Entering Canada by Boat

Summaries below are for convenience only and may be out-of-date. Use our Government directory to get the latest official information.

The Basics:
When a private pleasure boat enters Canada, the boat master must dock at an approved marine reporting site, and immediately report to the CBSA (Canadian Border Services Agency) by telephone 1-888-226-7277. Have your boat papers and ID papers for everyone on board handy. Failure to report can result in seizure of the boat and/or a fine of $1000 CAD and up.

Cruising or Fishing:
Those who don’t plan to land or anchor in Canada, but cruise or fish in Canadian waters, must use their cellphones to call the CBSA reporting center immediately upon entering Canadian waters. If a vessel reports its arrival into Canadian waters, it must also report its return into U.S. waters. Penalties for failure to report are the same.

U.S. Citizens entering Canada:
Americans require photo identification and proof of citizenship to enter Canada. (Americans returning home must have additional identification to comply with U.S. rules. See Entering the U.S.A. by Boat.) American citizens may be refused entry to Canada due to criminal, security or medical reasons. Canadian border officials can refuse entry to Canada if you've been convicted of driving under the influence (car or boat). American citizens may be eligible for a Temporary Resident Permit Canada (TRP). [Government directory: Immigration ]

Other Canadian Regulations for foreign boaters:
The Canadian Coast Guard's Office of Boating Safety [Government directory: Transport Canada] lists the requirements for foreign recreational vessels in Canadian waters. Boats staying in Canada less than 45 days are exempt from most regulations for safety equipment if the boat is legally fitted and licenced in its home state. Visitors must follow most other Canadian boating regulations such as speed limits, operator age and power restrictions, drinking and driving laws, VHF radio station licence, marine radio operator licence. Visitors must also comply with provincial regulations for boat toilets and sewage.

Renting a boat:
People renting a boat will need to get a "Rental Boating Safety Checklist" before heading out. They do not need to acquire the PCOC, operator's certificate (a dockside session is required instead). However, you must have a valid radio operator licence to transmit on a VHF radio outside the U.S. (listening does not require a licence).

Designated Reporting Stations:
The captain of a boat arriving in Canada must report to Canadian Border Services Agency immediately upon arrival at designated reporting stations. As a convenience, many marinas are eligible and have instructions posted by the docks with toll-free phone number to call. It is illegal to stop or anchor anywhere in Canadian waters before checking in. Kingston Mills, the first Rideau Canal lock, is an official "Canada Customs Telephone Report Site", where you can receive a Customs Report number - as long as it's your first Canadian stop after entering Canadian waters.

Boat Papers:
Have your boat licence or registration information, and full names, citizenship, birth dates, and addresses of all persons on board. You may also require vaccination papers for pets. You should be prepared to wait for an inspector or to move your boat to another location if required. Be sure to keep all passengers on board until you have cleared entry procedures. Make an entry in your ship's log with date, agent's name, location of entry, and clearance number for reference in any future disputes. You can phone Canadian Customs, part of Revenue Canada, toll free at 1-800-265-5633 24 hours a day.

It's recommended to fly your vessel's national flag at the stern when reporting. You may also fly a yellow quarantine flag at the starboard spreader or radio mast. A Canadian courtesy flag worn by foreign boats is always appreciated.

The Captain and Passengers:
U.S. citizens should arrive with boat "papers" and photo ID. Other foreigners must carry their national passport and a visitor's visa where required. Canadian "landed immigrants" must carry the Permanent Resident Card to re-enter Canada after travelling outside Canada.

Guns:
Many guns and other weapons are prohibited and are not allowed to be brought into Canada. You must declare any firearms and weapons in your possession when entering Canada. Anyone who does not declare them upon arrival can face prosecution and the firearms, and the vehicle used to carry them, may be seized. (CBSA)

Holding Tanks (black water):
Many provinces (like Ontario) have laws that require boats to have a holding tank and pump-out deck fitting connected to toilets on board. There are no gray water (sink water) laws in Canada. [Government Index: Provinces]

Things to remember:
Have the required paperwork for the boat and all passengers before you arrive. When reporting at the border, just answer yes or no unless asked for details. Agents are trained to detect lies, so just tell the truth. Canadian border agents are only concerned about what you bring into Canada - guns and certain foods are not allowed. Do not attempt to be friendly or make jokes. Check the latest rules before you travel.

