US Cruising Permit – Our Story

After sailing 18,500 miles around the Mediterranean, crossing the Atlantic Ocean, sailing up the Caribbean and landing in Charleston, South Carolina for about a year it’s finally time to for our family of three to cast off once again! But not before dealing with US Cruising Permit issues.

Our original plan was to leave Charleston for the month of July and sail up the east coast of America with the intention of visiting Annapolis, Boston, New York City and perhaps even making it up to Maine! With several small towns also on the list, we wanted to really take in the sights, sounds and smells of my home country.

Unfortunately, however, US Border Control and Homeland Security will not renew or extend our one-year cruising permit.

US Cruising Permit

US Cruising Permit

Before I carry on with my story, let me give you some necessary background information. Our boat was built in England. My husband, Simon, is British and I’m dual citizenship – American/British. We own the boat jointly.

When sailing in America, if you’re foreign (like my husband), it’s very important to understand that you can only enter the country by boat with a B1/B2 Visa. If you try to enter with any other visa you will be turned away. A B1/B2 Visa gives a visitor a six month window to visit with an option for another six months granted upon another application. B1/B2 Visa’s last for 10 years. Note that B1/B2 Visas are not given out to everyone.

I’ve heard of several stories where people have been flat out denied.

With your B1/B2 Visa in hand, in addition to all the usual paperwork, you can then apply for a cruising permit to sail in American waters for a year (if approved). You can get the permit during or after booking into America by boat. After the year, you have to leave the country for a set time (I’ve been told that two weeks is good) and then you can return. Whether you get accepted back into America or not is at the discretion of the Customs Agent.

Now, back to the story…

Upon arrival to South Carolina we were told (by a US Boarder Control and Homeland Security Official) that since I’m American and also a co-owner of the boat, we would be able to renew the permit without having to leave the country. All winter we have, therefore, been making plans for our east coast trip for July.

Just yesterday, however, when we went to renew our permit Simon and I were told that we were misinformed.

To get a new permit we need to sail out of the country for a couple weeks and then come back. Had the boat been built in America, we would not have had to leave. The fact that I’m American doesn’t play into the rules at all.

The official said that we could, however, sail up the east coast but at every stop we had to get off the boat, take a taxi to the closest Border Control office, book in and then when we left (a day or two later) we had to travel back, in person, and book out. Paying a fee of $19 each time.

And let me tell you about the $19 fee because this trips up quite a few sailors.

When my husband, Simon, called a couple days ago about the permit the official said, ‘the fee is $19 exactly. If you come with a $20 you won’t get change.’ Well, Simon went in with a $20, not expecting change. Can you believe the official said they couldn’t take the extra $1. I think it’s considered bribery or something.

Why did the guy on the phone not say that we needed to pay $19 exact? Why make the comment about not getting change?

Anyway, Simon had to leave the Boarder Control office, located on an industrial complex (nowhere near a restaurant or bank), find an ATM, go buy a coffee to get change and then return.

So…back to traveling up the east coast without a permit.

So, we’re okay to travel but we have to personally book in and book out paying $19 every time we stop.

What do we do when were at an anchorage miles away from a any Border Control office?! It’s not just the $19 that needs to be paid…it’s the potentially hefty taxi bill not to mention the loss in time to see our surroundings.

If we were given a cruising permit, the system is far easier.

Every time we leave a port, Simon has to call the authorities and let them know when we’re leaving, where we intend to go and how long it should take us. Once we get into a new port, Simon then has to call up and say we’ve arrived. Nothing is done in person and no extra fee, other than the original cruising permit, is paid.

So – instead of showing my seven-year-old daughter my home state of New York, we’re going to head to Bermuda for the month of July. We’ll hang there for a while, head back for Charleston from August to November to wait out the hurricane season. In November we’ll then sail down to the Caribbean and slowly make our way to the Panama Canal.

Some other thoughts/points about the US Cruising Permit

  • Before going anywhere near America research what’s required. We’ve recently been told that B1/B2 Visa’s are now being issued from the applicant’s home country only (not a visa that can be acquired at a foreign port).
  • Ask around and find out information from people that have gone before you. We were originally going to get our cruising permit in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Someone told us its easier, less expensive and quicker to get it in San Juan, Puerto Rico. So, we got the permit in San Juan.
  • Realize that there’s no certainty about getting a B1/B2 Visa or US Cruising Permit. These things are only given out at the discretion of the Customs Agent. If possible, ask around to find out if an area or agent should be avoided or sought out.

In our Sailing Questions Answered session, we talk about the US Cruising Permit amongst other things. Make sure to watch the video for more information 🙂