Customs stations for pleasure boats closed during pandemic

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has temporarily closed all of its small boat reporting locations in Michigan and other states along the Great Lakes while the border with Canada remains closed to non-essential travel because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The U.S. agency said these closures include reporting locations at the River Street Marina in Port Huron, across the St. Clair River from Sarnia, as well as sites at Detroit’s Erma Henderson Park and locations in Mount Clemens, Trenton, Lexington, Algonac and others.

The pause on operation of reporting locations follows a joint move by Canada and the U.S. on March 21 to temporarily restrict all non-essential travel over the border, including recreational visits, for 30 days.

The government’s said they will review the measure at the end of the 30 days.

Normally, both countries require pleasure boaters crossing the border to report to customs. These specific reporting locations are staffed during boating season for pleasure boats to report their arrival and be inspected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The agency’s Detroit office included a reminder with the temporary closure notice Friday, saying “routine small vessel travel for pleasure is non-essential.”

The St. Clair River is normally a busy waterway with lake freighters, pleasure boats and fishing boats sharing the water during the spring, summer and fall.

“Boating season, next to deer season, is the number one season up here,” said Kris Grogan, a public affairs officer with the U.S. border agency. “We all want to be out on the water, and we hopefully can once it gets cleared up.”

Grogan said the U.S. border agency also operates small patrol vessels on the St. Clair and Detroit rivers, and larger vessels in other areas of the Great Lakes.

“They’re in the water whenever they’re able to, as long as there’s no ice,” he said.

Normally if a Canadian pleasure boat is operating in the St. Clair River and is just “traversing that imaginary line” in the middle of the waterway, “they’re OK,” Grogan said.

But if a boat crosses the border and drops anchor, ties up to another boat or touches land in the U.S., they were required to report to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Grogan said.

While the borders are closed to non-essential visitors, boaters shouldn’t even be crossing the line in the middle of the waterways, although enforcement of those situations is expected to be left to local and state law enforcement marine units, he said.

Anyone involved in non-essential travel who does cross the border “will be returned back to Canada immediately,” Grogan said.

“We want everyone to remain safe,” he said. “I’m very proud of the way the two countries are working together.”

The Canada Border Services Agency said in an email that “all travel of an optional or discretionary nature, such as tourism and recreation, is covered by these measures” restricting non-essential travel across the border into Canada.

It added the temporary order ensures that economic supply chains remain open and goods continue moving across the border, along with Canadians and Americans who cross the border every day to work or study, including truck drivers and health-care workers.

“(Canada Border Services Agency) officers remain vigilant and are highly trained to identify travellers seeking entry into Canada who may pose a health and safety risk,” the Canadian agency said.