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illegal to crew on private yacht?!
Posted November 29th, 2012 - 8:55 pm by from Vienna, Austria (Permalink)

hi! I am traveling around the world by bicycle and sailboat. after cycling across Europe, sailing across the Atlantic, the Caribbean and cycling across Cuba and the USA I am in Canada right now. When I rode my bike across the border - as usual I was interrogated about every single detail of my now 13month long journey. And for the first time the woman at the border told me, that it is NOT LEGAL to crew on a sailboat without a work permit. Thats crazy ha!? I always did it just like this.. the woman said, that even if you just "work-trade" for the passage - it is illegal cause this counts as work - weather there is money exchanged or not - even on a private yacht. I know it is different with commercial boats - but private yachts? or is it just that I have to say "I will go on the boat of my friend"? would that help?
Its nessessary for me - cause I want to cycle back to the United States again and in order they let me in again I will need to tell them exactly how I will leave the country again. Usually they ask for a plain-ticket out - which I dont have cause I dont travel by airplane! - but will leave the country on my friends sailboat. Any advise? how can I tell them in a legal way ; )- what I am doing so they will be fine with it?
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Posted November 29th, 2012 - 9:02 pm from Anji, China
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Posted November 29th, 2012 - 10:56 pm from Calabasas, United States
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Posted December 1st, 2012 - 11:21 am by from Hamburg, Germany (Permalink)
I do crew on boats often, too, and i know about this roumors, thats illegal, no idea if thats right.
when i had the same problem like you entering a country i did it hat way: I looked in the internet for the cheapest ticket out of the country, no matter where it goes. Than i showed it to the border police, and after they let me in I justed cancelled the ticket and got most of my money back. When they asked me, how I enteredm, I just said, I arrived with friends on their boat.
It is a little complicated and maybe you need to pay some money cancelling the ticket (depends...), but so there is no need for long discussions with the border police.

do you have a blog or a facebookpage or something, where i can follwow your travels? what do you do with your bike, when you are on the boats?

Good luck, timo

Posted December 2nd, 2012 - 4:44 pm by from Bellingham, United States (Permalink)
I think she was harassing you. No one has ever questioned our crew. They are friends who are joining us on our yacht.

You might not mention crewing on the boat if it gives someone the opportunity to say no because it is unusual so a gray area. Just say you are buying a ticket.

If you already know what boat you will travel on, have the captain write a letter stating that you are invited or that you are a paying passenger. Or SOME captain.

In French Polynesia, my crew had to show that they had a ticket home or post enough money for one, but so did I.

Posted December 3rd, 2012 - 11:18 am by from Humacao, Puerto Rico (Permalink)
Hi Christine

I've read quite a few of your posts and your advise is excellent, but I have one comment about the "you are a paying passenger": In most countries if a boat takes paying passengers, then the boat and the captain probably need to be commercially certified, which most of us cruising sailors are not. As a rule of thumb, if a someone on a boat is paying more than the actual share of food and diesel, then the authorities may deem the boat to be commercial (this is the case in US and European waters), which would cause all sorts of problems for a cruising sailor. May I suggest that saying they are unpaid crew is a better option (paid crew may need work permits)?

Posted December 3rd, 2012 - 4:06 pm by from Bellingham, United States (Permalink)

good point. No matter what the skill level of anyone on my boat, when I check into a country they are listed as crew, not passengers.

I was thinking more in terms of satisfying a US customs official in CYA mode. Leaving by sailboat is gray area for most of them and, in this case, she was told that 'unpaid' work constituted work and required a work permit, too. I'd hate to see someone barred from entering the US on an arbitrary interpretation, especially in the case of a cyclist who cannot fly. It'll be a long winter, waiting for boats to leave for the South Pacific from Canada.

Perhaps another possibility would be a letter from the captain, confirming that the traveller has reserved a berth?


Posted December 3rd, 2012 - 10:04 pm by from Marigot, Saint Martin (Permalink)
copy of ships papers, letter from skipper, a 'to whom it may concern' type, phrases like "i am accompanying them on the delivery of the yacht to XXXX building sea miles and experience as part of the next part of my sailing course".
have you checked out of countries as a crew - all together with the skipper and all accounted for right there in the office? same when you arrive - you all present to customs together, if you get off beforehand it will look bad.
proof of funds if ever a rescue should have to occur has been asked for when departing some countries. ...
other countries, even some islands here in the caribbean, if you are flagged as being odd, the customs are just going to give you their idea of a hard time. one of lifes puzzles.
all the best and good luck with your journey.

