Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Just a Couple of Illegals

Back in our home waters. Legally? Well, not exactly.
Way back in Mackinaw City (or what seems like ‘way back’ now), we ran into a group of Border Patrol Agents and inquired about the process of checking into Canada then back in to the US. We had checked online for what to do but the instructions weren’t very clear so we told them about our plans and were told that we’d just have to call to check into Canada, which we did with no problem, then when we get back to the US we should call the Border Patrol and check back in. At that time they would tell us whether they wanted to board us and inspect the boat or just let us on our way.

Fast forward to yesterday when we get into Harbor Beach from Port Elgin at 9:30pm. Both the cruising guides and the Border Patrol website have a number to call but indicate that office hours are from 8:30a to 5:00p. Okay, fine, we’ll call in first thing in the morning, which we did. The agent we talked to said that we should have called immediately once we anchored and informed us that the number is actually a 24/7 number. Might be useful to indicate that somewhere right?!? We also did not check out and complete the proper paperwork before leaving US waters (thanks Mackinaw City agent) and by not doing that we had “improperly checked in”. Oopsies.

We were instructed to head down to the marina where we docked just in time to see a team of Coasties and a local Policeman walking down the docks toward us. A little intimidating for sure but once we got talking and told them our story they were very understanding, courteous and professional. The Police Officer was actually a little bummed that all he had to do was verify our US citizenship to the Border Patrol, he thought he was going to get in on some real excitement. The Coasties just did a regular safety inspection, which we’d attempted to get a couple times in Muskegon to no avail. Everything turned out fine and we were given some suggestions and even helpful advice for some of our safety gear.

After about an hour we were officially welcome again on our home soil. Odd how it all works out really, in Canada we made a phone call saying, “hey, we want to come to your country and spend some money and time there” and were quickly given a nice, “welcome to Canada!”, but trying to get back to our home country we were greeted with, “yeah, we’ll have to check you out first, don’t step foot off the boat until you’re cleared”. So much for a “welcome home!”, right? 

We should take some responsibility ourselves for not properly checking out too. We had gotten online and looked in our guidebooks about what to do but apparently missed the part about check out. That is of course, assuming that it’s published somewhere, and we’re not so sure about that ;) It’s all a bit of bureaucratic, self-contradicting red tape to us but now we’re legal. Maybe next time we have to check back in things will go a bit smoother. Or maybe we’ll be on some Border Patrol watch list. Take your pick. 


  1. What do you mean maybe? You ARE on some governmental watch list. But not to worry; you, as well as the rest of us, have been on at least one federal watch list for years (we should all feel so very special).
    I would have cleared in/out the exact same way you did but since I have long hair and a scruffy chin I probably would have had a much longer conversation with the police officer.
    Thanks for sharing; now I know.

    1. Hi Don. You're right, maybe I should have specified that we might wind up on ANOTHER watch list ;) Canada has their number and information plastered all over the place...the US just says to contact Border Patrol and a website, no number, no hours, nothing. At least the guys we dealt with were understanding.

  2. Since 9/11, checking back into the U.S. has become MUCH more serious. We are back and forth between Canada and the U.S. every summer and opted to get NEXUS so we can check in with our BR number by cell phone once we enter U.S. waters (and have a solid U.S. cell signal). However, it's quite a process (involving an in-person interview with both Canadian and U.S. officials--the Canadian official was the "bad cop" in our interview!) You may wish to check into the Small Vessel Reporting System, though I'm not sure it applies to the Bahamas. If you end up going to the Bahamas and return directly to the U.S., I advise researching the current requirements for checking back into the U.S. The officials in Florida don't mess around... You will likely hear lots of stories!

  3. Checking into Canada is soooo much easier than checking back into the U.S., even with I-68s or NEXUS, both of which we've had in the past!