, 20:53   #1
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School me on crossing National boundaries

I'm planning a BVI trip this fall. I am, and all of my shipmates are, US citizens. We are flying into St Thomas and ferrying to BVI where we will clear in. Ordinarily, we never leave BVI until we are done with the trip so no further clearing is needed until clearing out.

This time, I would like to explore St John while we are down there. I anticipate that we will simply cruise in and out of one or more harbors to get a good look at some of them for future reference and do not intend to go ashore. A "Recon Mission", if you will.

So, the questions are:

At what point is it required to clear back in to the US?
Anchor down?
Dry feet?
Just driving through?
Or, when we cross the dashed USVI/BVI line on the chart?

Appreciate your wisdom and experience and feel free to point me to any authoritative links.

Fitz
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Old 04-08-2015, 21:12   #2
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Re: School me on crossing National boundaries

Anchor down. In practice.

However its a tad more complicated than that. If you go into a bay without stopping you must clear in. But the size of the bay can be a little weird. Each country can say what the extent of that bay is.

Flopping around in the Caribbean with its vast number of charter and vacation boats make it more relaxed.
The best way to work it out is to give an example and see where you think it prudent to clear in. If you were sailing up the US coast near New York and sailed inside the 12 mile and then 3 mile limit, and then inside Sandy Hook and up the estuary to Coney Island and then went out again. That would be a clear necessity to clear in even though you didnt anchor.
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Old 04-08-2015, 21:22   #3
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Re: School me on crossing National boundaries

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Anchor down. In practice.

However its a tad more complicated than that. If you go into a bay without stopping you must clear in. But the size of the bay can be a little weird. Each country can say what the extent of that bay is.
Any place I can find those rules relative to BVI/VI?

What I'm thinking about is reconnoitering the East end of St John and Coral Bay without stopping. Cruz Bay on the other side of the island appears to be the place where one would have to Clear in, so not really handy for a "drive by".
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Old 04-08-2015, 22:40   #4
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Re: School me on crossing National boundaries

Anchor down, or taking a mooring. Its not an exact science, but close enough. In most cases, you have the right of innocent passage, but the US has not ratified UNCLOS.
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Old 05-08-2015, 08:36   #5
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Re: School me on crossing National boundaries

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Originally Posted by MarkJ View Post
Anchor down. In practice.

However its a tad more complicated than that. If you go into a bay without stopping you must clear in. But the size of the bay can be a little weird. Each country can say what the extent of that bay is.

Flopping around in the Caribbean with its vast number of charter and vacation boats make it more relaxed.
The best way to work it out is to give an example and see where you think it prudent to clear in. If you were sailing up the US coast near New York and sailed inside the 12 mile and then 3 mile limit, and then inside Sandy Hook and up the estuary to Coney Island and then went out again. That would be a clear necessity to clear in even though you didnt anchor.
You can sail inside 12 and 3 mile limit and so on ... It is only anchor down or tie up at a dock or mooring which necessitates clearing cusoms/immigration.
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Old 05-08-2015, 12:21   #6
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Re: School me on crossing National boundaries

One small note: In theory you should fly the yellow Q flag if you haven't cleared in yet. Also avoid making contact with other boats.

The idea is that you don't come in, drop off contraband to another boat and leave. If you raft up with somebody for a beer in the new country's waters before clearing in it might look like you're up to no good.
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Old 05-08-2015, 12:50   #7
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Re: School me on crossing National boundaries

Don't know about the carib, but...apparently as an oddity in the treaty signed after the War of 1812, British flag vessels were given the right to navigate the Mississippi River without clearing in to the US. A legacy of French Louisiana and the territories being split from the Colonies and still "outside" the US at that time. AFAIK the terms haven't been officially modified since though.


So one never knows...
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Old 05-08-2015, 12:52   #8
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Re: School me on crossing National boundaries

Hi Fitz - good for you for wanting to abide by the rules.

Good news, bad news. The BVI/USVI boundary is routinely crossed by vessels underway just transiting the narrow passage around the west end of Tortola/Thatch Island and the north side of St. John. I expect you could circumnavigate St. John without clearing in and easily get away with it, although around the west end where custom/immigration is available in Cruz Bay you'd have a difficult time explaining why you didn't. In my many years down there I've never seen or heard of a foreign cruising yacht being "pulled over" while underway to be questioned. Neither the USVI nor the BVI has the personnel resources to do that. That's the good news. The bad news is that it'll be obvious that your charter boat is from the BVI. There are only a few charter companies in the USVI and they are not the same companies as in the BVI. Your Sunsail/Moorings/Horizon/Voyage/whatever BVI charter will stick out like a sore thumb. Everyone will know you came from the BVI side. Whatever you do, do NOT hoist a US courtesy flag to pretend you cleared in. If anything, fly a Q flag showing your intention to clear in, then change your mind and do not stop.

But why bother? St. John is fabulous and there's nothing you'll see to put you off except maybe the Coral Bay area. It's a crowded anchorage with a lot of worn out liveaboards. Most of the rest of the island is US National Park with mooring required anchorages that rival anything in the BVI except they're free of beach bars. Moorings are $15/night vs $25 or $30 in the BVI. AND - there's very few charter boats.

As a compromise, while transiting from Jost Van Dyke through Thatch Island Cut into Drake Channel (or vice versa) take a short detour in and out of Leinster Bay or Francis Bay on the north side of St. John and have a look. If you somehow get "pulled over", just claim you thought you were in Cane Garden Bay. Being a charter boat, the authorities will certainly believe you were confused...

Dave
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Old 05-08-2015, 13:38   #9
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Re: School me on crossing National boundaries

just remember most charter companies may/will NOT cover you in case of an accident and basra may not respond out of territory.
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Old 05-08-2015, 13:42   #10
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Re: School me on crossing National boundaries

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and basra may not respond out of territory.
Who would expect BASRA to respond in the Virgins? VISAR would, though.

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Old 05-08-2015, 21:02   #11
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Re: School me on crossing National boundaries

I've sailed many times in the VIs and I don't remember ever seeing a boat flying a Q flag, in USVI or BVI. The rules are loosely followed and loosely enforced. It doesn't benefit either territory to make it difficult to come and go. However, "everyone does it" would be no defense if an issue were to arise. BVI requires that you clear in and clear out. Soper's Hole is by far the most convenient place for this and has the friendliest and most helpful customs and immigration officers. Great Harbor on Jost isn't bad, but avoid clearing at Road Town like the plague.

USVI requires that you clear in but doesn't require you to clear out to go to BVI. Going anywhere else requires clearing out. Cruz Bay on St John is by far the best place to do this. Cruz Bay is horribly crowded so you will never find a place to anchor and all mooring balls are private. The customs office has a dock for clearing in, but you can't stay there to visit the town for even a minute. You can take a public mooring ball just around the corner in Caneel Bay, dinghy into Cruz Bay, clear C&I, then enjoy strolling through town. Absolutely avoid clearing at St Thomas.
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