Yacht Clearance Fees
— Ten Years After
In February of 2002 we published an article entitled “Fee, Fie, Fo, Fum” outlining the various official fees yacht skippers encounter when cruising the Lesser Antilles. We wrote then: “As more governments throughout the region look to the yachting sector to contribute to their nations’ economies, one of the most critical decisions they will make is whether to seek that increased contribution through direct taxation of the yachts, or whether to encourage more yachts to visit (and stay longer) thereby increasing the overall income from ‘yacht dollars’ throughout the local community. A sharp eye will no doubt be kept on the islands with an ‘open door’ for yachts, compared to those with a high ‘cover charge’.”
This decision is perhaps even more crucial in today’s economy than it was in 2002; a reader recently suggested we do an update. We balked, since things are always changing. But the following recent correspondence, although it deals as much with regulations as with fees, encouraged us to tackle the issue again.
I’m hoping you can find out what happened here...
We left Martinique headed for Dominica on February 6th and arrived in Roseau early afternoon. I proceeded to the ferry terminal to clear Customs and presented the Customs agent with my eSeaClear form and my outbound clearance form from Martinique.
The agent asked me how long I was going to stay in Dominica and I said two weeks. He asked if I would be going anywhere else in Dominica and I explained that I would be spending three days here in Roseau then would continue on to Portsmouth where we would spend the rest of our stay.
The agent went back into the office and came back out several times, asking me the same questions each time: how long was I staying in Dominica, how long was I staying in Roseau, how long was I staying in Portsmouth, etcetera.
He finally came out with only the in-bound clearance form and told me I would need a cruising permit. The in-bound clearance form showed a two-week visit but no out-bound clearance like we normally get on visiting Dominica. The cruising permit cost me EC$20, which the agent told me was good for three days in Roseau, and that I could use to get to Portsmouth. I was then told that on arrival at Portsmouth I would have to go to Customs in Portsmouth, clear in, and get a new cruising permit.
I asked why I was not being given the in/out clearance as had been done in our last ten visits here, but the agent could not explain it to me in terms that I could understand. I then asked about the EC$20 cruising permit that is only good for the three days that I am in Roseau, but again no explanation other than that there are “new procedures” in place.
We have spoken with other cruisers who cleared in yesterday who also had the same problem. I’m hoping that this was some form of misunderstanding and that these “new procedures” are not going to become normal for Dominica.
I use eSeaClear where possible and this used to be the greatest experience when coupled with the in/out two-week clearance. No longer the case.
I would appreciate any help you can offer.
We forwarded the letter to Compass’s Dominica agent, Hubert Winston, who replied:
“I’ve been told that if a vessel is clearing into a port and is planning on leaving from the same port of entry to a foreign port, then the 14 days in/out clearance would be perfectly applied in its entirety. If a vessel is clearing into Roseau and intends to cruise to Portsmouth (two separate ports of entry) and will depart from Portsmouth to a foreign port, or vice versa, then the vessel will only receive an inward clearance, and then a coast-wise or cruising permit would be required to leave one port of entry to another. Finally, before departing the second port of entry, you would also be required to clear out.
“Vessels that are in Roseau or Portsmouth are within the Port jurisdiction and are basically within the protective waters of the state, so to speak. Anything outside of that would be considered “leaving port” and a cruising permit would be required, even if you were just leaving for a few hours to whale watch and return to the same port.
“Basically, the automatic in-and-out clearance is only effective if one is entering and leaving from the same port of entry within 14 days.
“Hope this helps.”
It did, at that point. But then, having been invited to the conversation, cruising guide author and tireless advocate for streamlined yachting regulations Chris Doyle, wrote:
“Virtually no country in the Eastern Caribbean requires yachts to get a coastwise clearance anymore. I have been touting and recommending Dominica’s two-week in-and-out clearance for some years now. When that policy was introduced a few years back it was clearly understood that the in-and-out clearance allowed you to go between Portsmouth and Roseau. From my communications with the minister of tourism at the time, that was the intention — although Customs may not have understood it as much as the yachts.
“I suggest this gets sorted out, otherwise I will have to post a bunch of retractions and changes on my website to face the reality of having to clear in and out and get a coastal clearance. This will not be helpful to yachting tourism in Dominica.”