Posted December 3rd, 2012 - 11:10 pm by from Bellingham, United States (Permalink)
my experience has been that once immigration is satisfied, customs doesn't really care. normally there is paperwork for the skipper to change crew, for example in turkey.

Could you tell me where someone asks to know if you have funds to be rescued? I have never heard of that. I do know that the captain is legally bound to repatriate a sick crew member, though, and would probably like reassurance that won't happen.

Posted December 4th, 2012 - 3:35 pm by from Marigot, Saint Martin (Permalink)
Mozambique, a friend had a stroke on his catamaran. airlift would not come till 10000ZAR guaranteed.

repatriation depends on your travel insurances country of origin as far as i know. captains responsibility only if your on his group insurance - as in the yachting industry (probably more super yacht categories though.) its just another thing that is never discussed when you crew a delivery, or jump on board for the 'good experience'. the more i learn the more i shit myself at some of the crazy things i have done. ah well. life.

customs & immigration, similar but different for every country. different again at a port boarder control vs airport vs land. Im still learning.

Posted December 4th, 2012 - 3:53 pm by from Bellingham, United States (Permalink)
yikes! good to know. I'm headed that way in a couple of years. thanks.

In Tonga, they won't let a rescue or DAN plane fly on Sunday. My friend got bent and the plane had to wait until 12:01am Monday to land.

Posted December 5th, 2012 - 9:58 pm by from Rome, Italy (Permalink)
Hey Barbara!
happy to read news from you!

Some country make more difficult the immigration,
for us barbados have been an hell for that.

you could try with fax from your friend with the information about her boat the port's anckoring and a copy of her pasport with a letter you are going to crew in.

Posted December 10th, 2012 - 4:18 pm from Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Posted December 10th, 2012 - 5:01 pm by from La Paz, Mexico (Permalink)
The letter of the law in the USA is any compensation makes the boat a charter. That's the law. The reality is few enforce it or ask. But you need to be careful to say there is no exchange. I'm hitching a ride, volunteer crew, no exchange can take place of any kind. If they want more info ask if you are in trouble and realize that law enforcement lies a lot to do their job. Again this is US Law, I have no idea about other countries.

Posted December 17th, 2012 - 5:34 pm by from Austin, United States (Permalink)
Yeah I would definitely say the captain is a friend of mine and hope they will be ok with that. If they keep asking I would say I will buy my own food/provisions for the trip, the captain will buy their food/provisions for themselves.

I would not say the captain was a very good friend in case they start asking lots of specific questions like how long have they been sailing, do they have a wife and kids, the kind of questions designed to trip you up. I think sometimes they just want to mess with you if you look strange.

Posted December 11th, 2012 - 3:54 pm by from Reykjavik, Iceland (Permalink)
Great trip, Barbara!

Just get a fake return ticket. I do it all the time. Or, if you really don't like the word "fake", buy a ticket back home from Canada that is fully refundable and cancel it once you get across the border. You might lose some money on the exchange rate and you'll need to read a lot of fine print because nowadays things like "refundable" can mean many things.
you should do just fine with a fake ticket. And when you cross borders, smile and explain as little as possible with confidence.

Posted December 11th, 2012 - 6:29 pm by from Lunenburg, Canada (Permalink)
I sail professionally and for pleasure, and this agent misinformed you. As long as you are not a paid crew, or a paying passenger, you are allowed to sail on a private yacht. As a "friend", guest or whatever.
And YES, it is much easier to say you are going to sail on a friend's yacht when at the border.

Most land border agents have very little knowledge of sailing and ships and all. Several sailing friends have had a hard time entering or leaving Canada thru land (mostly airports) because of their "I'm going to join a ship", but never got stopped.

Most yacht will ask their "crew" to pay for their food, especially if they have little sailing experience, witch is considered "sharing expenses". This is still OK, wetter you enter the country or leave it on a boat.

Hope this could help!

Posted December 17th, 2012 - 7:48 am by from Wilsonville, United States (Permalink)
Barbara -

I believe the Border Patrol as you were crossing the Canadian Border was referring to Cabotage, the transport of goods or passengers between two points in the same country by a vessel or an aircraft registered in another country. Originally a shipping term, cabotage now also covers aviation, railways, and road transport. Cabotage is "trade or navigation in coastal waters, or, the exclusive right of a country to operate the air traffic within its territory".[1]

If you have proper visa's and documentation(passport)for entry into most countries, as long as no funds are exchanged either way, you can legally be a guest on any form of transportation in and out of a country. The US and Canada have very serious issues with cabotage crews working into their country.