US Border Protection backs off controversial rules for foreign boaters

Skagway small boat harbor

Skagway small boat harbor. (Photo by Jimmy Emerson/Flickr Creative Commons)

U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced it is backing off the enforcement of rules for foreign boaters that recently caused confusion among Canadians who enjoy Alaska waters. The changes had also angered officials and residents in Southeast Alaska towns who appreciate the commerce the Canadian boaters bring.

Custom rules didn’t changed recently for those Canadians – but how the Custom and Boarder Protection station in Skagway decided to enforce those rules did. And boaters, like Don Muir of Whitehorse, said it caused a lot of confusion:

“You know, we’re complying to requirements for registering boats, we’re complying to the fishing laws. We just don’t understand where the heck this is coming from. Are we a threat? Or what is causing this? We cross the border into Skagway, we don’t leave the state of Alaska. So what’s this all about?”

The Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, station in Skagway announced in May enforcements procedures were changing. Canadian boaters were being required to report where they were going and then report by fax into any U.S. ports they visited. At one point the CBP said foreign boaters would be required to take their boats out of the water and physically bring then to a U.S. border station for formal entry. That would have meant trailering a boat for a 7 mile trip to the border station in Skagway, or sailing 400 nautical miles to the Prince Rupert border station.

But on Wednesday, the CPB release a statement, saying after reevaluating the changes, the agency has decided it’s in the best interest of boat owners to return to past methods for the 2013 season.

The change comes after pressure from the nearly 250 Yukon boaters the rules affects and Skagway officials. The Skagway mayor and assembly took the issue to the governor and the Alaska congressional delegation.

Muir has owned and moored a boat in Skagway for 7 years. He estimates he spends about $10,000 annually on his excursions to Skagway to boat. When the new procedures went into effect he said he was considering selling his boat because he was worried it would no longer be easy to legally sail Alaska waters.

“You know, there’s just so many ties between the two communities, countries and communities. It’s unfortunate there is a border there but there is, but it just feels that when I meet people from Skagway…the border doesn’t come between us. But it certainly appears to be now.”

After the recent CBP announcement, Muir said he’s grateful the rest of the boating season will go smoothly. But he hopes the change back to previous ways sticks for upcoming seasons as well.

The CBC in Whitehorse contributed to this report.