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Cruising in U.S. not as hard as it seems; check perceptions

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I reached out last month to yacht captains for some tips on where to cruise in the Northeastern U.S. (Find their top picks in the special section on pages 27-30 of this month’s issue.) Most of the captains who replied are American, their yachts foreign.
Normally, that wouldn’t even register for me since we strive to cover all crew in yachting, but after writing last month about chartering in the U.S., I was a little surprised so many captains had favorite places to cruise in the U.S. Maybe more yachts visit the U.S. than I thought.
Until I heard back from one American captain who gave me a laundry list of reasons he doesn’t cruise in the U.S. The list was daunting, and seemed to give merit to the argument that yachts aren’t welcome in the U.S. He included hurdles such as the non-tank vessel response plan requirement and certificates of financial responsibility.
In our defense, the U.S. NTVRP is similar to the rule for oil response found in the international Ship Oil Pollution Emergency Plan regulations (and only applicable to yachts over 400 gt), and COFRs cost about $500 for a large yacht to obtain. Neither are really truly hurdles.
What was more troubling, though, was the fact that cruising permits, having to report in to the U.S. Coast Guard and state pilotage laws were on this captain’s list. These are things that every country in the world requires at some level for yachts visiting their waters. Why did he see those things as unwelcoming?
(Nevermind that cruising permits were designed to make movement inside the U.S. easier, reporting into the USCG with each new port is similar to reporting required all over Europe, and state pilotage laws have changed in the past five years to make it easier for smaller yachts.)
US flag dcReality aside, this captain believes his list of hurdles means the U.S. really doesn’t want him here. He signed off his email with this comment: “We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars every month running our programs, and with all the headaches to try to operate in U.S. waters, we would rather spend our monies in countries where they are happy to accommodate our owner and program.”
This captain’s reply, and his list, made me realize that some captains’ aversion to cruising in the U.S. is more a matter of perception than it is reality. But it doesn’t matter; perception is reality if it drives behavior.
Unfortunately, this captain’s perception isn’t rare. Deb Radtke, a former yachtie who has started American Yacht Agents to help yachts cruise in the United States, said she runs into that perception all the time, and most frequently from American captains.
“It’s really not that difficult to cruise in a foreign-flagged yacht here,” she said. “American captains think it is because they feel, because they are Americans, they should be able to move about freely.”
Captains accept myriad procedures in the Med, perhaps because they are used to it. (Personally, I think it has more to do with the fact that they use an agent in the Med so someone else handles the phone calls and paperwork for them.) Interestingly, Radtke said the foreign captains she works with in the U.S. “are not at all bothered by the fact that they have to call in everywhere they go.”
She concedes that cruising in the U.S. can be confusing.
Paperwork must be in order, advanced notice must have been given, and once under a cruising license, the yacht must report its movement into every “port or place”.
“And it’s not always easy to find those phone numbers,” she said.
But it’s no more challenging than it is anywhere else in the world.
Obviously, the U.S. large yacht industry has a lot of work to do if we’re to convince captains and owners that cruising or even chartering in the U.S. isn’t as daunting or uncomfortable as they may believe.
And the benefits are huge. Let’s skip for a minute the benefits to the broader industry, the dockage at marinas, the provisions delivered, the flowers ordered and the linens dry cleaned. Owners, guests and crew will love exploring the U.S. It’s diverse with lively cities such as Miami and New York, charming towns all along the northeast coast, wildlife that is unmatched up into Maine and throughout the Pacific Northwest.
There are diving spots and tropical waters. There are fjords and glaciers. There are world-class museums, theater and music festivals. And our nation’s most historic sites are accessible by water, as are an assortment of national parks.
Yes, a captain could create a list of reasons not to come here, and they are real and daunting reasons. Except that they really aren’t. Every place in the world has rules about entering and moving about.
But there are even more reasons to come. And it’s really not that daunting, especially if captains will accept the help of the professionals whose job it is to make their visit easy. I guess my point is: Don’t write off a whole quadrant of the globe because of something you’ve heard or even experienced years ago.

Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher of The Triton. Comments on this essay are welcome at lucy@the-triton.com.

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