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Old 12-06-2006, 07:15   #1
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Fun With Homeland Security

We are a Canadian vessel with some limited experience travelling through the US. I came through when bringing the boat home from Martinique in 2002, and when travelling down to Trini in 2004. I am now travelling up the coast back home.

I got a Cruiser's Permit in Puerto Rico from a very nice lady officer, who explained that nothing had changed - We were to check into each jurisdiction and let them know we had entered their territory, and we may be subject to search when re-entering the US after the Bahamas.

We made it from Bahamas to Port Canaveral on Friday of the Memorial Day Weekend. We had paid $75 to have our phone enabled, and started calling all the numbers from an hour out. We finally found one that worked, and a recording told me I was caller #9 and need only wait. Most of our time was used up when the friendly officer gave us some new numbers to try to fulfil our responsibilities. None worked. We went the extra 3/4 hour of travel from the land entrance of the port to the yacht marinas at the west end, and went to a fuel dock at New Port Marina. They said they had no fuel, and that they wanted us to leave. We begged to use their phone and to get a good number for customs. The new number, on their phone gave us a recording that told us to walk to the office and declare in person. We hung up and asked the personnel at the marina where the office was. They said it was 25 minutes walk away, and the the guy is seldom there, and would not be there for sure in 40 minutes when the office closes, and would not be back until after the long weekend. However, they said that we could not stay, as it was the weekend of a big fishing tournament and they needed the space. They further said that we would be fined if we anchored anywhere in the port, and that all marinas would be full.

The darkening, thunderstorm-filled sky gave us two options - go back to sea, two hours to deep water in a storm, or go through the bridges to the ICW and relative safety. We went through, and illegally sailed the ICW for a day and slept for two nights before going back to sea, all as illegal aliens. My first responsibility is to my boat and crew, right? Compliance was literally impossible without me simply going back to sea.

We came back to shore in Georgia, and spent two nights in the ICW before tying up at the Savannah waterfront. Great place by the way. We called some numbers and found a customs office. The guy didn't believe he could find us, a sailing catamaran, on the waterfront. If you've been there, you would realize this guy probably couldn't find a bathroom in his own home. He did, however, call Immigration, and they said they would give it a try. Officer Jackson came down and took our information on a pad of paper, as he forgot the proper forms, and said that is all that is required. We asked him for some numbers for the customs offices in the other states, and he said that wasn't necessary. We didn't argue but doubted his knowledge, as he also didn't know what an Intracoastal Waterway was. Nice guy, however.

We went back to sea later and headed to Morehead City, NC. We spent one night in the ICW behind Cape Fear (Jeeze, they moved that channel, by the way), at Wrightsville. We cued up for the bridge openning the next morning, and were called by the bridge operator who asked what our intentions were. When we said we were, with his permission, going through, he said that Homeland Security requirements were that we provided him with our boat name and port of registry prior to being allowed through. We apologized, and provided him with the details. I tried to provide the same information at other bridges and they asked what it was all about. When I explained our previous "growling out", they said they had never heard of such a rule.

At Morehead City, we tried to call the 1-800 number we found on our older, 2004 permit. It didn't work because Customs had purchased the cheaper 800 service that doesn't work from foreign telephones (You can't make this stuff up). Ours used a Canadian service provider so we couldn't use it. I guess foreign vessels who are required to call in before going ashore must go ashore to phone. We went ashore to find a public phone. Public phones don't really work anymore, so us foreigners have a rough time. We had some laughs at the state of the public phone booths in the area before asking a restaurant for the use of their phone. Not without some pleading, we got the phone, and called the number. They said that certainly we were supposed to call in. They said that if anybody asks, that we successfully spoke to Officer Bedbetter, and she said we were fine. The officer then hung up, as we realized she didn't have our names, the name of our boat, or the Cruising Permit number. Curious. We felt like we bothered her and her other officers with the call, and they just wanted rid of us.

We've decided not to try too hard to make everybody happy, because nobody seems to know what they are doing. It would be impossible to protect the coasts of Canada and the US anyway, as the old rum-runner days and newer drug-running days proves, but at least everybody should be following the same procedures?!? It would also be nice if the procedures actually worked.

Us illegal foreigners will be going back to sea from Virginia probably on Thursday. Right now, we are waiting out the first storm of the season.

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Old 12-06-2006, 07:26   #2
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oops, to late...

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Old 12-06-2006, 10:00   #3
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glad to hear you recieved good treatment in Savannah. what a great place to visit
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Old 12-06-2006, 11:05   #4
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We were right behind you at the Wrightsville Beach bridge in Questeria. I think once you check in the first bridge in a state, you are in the computer and the next bridge tender has the information they need.

Good luck on the rest of your journey.
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Old 12-06-2006, 18:56   #5
Kai Nui

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One of those situations you don't know whether to laugh or cry. Oh well, since you are here, want a job, a driver license, and welfare? That should be no problem.
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Old 13-06-2006, 12:02   #6

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You see how traveling widens your horizons?<G>

I had a similar experience years ago crossing from Belgium into France. I asked the man in the booth to stamp my passport, he refused. We had a short linguistically challenged discussion, and he ended it by stomping into his booth, closing the door, and pulling down the curtain.

