Monday, March 21, 2016

Making Friends with US Customs & Border Protection

Tara gets fingerprinted
As you would expect, anyone coming into the United States aboard a private boat is under the same immigration and customs laws as coming through an airport, or driving across in a car.  Just like there are fast-track programs in these modes of transit there's one for little boats called the Small Vessel Reporting System, or SVRS, to make things easier.

Any US flagged vessel 30 feet or more in length entering the US is required to either hold a Customs Decal or pay a one-time fee for re-entry.  If you hold a Customs Decal you can also register your boat and crew with the SVRS potentially making re-entry to the US as simple as a phone call without physically seeing anyone or even entering a port.  I understand they may require you to land for inspection but it's very rare, especially in the Pacific Northwest.

Our experience getting registered:
  • Online, head on over to the creatively named DTOPS, or Decal/Transponder Online Procurement System, and shell out $27.50 get a decal for your boat
  • After a few weeks receive your decal and decal number which you can use to submit an application for the captain and vessel with the SVRS, again online
  • Submit additional applications for each crew, this can be done before the vessel is registered but the captain should wait until the decal is available to apply
  • An email will be sent to each crew with a link to schedule an interview with a Customs Officer, setup a series of appointments using the online system - one for each crew
  • Arrive at the specified address and time with your vessel documentation and passports for each crew
  • Answer a few questions such as what credentials we hold and what experience we have at sea and abroad
  • Have your fingerprints & photo taken and listen to an explanation around the limitations of SVRS, in particular that it doesn't necessarily exempt you from reporting to an office on entry
I found the process a bit tedious but relatively easy.  They basically made sure we weren't complete idiots, and took our fingerprints & pictures.  He confirmed that the infant we brought is Maya but they didn't take her fingerprints or picture.  It all took less than 15 minutes for Tara and I.  By the time we got home there were emails sent with our BR numbers that can be rattled off when re-entering the US by phone.  We have to go through an expedited form of the process again when each of our passports expire but otherwise the registration lasts forever.

It was cool meeting the guys that go out to check in the crew on huge commercial ships.  The building is at Terminal 6 and on one of the desks was a pile of inflatable PFD's.

No sign outside so we used one of their cars

US Customs office at Portland Terminal 6
Customs Decal