U.S. boaters spared 96-hour rule

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A Coast Guard advisory mistakenly required cruisers to give four days notice before re-entering the country

A Coast Guard advisory mistakenly required cruisers to give four days notice before re-entering the country

U.S. boaters cruising abroad have dodged a bullet for now at least, and won’t have to give the Coast Guard 96 hours advance notice of their arrival back in the United States.

The Miami-based 7th Coast Guard District issued a public advisory May 21 advising mariners that all vessels entering U.S. waters from a foreign port would have to give the Coast Guard 96 hours advance notice of their arrival. No exceptions would be made, regardless of a vessel’s size. That meant pleasure boaters — and the thousands who cruise between Florida and the Bahamas and the Caribbean each year — would have to comply.

The Marine Industries Association of South Florida did some digging into the miasma of federal rulemaking on the 96-hour rule. It found the final Feb. 28, 2003, advance-notice-of-arrival rule requires boats under 300 gross tons to comply only in the 7th District, and a Nov. 10, 2003, correction to that rule clarifies that only foreign-flagged vessels under 300 gross tons arriving in that district need to give the Guard 96 hours notice of arrival.

On May 26 the 7th Coast Guard District issued a new advisory, saying U.S.-flagged recreational vessels are exempt from the 96-hour requirement. Only U.S.- and foreign-flagged commercial vessels, and foreign-flagged recreational vessels need comply. If one of these vessels is under 300 gross tons, it must file an advance notice of arrival form with the captain of the port at least 96 hours before arrival. Larger vessels file the form with the National Vessel Movement Center.

Forms and information about how to file (online, e-mail or by fax) are available at www.nvmc.uscg.gov.

“This seems simple now, but it took a while for us to get there,” says Susan Engle, an environmental and safety consultant who, as chair of MIASF’s Homeland Security Committee, researched what the 96-hour rule actually requires. Engle, however, points out that captains of the port in every district have the discretion to apply the 96-hour advance notice rule more stringently than it is written, if they think it’s necessary. It could still be applied to pleasure boats, Engle says.

The 7th District includes Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Puerto Rico. Engle says smaller vessels must give advance notice of arrival in that district because of its proximity to the islands and the large number of small foreign-flagged boats that enter the United States there.

The 96-hour rule was enacted after Sept. 11 to help secure U.S. ports and coastlines. Before the attacks, commercial vessels were required to give the Coast Guard 24 hours notice of arrival.

“If you don’t meet these requirements, you can be turned away,” says Coast Guard spokesman Luis Diaz. “We have turned vessels away and told them to leave port [for not telling the Guard they were coming].”