Border Programs & Licences

Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC):
Boat operators require proof of competency to operate a boat in Canada (exemptions above), including non-resident visitors staying more than 45 days or who operate a Canadian licenced or registered boat. That includes most cottage boats. You are exempt if you and your boat are from the U.S. and are in Canada less than 45 days. Proof of competency can be one of: Pleasure Craft Operator Card, a renter's document (see below), or an "operator card" that meets the requirements of the U.S.A. or your home state. The "operator card" is recognized in both Canada and the U.S. and can be acquired from a Transport Canada authorized business.

Get a PCOC (operator card) online from BoaterExam.com. They've been helping boaters get their operator card for over ten years. (More)

NEXUS card:
This is a joint program between the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and U.S Customs and Border Protection, for frequent, low-risk travel between Canada and the U.S. by land, sea and air. Boaters can call a Telephone Reporting Centre (TRC) 30 minutes to 4 hours prior to arrival. Everyone in the boat must be a NEXUS member, otherwise regular reporting procedures must be followed. A NEXUS card will likely replace the I-68 and CANPASS programs, and can be used instead of a passport when entering the U.S. by land or water (but not by air). Read a letter from an American boater using Nexus on the west coast. [Government directory: NEXUS]

CANPASS:
is a telephone reporting system for recreational boaters entering Canada from the U.S. operated by the Canadian Border Services Agency. Report your estimated arrival time by calling 1-888-CANPASS (1-888-226-7277) up to four hours before arriving in Canada at any approved marina or dock. Check for latest changes. [Government directory: CBSA, Border Control]

I-68 & OARS:
The U.S. also has special border programs for boaters: "Canadian Border Boat Landing Program" (I-68 form) and the "Outlying Area Reporting Stations" (OARS). Forms are valid for one year and everyone on board must have one. It is convenient for boaters who travel across border waters for a day or two.

Canadian Regulations affecting Boaters

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Charts, Services for Canadian Waters

A complete listing of nautical charts, Sailing Directions, Tide Tables and authorized dealers is available from Canadian Hydrographic Service. NOTMAR contains all Notices to Mariners publications with changes to charts, light lists, and Sailing Directions. See our Government Index for Web site links.

Reference: Charts and Maps for U.S. and Canada.

There are major errors in "Richardson's Chartbook and Cruising Guide, Lake Ontario, 3rd Edition" on page 68-70. For correction, call Richardson at 800-873-4057 or e-mail rcharts@aol.com.

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VHF Radio Requirements

A foreign boater who wish to legally transmit using their VHF radio in Canada requires a valid ship's licence plus an operator licence. Call the American FCC toll-free 1-888-CALLFCC in the U.S.A. or the Canadian government for current information about VHF regulations.

FCC rules for American VHF radios operated in Canada.

Foreign visitors who wish to legally transmit using their marine VHF radio in Canada require a valid ship's licence plus an operator licence. U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Canadian government have recently created exemptions for VHF marine radio licences for radios used in home waters, there are international treaties governing radio usage outside home borders that boaters must still abide by.

The U.S. FCC processes applications for VHF radios for boaters in American licensed or registered boats travelling to Canada. Phone the FCC toll-free at 1-888-CALLFCC for current information.

All radio operators must have a Restricted Radiotelephone Operator's permit, Form 753 ($45Cdn in 1998) to actually transmit on a VHF radio in Canada. Listening is free!

The Marine Radio in Canada page has information about using VHF for calling, emergencies, channel usage for different geographical locations, etc.

You should fill out a Float Plan before embarking on a trip and give it to someone on shore. Check out the at Canadian Coast Guard services.

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Buying merchandise

For current rules, read the Duty free information before buying merchandise to take back to other countries. Foreign visitors can get a GST rebate on the GST (tax) they have paid.

If you want to buy a boat in Canada, read why it's a great idea and all about buying a boat. Generally, American visitors to Canada can bring back goods (excluding alcohol or tobacco) duty free if in Canada more than 24 hours. After 2 full days you may take home $200 worth of goods. If in Canada more than 48 hours, you may take home $400 worth of goods (including 1 alcohol and 1 carton cigarettes) (valid 1998).