To which Hubert replied:
“Chris, you are right; the intention was to have a seamless system of in/out clearance from any port. I just called to verify this information: all in all, it’s 14 days automatic in/out clearance no matter which port you arrive at and leave from. Obviously, there will have to be discussions with tourism officials and the head of Customs to make sure the correct information gets filtered down to the men and women on the front line of the respective offices in Customs at the ports of entry.
“The automatic in/out that we all love is great and convenient… but! There is a but: if the officer in charge at the time of clearance deems that the captain or agent of the vessel requires additional inspection for whatever reason, by the RSS or other security systems at their disposal, then a coastwise permit is issued (for free within normal working hours) and the vessel would have to clear out of the other port. But if the officer deems the vessel, captain and crew are operating within good faith and lawfully, under no suspicions of any sort, then the automatic in/out would be granted even if the vessel is clearing into one port and leaving from another within 14 days.
“I have been very used to seeing the cruising permit, plus have had Customs agents tell me that once a vessel is entering one port and leaving out of another, then that vessel has to clear out of the final port before leaving the country. So this is all based on the particular officer and the situation at hand, and whether or not he/she will grant the automatic in/out clearance along with the (coast–wise) cruising permit.
“Hope I didn’t confuse you any more than you are!”
Whew! If there can be that much confusion about yacht entry procedures in an island that is celebrated as one of the most hassle-free in the Eastern Caribbean, it’s apparently time to revisit one of yacht tourism’s biggest stumbling blocks. Over the 16 years that Caribbean Compass has been published, there has been a clear and constant call from yachtspeople, businesspeople and marine trades associations for yacht clearance procedures and entry fees to be standardized throughout the Eastern Caribbean.
Currently, charges are variously called Port, Customs, Cruising Permit, Practique, Navigation or Entry Fees, etcetera; one country might charge per person, another by boat length, another by tonnage; some charge in US$, some in EC$; one has weekly fees, another has monthly fees, another charges a flat fee, yet another uses a combination — it’s an egregiously diverse and complicated variety that yachtspeople cruising the island chain have to attempt to understand.
There is a move afoot to harmonize yacht entry procedures across the seven English-speaking nations within the Leewards and Windwards. Harmonized fees and simple procedures would encourage yachts to visit more Caribbean destinations, and encourage clearance compliance once there. (The eSeaClear system addresses the standardization of yacht clearance forms to some degree, but it is still not universally available.) We suggest starting by making all entry charges per person. Public services, ranging from garbage collection to dinghy-dock use, are much more impacted by the number of people using them than by the size of those people’s boats. Charging by length of vessel has no relevance to anyone except those who are renting dockage, moorings or haul-out space, where the boat’s size has direct relevance to the service provided. Determining entry charges by boat length is also unfair: six people on a 39-foot boat can get charged much less than a couple on a 40-foot boat.
So, a decade after publishing our last “fees” article, let’s look at the changes at some favorite destinations in the Lesser Antilles. Fees given are those payable during normal office hours; overtime fees often apply. Additional fees for bridge openings, National/Marine Park fees, etcetera, are not included. The information below is correct to the best of our knowledge at the time this issue of Compass went to press. Every effort has been made to reconfirm it, but sometimes this was not possible. Therefore this information should NOT be taken as gospel, and we’d welcome any comments or corrections.
British Virgin Islands
• THEN: Entry Fee of US$10 for boats under 50 tons.
• NOW: Daily tax of US$4 per person per day
• NET RESULT: US$56 per week for a visiting cruising couple adds up fast.
St. Maarten (Dutch)
• THEN: No Entry Fee, but a Departure Tax of approximately US$2 per person. (Weekly fees were introduced in 2003.)
• NOW: A weekly fee ranging from US$20 to US$290 depending on the length of the boat. If vessels under 18 metres stay six weeks they only pay for four. You also pay Customs and Port clearance fees when you clear out. Customs Fees range from US$2 to US$9, and Port Fees range from US$5 to US$20, depending on the length of the boat.
• NET RESULT: You now pay to play.