I figured the worst that could happen, was that the French would shoot me as an American Spy who had invaded their country. Knowing French military history in this century, I invaded anyway.

Nowadays when someone at a border asks me the purpose of my visit, I usually say "Plunder and pillage, would you please line up all the women and gold and cattle so I can collect them on the way out, and we can skip the messy plunder part?"

Sometimes they'll bargain, if you let them keep the women or the cattle, they'll readily agree to let you have the rest.<G>
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Old 22-06-2006, 20:17   #7
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I once sailed non stop from Cartagena to Key West. Thought I'd get the once over, but spent 3 days trying to get someone to take an interest, was finally told to "come back monday".
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Old 23-06-2006, 10:30   #8

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The first time I found myself outside the US without "proper" papers for re-entry, I was pleasantly surprised to find that because we were coming in on a Sunday evening, the customs & immigration desk was simply CLOSED. Everybody off the ship, walk that way, goodbye, have a nice time in America.

But I figured, why should I worry? If someone doesn't want to let me back in, I have a fool-proof plan. I'll just tell them that if they don't let me in, I can't file my taxes, and I'm going to tell the IRS that is ALL THEIR FAULT.

Only a citizen would appreciate the threat of sic'ing the IRS on them.<G>
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Old 23-06-2006, 19:44   #9
Bob Norson

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the inconsistancies and frustrations of dealing with Australian officials has now been put in porportion... they have been degenerating but at a slower rate than the yank variety. what a farce! I will now try to be more patient with the home brew, they are still idiots but no the biggest!

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Old 23-06-2006, 20:27   #10
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Look at it this way Bob. Isn't it nice to know that what we have here is just governments boasting more than they can deliver. If you think about it nothing really is that bad or that different or that new.
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Old 23-06-2006, 21:36   #11
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"If you think about it nothing really is that bad or that different or that new."
Well, bad is a subjective but I stand by the remark about it (the customs culture) being degenerate in Australia and I think in the US. (have been gone for along time so rely on other accounts for an opinion) For quite a few years prior to migration about 12 years ago, I was regularly importing opal and other gems from australia to the US and dealing with customs on both ends in the process. Not to mention when migrating our status was "business migration" so brought all personal possesions and business assets etc... got to know customs pretty good. I could fill pages with stories about the incredable antics of US customs when the OZ version were such a reasonable and heplful agency by comparison. Sadly not so anymore but maybe not as dumb and unheplful as described above.

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Old 24-06-2006, 03:48   #12
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Coming into the states from Central America once we hit a three hour queue at the airport for immigration. When we got past immigration and into customs the line was even longer. A customs agent yelled "Is this anybody's final destination?" I held up my hand and the next thing I know we are standing on the sidewalk outside the terminal, no baggage check, no paperwork. This was after the Homeland Security took over.
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Old 25-06-2006, 17:06   #13
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Some interesting points! Did you know, not only do you have to check in at the original point of entry, but you have to check in at every additional anchorage? It is a $5,000 fine for each infraction!

There is a significant debat as to whether Florida can restrict anchoring as they do. Some legal pundits suggest that this is constitutionally unenforceable. We are still waiting for some one with a few $100 thousand and a couple of years to challenge the laws. Most of the marine police, if you explained the circumstances would allow you to stay. Especially if there is an explainable peril to your vessel. As I understand it, they mostly want to keep the riff-raff moving!

I believe if you are under 65.6 feet (20 meters), you are not even required to have a VHF aboard. (This does not apply to foreign vessels or vessels traveling internationally). How can you be required to contact the bridge via VHF if you're not required to have one? I had a bridge operator yell at me once (over loud speaker) to pick up my VHF so I could provide the name of my vessel and port. I explained that I was unable to go below and pick up my VHF and navigate the boat at the same time. (My hand held's battery had died). I asked her if she could tell me the relavent regulation that required me to contact them by VHF, so I could be sure I complied next time. She told me to find it myself. I have yet to find it. There are some signaling requirements (one long, one short) that can be given with an audio signaling device, but that's all I found. If any one else could point me to the appropriate regulation, I'd be most appreciative.

I bet the operator is correct. Homeland security probably does require them to provide that information. There is probably just no way, unless you volunteer it, that you are required to provide it. Of course, all bets are off if you are a foreign flagged vessel.

The things we do!


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Old 25-06-2006, 17:40   #14

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Keith, small craft not in commerce are not required to carry a VHF in the US, if I recall the ColRegs properly. It is possible that the bridge keeper is required to provide information to DHS (or someone else) but that doesn't mean you would be required to radio or hail them with that information. After all, they have eyes and a US vessel will be carrying clear markings with either state registration numbers or documentation name/hailing port. They *might* just not want to get up and read.<G>

Perhaps we could get a national movement to rename vessels "Marie Celeste" and see how long it took before DHS started running sobriety checks on bridge operators.<G>

(As long as my tax money is being used for pork barrels and dog and pony shows, I want to see some GOOD dog and pony shows!)
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Old 26-06-2006, 05:08   #15
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Homeland "Security"?

Let's just hope we never get ALL the Government we're PAYING for!

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