For the last year, most of our attention has been focused on getting our new house in order. Consequently, we’ve been a bit lax on tending to boat chores. With the holidays behind us though, our thoughts have turned to preparing Eagle Too for a possible trip to the Bahamas this spring.
One of the first items on our list was to go over all our documentation and paperwork to make sure everything’s up to date for travel. We normally keep a three-ring binder in the chart table on Eagle Too, our ‘boat book,’ that has all our essential documentation. In one easy to grab package, we have everything we think we will or might need to go ashore and check in with Customs and Immigration or reserve a slip in a marina. What’s in the book? It’s a list of things that we’ve curated through four years of travel, and we think everyone who intends to cruise, particularly to other countries, should have something similar. So here’s what we keep in Eagle Too’s book:
- USCG Certificate of Documentation. This is basically our Federal title that shows that we are the legal owners of the vessel. We always get asked for this when checking into a new country, so we keep it right up front. It has to be renewed annually (longer renewal options just became available though), usually on or around the date that you originally purchased the vessel. Note—the Coast Guard is having a major issue with their computer systems at present, and it’s currently taking four to six months to renew a COD rather than the usual week to ten days. Current Coast Guard direction is to keep your expired COD along with a copy of your application for renewal, which will supposedly make you legal. Our copy is in the same pocket as our COD.
- US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) DTOPS decal. This decal displays a registration number that you’ll need for CBP when clearing back into the US. It’s basically a tax stamp, because you pay a fee to obtain the decal every year, and then you don’t have to pay a clearance fee when returning to the US from international travel. It expires on 31 December each year, you need a new decal each year, and if you obtain your first one at some point during the year, it’s only good for the remainder of that year, even though they don’t prorate the fee. So if you’re gearing up for your first season of cruising, and you don’t purchase your DTOPS decal until November, it’s only going to be good for two months, even though you paid the entire amount. We’re currently waiting for our 2020 decal to arrive, so we keep the receipt from our online renewal order in the pocket. Note—the directions say that the decal is void if it’s not attached to your vessel near the companionway entrance. But we’ve never applied ours to our boat. We just keep it in the envelope in which it arrives, filed in our boat book. It’s never been a problem, because whenever we’ve checked in to the US, we’ve either visited a CBP office, or used the CBP ROAM app to do it online. We’ve had to supply our decal number, but no one has ever asked whether it’s stuck to the boat.
- Our boat insurance policy and several additional copies of our declarations page. We’ve never been asked (that I can recall) by a Customs officer to show proof of insurance, but marinas often ask for it. We have additional copies of the declarations page (which shows what our policy covers and for how much) because on occasion a marina will want a copy of the page for their records, but they sometimes don’t have a working copier.
- Our passports, along with additional full color copies of each passport open to the ID page. This one is self-explanatory. If you’re traveling to other countries, you’re going to need your passports. The copies come in handy in some instances. The Customs officers will always want to see your original documents, but I remember in Mexico the official seemed quite pleased when we said “and you can have a copy if you wish” and presented him with color copies. They really seem to love paperwork in Mexico, particularly when you give them lots of things to stamp.
- Our state fishing licenses. Just in case we’re ever visited by Florida Fish and Wildlife while we’re trolling a few lines while making a coastal passage. These get renewed annually.
- Several copies of our crew list. It’s just a simple document we generated that includes the names, crew positions, date of birth, passport number and country of citizenship for every member of the crew. Which is just Rhonda and I. But sometimes bureaucrats gotta bureaucrat, and they want to apply a requirement that’s meant for ocean-going cargo ships to a small sailboat as well, and ask you to fill out a crew list. Whatever. We’re ready.
- Our Federal Communications Commission Form 605-S, Radio Station Authorization. This is the document that issues the official FCC call sign to your vessel. It’s good for ten years. No one has ever asked for it and I really don’t know what purpose it serves. If someone wants to hail us on the VHF, they’re going to call for Eagle Too and not WDH8994, not that we’d answer them if they did. But apparently it’s an international requirement to have this license to legally operate a VHF radio, so we have it just in case, even though it’s a rule that the FCC pretty much ignores within the US. One less thing to trip us up in the event that we ever encounter a Customs officer who’s having a really bad day and wants to try and make our lives difficult.
- Our World Health Organization certificates of vaccination. Basically, our shot records. Many countries require proof of certain shots to be allowed entry. But truthfully, no one has ever asked for these either. Our health examination has generally consisted of a Customs officer asking us how we feel and whether anyone has been sick onboard, sometimes accompanied by a small self-certification form for us to fill out. Clearing into Cuba was the only time we actually received a visit from a Doctor before being allowed to clear in, and even he didn’t ask to see our records. But they’re still great to have, because if nothing else, they give us something tangible to turn to when we start asking ourselves questions like “So when do our tetanus shots expire?”
- Copies of all current prescriptions. Because we don’t want to have to rely on the bottle labels to prove the drugs we carry are ours, since they tend to get smudgy and hard to read after a while onboard.
- NOAA SARSAT Beacon Registration. This is the document that comes with the registration sticker for our Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), which has to be re-registered every two years. It’s not something anyone is probably going to ask for, but it has all the contact information for NOAA and registration data for our EPIRB in case we need it, and reminds us when renewal is coming up.
- Home marina slip contract. Because if we ever have any reason to have to refer to our marina contract, say to look up whether something like grilling onboard is or isn’t prohibited, we know exactly where we can find it.
- And finally, we have a separate pocket for each country we’ve visited, in which we place any official documentation we receive when clearing into or out of that country. Sometimes a cruising permit is good for longer than the few weeks or months we’re visiting, and if we return, the document might still be valid. Or a good example is the Temporary Import Permit that Mexico required us to obtain in order to bring our boat into the country. It’s good for 10 years, so if we go back, we’ll know where to find our TIP from our previous visit and not have to pay for another one.
Believe it or not, everything fits in a 1” binder, so it’s no problem to tuck into the chart table, and easy to grab when going ashore to check in. So, do you have a boat book? If so, what’s in it?
By the way, some of the documents we carry are things we applied for over five years ago, and the process to obtain them may have either changed (almost everything can be done online now) or have become lost to the mists of time. So please don’t ask for guidance on how to acquire this or that particular document. Just Google it and I’m sure you’ll find a better answer than one I could give you. Cheers!