A Kiwi couple's cruising adventures on America's Great Loop and around the coast of New Zealand

Monday, 11 July 2011

Regulations, regulations, regulations

Go to the USA, buy a boat, cruise the Great Loop, then bring the boat home or leave it there for future visits. Simple huh! …..Yeah, right!!!

Going to the USA

New Zealand is one of the countries (and there are quite a few of them) where its nationals can visit the USA under the Visa Waiver Scheme (VWS). However, such visits are limited to 90 days duration and you cannot apply for any extension of stay if you have entered under the scheme. Furthermore (and this has caught a few of my countrymen and women out), the scheme ONLY applies to travel into the USA by commercial airline and or ship. You cannot use it if you arrive by any other means such as car, bus, private plane or BOAT (take note Loopers)!! Friends of ours flew to the US from NZ,  entering at Los Angeles under the VWS,  then flew to Alaska to join a cruise down the inside passage. They got off the ship in Vancouver and caught a bus to Seattle, Washington but were stopped at the border as they did not have Visas, and the VWS did not apply. They got in in the end, but after considerable delay and inconvenience.

Therefore, to stay any longer than 90 days, you have to have a Visa. While this is not too difficult to get in NZ provided you have a valid reason (such as cruising the Great Loop), it takes time and costs money. However, it is also important to know that having a Visa does not give you automatic right of entry to the USA, and that the decision to let you in, and for how long (usually 6 or 12 months), is made by the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the point of entry. The CBP has a stated policy (check it out on their website) that all incoming visitors are considered as if they are intending to immigrate to the USA, and the burden of proof is with the visitor to demonstrate otherwise. So, no matter how tired or stressed out you are after  12 hours of flying to the USA, treat the man who looks at your passport at the airport counter with politeness and courtesy, as he gets to say whether you come into the country or catch the next plane out!

Then there’s buying a boat…….

There are lots of them there and some really good ones, but unlike here in NZ, even used boats incur a Sales Tax. There is no Federal Tax, each state (other than a few) has its own which applies when the boat is sold and registered. It would appear that one way of getting round the tax is to register the boat (or plane or car or truck) in a state that has little or no sales tax. Great idea!!! I bet no-one else thought of that!  Wrong,,,,,,,if you linger too long in another state that has the tax, you will be hit with a “user tax” that usually  happens to be the same as the original sales tax. So they’re not seen as being harsh, you will get a refund of the amount of tax you paid in your “home” state which of course is zilch if you didn’t pay any in the first place. If you find a state that has low sales tax and no user tax (like South Carolina), try leaving your boat there. Nope…. there you will get hit with a Property Tax. You could try outrunning them by not lingering, but you’ll always be looking over your shoulder for the IRS man with the clip-board, and I hear they don’t take prisoners. And by the way, dinghies have to have separate registration (and tax) to the mother vessel, as well!

So how about having the boat registered in your home country and cruising the USA under a foreign flag? Sounds simple enough and this question was posed to the AGLCA discussion forum a couple of months ago, so I watched and participated in the hope that it would solve the tax/registration problem for us. The response by the good hearted members of AGLCA was as contradictory and confusing as an earlier discussion on “the best way to legitimately avoid sales tax on a boat” had been. Just as confusing was the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website which seemed to indicate that you needed either an annual “user decal”, which cost $27.50 and you applied for on-line, or a “cruising permit” which you got at your first point of entry into the USA.
To end the confusion I emailed the DHS and got the response that, in fact, you had to have both. The decal is valid for a calendar year from 1 January to 31 December and once you have set up an on-line account you can get it renewed annually. They will send it to a US or overseas address. 
The cruising permit is issued by the CBP (who are part of the DHS) at your first port of call in the USA and is valid for 1 year. However non residents cannot get a new permit unless the vessel has been out of US waters to another country for at least 15 days and you have the documentation to prove it. There is also a requirement that you have to report to a CBP officer at every port of call within the USA and have the necessary proof of doing so (such as a log book entry with the officers name etc)
Several AGLCA members suggested I buy a book “Smuggling your Boat out of Jail”, which I did. The only actual advice it gave was don’t get your boat into jail in the first place, but it was full of useful reference material. The result is that I will register the boat as a New Zealand ship and sail under the NZ flag, despite all the rigmarole over decals, permits etc. To do this requires a few hundred dollars and a bit of paperwork which all must be done in NZ and, of course, a boat.
Watch this space…

If you want to cruise in Canada for more than 45 days, you need to have a document that proves competency to skipper a vessel. As you don’t need anything like that here, all I have is 35 years of boating experience, so I sat a NASBLA approved on-line boating course through BoatUS and passed with 89% score (80% was required) and I now have a certificate to prove I’m competent.
You also have to have a Restricted Radio Operators Licence in Canada and fortunately I have one of those issued by the New Zealand Post Office dated 2nd February 1979.

An interesting thing about getting the NASBLA certificate was that, although I registered with my NZ address, it was necessary to fill the box that denoted which US state I lived in to accept my registration for the course. So now the Certificate says that it is for the “State Test: Illinois” and that I live in Hobsonville, Auckland. Illinois.

One of the frustrations about the planning so far is not having a US address and as we will be cruising around the USA on the boat, we never will. I’m told to expect to have problems with all sorts of thing like insurances, cellphones, internet accounts etc, where everything seems to revolve around “zip codes”.

Oh well, life was not meant to be easy.