Antigua & Barbuda
• THEN: Entry Fee ranging in cost from EC$30 to EC$520 and up, depending on the length of the boat. It included one month’s Cruising Permit.
• NOW: Entry Fee ranging in cost from US$10 to US$20, plus monthly Cruising Permit ranging in cost from US$8 to US$14. (Yachts over 200 tons pay an alternative rate that includes both the above and starts at about US$200.) Antigua also now charges a departure tax of EC$70 per “passenger” (this applies to all non-Antiguan citizens whether departing by air or by yacht). The Immigration officials decide who is a yacht passenger. Unless a person is fully professional crew (as on a crewed charter boat), Immigration usually counts everyone except the skipper as a passenger.
• NET RESULT: Not only does Antigua rival the BVI for cost of visiting, we are also informed that “fees are subject to change at any time”.
• THEN: No charges.
• NOW: Use of laid moorings is virtually compulsory, at costs raging from three Euro for half a day for the smallest boats to 190 Euro a month for the largest boats, unless you anchor by Pain de Sucre or in Terre du Bas.
• NET RESULT: For a week in the Saintes a 40-foot boat would pay about US$78/EC$210 — “ouch” for cruisers. But for a charter boat the Saintes is cheaper than St. Vincent & the Grenadines AND you get a mooring thrown in (a 60-foot crewed charter yacht with six passengers would pay US$92 for week in the Saintes and US$190 to visit SVG).
• THEN: Cruising License ranging in cost from EC$50 to EC$1,000 depending on the length of the boat and the length of stay.
• NOW: Clearance Fee of EC$5 for boats under 40 feet, and EC$15 for boats over 40 feet, plus Navigational Aids Fee of EC$15 and Practique Fee of EC$10 (for boats up to 100 tons). Charter boats must also obtain an Occasional License ranging in cost from EC$20 to EC$40 depending on the length of the boat.
• NET RESULT: It’s a bit cheaper now (and St. Lucia has introduced a bundle of new yacht-friendly legislation besides).
St. Vincent & the Grenadines
• THEN: Entry Fee of EC$10 per person.
• NOW: Cruise Tax of EC$35 per person, good for one month. Crewed charter yachts based outside SVG are charged EC$5 per foot per month, plus the per-person Cruise Tax for passengers (valid charter crew are exempt). Bareboats based outside SVG pay an Occasional License Fee ranging from EC$60 to EC$140, depending on the length of the boat, plus the per-person Cruise Tax. (The bareboat company can pay the Occasional License Fee.) Children under 12 are exempt from the Cruise Tax.
• NET RESULT: A big hike, but for the average cruising couple, paying EC$70 for a one-month stay is about on a par with Grenada (for a mid-size boat there). For foreign-based charter boats SVG is expensive.
• THEN: Entry Fee of EC$15 per boat, plus a Port Authority Fee ranging in cost from EC$35 to EC$55 depending on length of boat, plus a Cruising Permit ranging in cost from EC$50 to EC$150 depending on length of boat. The Cruising Permit is payable monthly, but is waived for any months when the yacht is hauled out and stored.
• NOW: Only the former Cruising Permit charges are applied, plus Port Charges of EC$8.10 per person, excluding the skipper.
• NET RESULT: Less expensive and less complicated.
As a nutshell example, two people cruising on a 41-foot boat would pay the following for a week’s visit to the countries listed above (from least to most expensive, in US$/EC$ equivalents): St. Lucia US$15/EC$40, St. Vincent & the Grenadines US$26/EC$70, Grenada US$31/EC$83.10, St. Maarten US$47/EC$126, Antigua US$55/EC$148, BVI US$56/EC$150, Les Saintes (unless anchored) US$78/EC$210.
Oh — and what about Dominica? Among places that charge any fees at all (the French islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe and Marie Galante are virtually free), it’s about the cheapest destination for clearance in the Lesser Antilles: EC$4 per person during normal working hours — and that’s that!
Thanks to the St. Maarten Marine Trades Association, Caribbean Marine Association President John Duffy, St. Lucia’s Yachting Director Cuthbert Didier, the St. Vincent & the Grenadines Customs Department, the Marine & Yachting Association of Grenada, and everyone else who helped with information for this report.
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