Canadians should read the information about buying a boat & trailer in the USA, and more about importing a boat.

Print out a handy currency converter for Canadian dollars to U.S. dollars (OANDA Inc.)

GST Tax Rebate:

Visitors from outside of Canada can receive a return of all GST tax paid while in Canada by taking a completed GST rebate form to a participating Canadian duty free shop. Get a form from Revenue Canada [Government directory].

U.S. Boats remaining in Canada

In August 2012, the Canadian government began enforcing a law requiring foreigners to pay an import tax if they leave their boats in Canada after October 31. Americans may not leave their U.S. registered boat in Canada year-round without paying duty and tax (up to 13%). A E-99 permit may allow American boats to remain in a Canadian marina during the winter to get work done. For more information, call the marina division at 519-257-6457.

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Fishing

Regulations for fishing are different in each of the ten provinces and two territories. The Ontario Fishing Page explains fishing in Ontario waters. You must be in possession of a fishing licence. See the Government of Canada listing of provincial and territorial governments for other locations.

May 17, 2016:
MP Gord Brown introduced a bill to Canada’s Parliament that would end the requirement of pleasure boaters entering Canadian waters from having to report to CBSA (customs) as long as they do not anchor or dock.

June 22, 2016:
Senator Bob Runciman (a 1000 islands boater) introduced a bill in the Canadian Senate Wednesday that would eliminate onerous reporting requirements on Americans criss-crossing the watery border while pleasure-cruising or fishing the St. Lawrence River. (Canadian boat passing through American waters do not have to report to U.S. Customs.)

June 2011:
For a hundred year it was fine to fish or cruise into Canadian waters without checking into a Canadian port of entry (customs) - as long as you didn't dock or anchor your boat you had not "landed". But in 2011, Roy Anderson, an American boater fishing across the "invisible line", was boarded by Canadian Border Services officials in the St. Lawrence River at Gananoque Narrows. He said he was told he was in violation of the law, and threatened with seizure of the boat and being handcuffed and towed ashore unless he paid $1000 - on the spot. Chris J. Kealey, a spokesman for the Canadian Border Services Agency, said if the penalty is not able to be paid on the water, "they can seize the vessel pending payment of the penalty."

A spokesman for Vic Toews, Canada's minister of public safety, said that a spate of smuggling had led Canada to more stridently enforce its regulations.

A month later, the CBSA announced it would allow boaters to check in on their cell phones if they cross the border (Canadian customs 1-888-226-7277), rather than having to dock and use a special CBSA landline to report they were fishing on the Canadian side.

Americans fishing or out for a Sunday cruise are now afraid to come anywhere near the "invisible border" for fear of accidentally crossing it! Surely this does not improves border security. It simply prevents a lot of people using their boats for "pleasure". Canada must have a big problem with USA Homeland Security to hassle people out fishing on a Sunday afternoon. The Americans allow Canadian boaters to cruise wherever they please as long as they do not stop, anchor or dock in U.S. waters. Please contact your MP and request a return to the previous rules for fishing and cruising along the border without checking in first.

This re-interpretation of border rules is bizarre. It has been the 'rule' for many years that you check in to a port of entry only if you wish to anchor in Canadian waters or dock on shore, but not if you are simply passing through on an afternoon cruise or fishing. Why did the "application" of the rules change and no one bothered to inform anyone? $1,000 is a bit high for stopping to fish. $999 was finally refunded to Roy Anderson, which would imply CBSA will not admit they went just a bit 'overboard'. - Pat, Boating in Canada

Travelling with Pets

If your pet come boating with you, carry a vaccination (rabies) certificate dated within the last year. People living in the towns along the St. Lawrence River are in a battle to contain an epidemic of raccoon rabies. For more information, see our information about Cruising with Pets.

Tourist Info

"No other border-nations in the world enjoy the long-standing friendship, family ties and prosperity of the Canadian-American relationship. The numbers speak for themselves: $1.6 billion USD a day in cross-border commerce. This boils down to over $1 million every minute in cross-border transactions. 300,000 people a day cross our shared border. These numbers represent a personal and commercial relationship that is unrivalled in the world—and the envy of many nations." — The Hon. Michael Wilson, Canadian Ambassador to the United States (April 2007 Boise, Idaho)
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