The 2019 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show saw more than just scorching temps and beautiful boats. Several officers representing the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) participated in the fifth annual MIASF Captain & Crew Luncheon at the show aboard M/V Grand Floridian on November 2, 2019.
For the last few years, the MIASF has been communicating with the U.S. State Department about issues with crew receiving the correct visas to be able to enter the U.S. “The good news…is that [they made an] update to the foreign affairs manual, [which is] the guidance the state department puts out to all the embassies overseas to let them know what the policy is for issuing crew visas,” said Rear Admiral Duncan Smith (retired), this year’s introductory speaker.
He noted that this clarification included the info that crew can have both the B1/B2 and C1/D visas — provided they fulfill the visa requirements — and a B1 eligibility explanation is being offered to help prevent crew being issued the wrong visa.
“What we try and tell people, however, is that getting a visa is a privilege, it’s not a right,” Smith said. “And just because you get a job on a yacht doesn’t mean that you have a right to a visa.” In other words, be nice. Treat CBP like the gatekeepers they are.
The guidance also works to make clear that yachts may be owned by an individual or holding company, but as long as the vessel is primarily used for pleasure by the owner, the vessel would be considered recreational.
It was also noted by Smith that Letters of Employment should indicate that your vessel is a recreational vessel and is operating in U.S. waters as such. “Many of the problems we run into are Consul officers Googling your vessels and [finding that] you charter somewhere else in the world,” Smith says. “And so because you charter somewhere, you’re automatically, in their mind, considered a commercial vessel.” The new guidance is supposed to help with this issue.
One issue addressed during the panel discussion was an increase in the number of vessels submitting Advance Notice of Arrivals that do not meet the regulatory requirements, which can lead to vessels being denied entry into the U.S. Issues called out were boats not carrying a valid USCG-approved Non-Tank Vessel Response Plans (NTVRP) and Certificate of Financial Responsibility (COFR). The USCG issued a Marine Safety and Information Bulletin (MSIB) concerning this in May 2019 after an uptick in violations.
According to the MSIB, the requirements for review and approval for the COFR is at least 21 days before the vessel intends to be in U.S. waters. For new plans, the NTVRP requires 60 days before the vessel arrives in U.S. waters, and 30 days for an amendment or revision. Failure to comply “may result in a civil penalty of $47,353 issued against the owner, operator, and/or the person in charge of the vessel,” the MSIB states. USCG says that each document is reviewed in Washington on a first come, first served basis on a national scale, so they acknowledge that timing can be an issue. “You have to plan for these timelines,” says Lieutenant Commander Chris Briggs. Of note: new vessel ownership means a new NTVRP would be required for the vessel.
A recent MSIB from October 31, 2019, also outlined NOA requirements after a “significant” increase in issues were reported relating to NOA submission methods and the time required for NOA submissions and updates before arrival. Make note: If your voyage time is 96 hours or more, you must submit your NOA at least 96 hours before arriving. If voyage time is less than 96 hours, you must submit your NOA before departure but at least 24 hours before arriving at your destination.
Foreign-flagged vessels require a cruising license to operate within U.S. waters. John Ortiz, Port Everglades trade operations supervisor, notes that in the last three years, he’s seen a “fifty percent reduction in denials.” Part of that, he says, is community awareness of the requirements and CBP’s outreach. “We don’t get any kind of check marks for denying cruising licenses, so we try to err on the side of giving you one if we can.” Ortiz points out that all cruising licenses are reviewed by a supervisor and a chief. He stresses that the two requirements for the cruising license is that the boat must not be for sale and must not be for charter anywhere in the world.
“We are moving very fast toward linked facial recognition throughout CBP,” says Michael Silva, CBP Public Affairs/Border Community Liaison. “The way it’s going is in the future, you’re going to be able to get from reservation to destination on just your face.” He stressed that there is still some way to go on this front.
Silva also mentioned that CBP is not stamping passports in Miami as part of a pilot program, which he says is gaining momentum and will be distributed to other ports of entry. He also shares that you can locate and print your I-94 through CBP.gov.
Paul Shoupe, chief of Port Everglades Seaport, spoke about CBP’s ROAM app, which will be upgraded with more features. Shoupe also mentions that the cruising permit will be expanded in the app as CBP works to stay ahead of technology. “[We’re looking at] implementing these different applications that made it easier when your vessels arrive into the United States,” he says.
“We like to work proactively with the maritime community,” Commander Jose Perez, chief of prevention, says. He emphasizes that they aim to work in partnership with other agencies to make sure their message is clear. “We don’t want to get to the level where we say you have to cease operations, be fined, receive a violation, or worst case, we tell you that you have to remain outside the port.”