« Heading Home | Main | Bimini »

Ft. Lauderdale

Log: 3923

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Location: Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Distance Traveled Yesterday: 54 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance:  1284 Nautical Miles

I think I have been too hard on the Bahamas as a parallel universe. They are not alone. Many of my conservative friends feel that the federal government should stay out of things because it is so incompetent, and if Homeland Security and Customs practices in Ft. Lauderdale are any example, they are right.

I didn’t know whether to write about this sarcastically or seriously, so I’ll just tell you what happened and let you draw your own conclusions. First, a little history. Years ago, before I started boating in the Bahamas, boats returning to the U.S. from foreign ports were required to stop at certain designated spots to clear customs. The customs and immigration people either had their own dock or used one marina in each area. You would come into port, tie up at the designated spot, and they would have you fill out immigration forms, check passports, and board the boat for a search if they wanted to. They would look for Cuban cigars, check your purchases abroad, sniff out drugs, or whatever else they needed to do. It was just like arriving by plane from anywhere outside the country.

Around the time I first went to the Bahamas by boat, they instituted a much easier procedure. You could come in at any marina. All passengers except the captain were required to stay on board until the captain called a local customs office number and reported in. He had to give them everyone’s name and passport number, give them the boat documentation number and the number of the customs decal that had to be purchased for each calendar year. They would then either give you a clearance number and tell you that was it, or they could require everyone to stay aboard until they sent an agent out. The procedure was convenient but also rather stupid. You could pull up to the dock, unload the drugs or illegal immigrants or terrorists or weapons of mass destruction, call the appropriate number, and be cleared to go. For law-abiding citizens such as myself, I loved the convenience but marveled at the lack of security. Corporate jets had to land, take all the luggage inside a customs office, let the dogs sniff out the plane, etc. Boats could land anywhere with any cargo without a care in the world.

Anyway, with Homeland Security taking over customs, someone thought the procedure was too lax and decided that, after the telephone check-in, everyone on the boat had to appear in person at the customs office within 24 hours. You don’t have to bring your luggage or fill out immigration forms or anything else. You just have to appear in person. What this accomplishes, I have no idea. You can stop at a marina, let Osama Bin Laden and his weapons off, along with six of his accomplices, call the number and tell them there were only two on board, and then appear at their offices. The formal announcement of this said:

Tampa, FL - Effective May 28, 2006, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will implement revised clearance procedures for pleasure boats arriving in the United States from foreign. In the pleasure boat environment, the master of any vessel must report their arrival to CBP after having been at any foreign port or place or after having contact with any hovering vessel. For pleasure boats returning to locations in Northern Florida and along the Gulf of Mexico, pleasure boat arrival reporting is a two-step process:

  1. All arriving pleasure boats must call one of the following CBP Ports of Entry immediately upon arrival.
  2. Upon completion of telephonic arrival notification, boaters will be directed to the nearest Port of Entry to present themselves and any passengers for a face-to-face interview.

If you check in at Ft. Lauderdale or Miami, the procedure should not be too difficult. However, if you land at a remote spot in the Florida Keys or somewhere else out of the way, I have heard of people having to rent a car and drive 40 miles with seven passengers to go through this absurd exercise.

While the whole process has created any number of scofflaws who simply come back to the U.S. and don’t bother to call or go through any of the stupid process, I decided to do my best to comply yesterday. The rule is you call within 15 minutes of docking. So when we pulled in to Bahia Mar Marina, I called the number, only to get a recording saying calls would be answered in the order received. I put the cell on speakerphone, went to the office to check in with the marina, walked to the Hertz office to find they had no cars, went back to the marina office to call a remote car agency that would pick us up, came back to the boat for James, all while being told my call would be answered in the order received. After 55 minutes, with my phone battery going dead, I finally hung up and went to pick up a rental car.

After picking up our car, we went to the customs office to try to check in in person. But no, they would not let us present ourselves until we had reported in by phone. There was another boater there on hold who had been trying to get through for two or three hours. We left, came back to the boat, cleaned up, and went out to dinner. Throughout the afternoon and evening, I tried the number repeatedly, holding for five or 10 minutes each time with no results. I had decided to ignore the unreasonable procedure but at about 10:30 last night, I gave one last try and…they answered. The gentleman’s first question was what time did we arrive and I told him 3:00 pm. What did he do? Of course he told me I had violated the law by not calling in within 15 minutes.

Suffice it to say, after hours of calling without getting through, I simply lost it. “What are you going to do about it?” I asked. This made him mad and he told me this was a fineable offense etc. etc. I finally calmed down and told him what we had been through and, after getting some information, he gave me a 19–digit clearance number and told us to report back to the customs office.

So this morning, while taking James to the airport to head home, we again went to the customs office. He looked us up on the computer, saw that we had checked in last night, took a quick look at our passports, and told us we were free to go.

I can’t even begin to express how stupid this whole process is. If the Bahamas is a parallel universe, this is a perpendicular one. Republicans opposed to big stupid government and waste should be having a field day with this one. Thank God William Buckley passed away before having to go through this after one of his transatlantic crossings. He would roll over in his grave if he heard about it.

Boat U.S. Magazine had this to report:

South Florida boaters, particularly those who think nothing about hopping over to the Bahamas for the weekend, are not a bunch of happy campers.

The first shoe fell a few months ago when the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection required boaters returning from the Bahamas to physically check in with an immigration officer at a U.S. port-of-entry upon their return. Previously, they had only been required to clear in with Customs upon their arrival. This can be a major inconvenience. For example, a boater arriving at Miami Beach Marina must travel 20 miles to check in at the Port of Miami and may have to take a Monday morning off from work if they arrive after the immigration office closes on Sunday.

Boaters raised a howl that drew the attention of U.S. Congressmen Mark Foley (R-FL) and Clay Shaw (R-FL) who held a press conference on the docks in Ft. Lauderdale and promised to see if there wasn't a simpler way to screen returning boaters. "Osama bin Laden isn't going to check in after coming ashore. This isn't smart homeland security--it's a bureaucratic nightmare," said Rep. Foley at the press conference. "While the good guys are being burdened, those with in intent are ignoring the rules. We want boaters to know they are not alone and someone does care. We've been listening, and now we're taking action," he added.

Anyway, we made it back to the good old USA. We were illegal aliens for awhile during dinner last night, but now we’re in full compliance. Perfect Deckhand flew home this morning and I laid over a day in Ft. Lauderdale getting a few errands done. Tomorrow, I’ll head up toward Palm Beach where I plan to leave the boat for some needed repairs, particularly the broken bow thruster. I should be back in Birmingham Tuesday.


PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (1)

Great post. Have you thought of submitting an article about this experience to the 'National Review', 'American Spectator', or 'Weekly Standard' ? You could replace Buckley as the new conservative standard-bearer easily !

March 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAB

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>