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An article written by our staff and featured in The Charter Connection

by Ed

December 2005

The recent changes in immigration requirements for crewed charter yachts have had everyone talking in the U.S. Virgin Islands and were a hot topic at the St. Thomas Boat Show last month.

The revised law requires all crewed yacht guests to submit their passport information, date of birth, etc. to a special Homeland Security web site, 48 hours before they wish to enter the U.S.

The Chief Immigration officer in St. Thomas spoke at a special seminar at the show to try to clarify the issue. He openly admitted that the effect on crewed charter yachts had not been addressed by the powers-that-be and is trying to ease the problem in any way he can. This included allowing guests and captains to submit their information on the web site up to just 15 minutes before entering the territory if the last port was less than a 24 hour sail away. Everyone involved certainly appreciates these efforts and the whole procedure has turned out to be less of a problem than originally feared.

The larger yachts are the least affected as most have full internet access, often via Sat phone. Reliable internet access can, however, be a problem. Cable and satellite dishes are of course, not an option and relying on a cell phone connection in the hilly Virgin Islands is expensive and often unreliable. Even on a fast, land connection, it can take 20-30 minutes to fill out all the information required on the website, for a larger group.

The private ferry companies and day charter boats have been particularly hard hit.

The irony of the situation is that bareboats and public ferries are exempt. Any criminal or suspicious character can simply board the ferry and enter the U.S. through exactly the same immigration office and staff, without chartering any yacht or submitting any information in advance. Seems there wasn’t enough thought put into this one!

These new laws have not helped the St. Thomas based yachts, but this is not the first time the U.S. Government has hurt the crewed yacht industry in this area.

Not so many years ago, St. Thomas was home to the largest fleet of crewed yachts in the world, but this all changed when the U.S. Coast Guard introduced restrictions on any yacht boarding more than 6 guests. The majority of the larger yachts simply moved out of the territory. Once again this was a law not aimed at the charter yachts, but at making ferry boats safer. It is not practical for a 50' - 60' yacht to have such things as watertight bulkheads, which were required under the new law for yachts carrying over 6 passengers for hire.

It’s easy to say these laws should be changed, but in reality, once passed, it seems to be virtually impossible to do so. In the meantime, everyone is making the process as smooth and painless as possible and our charterers will barely notice any difference when visiting the USVI, besides having to fill out a bit more information on our preference form when first booking their vacation.

As always, if you have any questions about this, just email us or give us a call (800 621 7855).

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  Ed Hamilton & Company
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