Understanding the Cruising License Renewal Process

If you have a foreign-flagged pleasure boat from one of the countries that has a reciprocal agreement with the United States, your vessel can be issued a cruising license that permits you to enjoy your boat in U.S. waters. These licenses are issued by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office at the port of entry where you arrive in the United States. They are normally valid for one year at a time.  

With a cruising license, you will be exempt from formalities like filing manifests, obtaining permits, and other entry and clearance procedures that you would typically be required to follow. You can also avoid entry and clearance fees and tonnage tax when you enter other U.S. ports throughout the year.

Cruising licenses are only available for private vessels. Commercially operated yachts, for example, cannot be issued cruising licenses.

If you have a cruising license and you’re approaching the one year mark, you may be feeling concerned about what you should do when it reaches its expiration date. Luckily, there is a process for renewing your license (if you meet certain criteria) and the Howard S. Reeder team can help!

So who can apply for a renewal?

If you are a resident alien with a foreign-flagged boat, you can apply for a successive cruising permit if your vessel was manufactured in the United States OR if the requisite duty was paid when it was imported (provided it was documented under laws of one of the approved countries..

If you are a foreign national and not a resident of the United States, you can renew your cruising license only after 15 days have passed since your previous license expired or was surrendered AND the boat re-enters the United States from a foreign location. The Custom and Border Protection agent will need to see paperwork from abroad confirming departure from another country.

This means that you will need to take the following steps:


  • Leave U.S. waters before you permit expires OR surrender your cruising permit and document to the local Customs office. 
  • Stay out of U.S. waters for at least 15 days after the permit expiration date or if you surrendered your document, stay within the local port and make the trip abroad closer to the end or after the 15 days. Many yacht owners or captains go to a nearby country such as the Bahamas to accomplish this without much hassle. 
  • Return on the 16th day or later after notifying your agent, who can clear you at the Marine Office where you enter and assist you in applying for a new cruising license.


What happens if you don’t leave American waters or surrender your license before its expiration date? You will be required to surrender your original registry at your closest Marine Office. If you don’t do this, you could be subject to fines of $5,000 or more, and your vessel could potentially even be seized. When you surrender your registry, you’ll get a receipt to prove you did so, which you will need to keep on your vessel. You can get the registry back when you’re ready to leave.

You are not legally required to have a cruising license, but we certainly recommend getting one and keeping it renewed if you are able because it saves you time and money if you cross the border in a yacht on a regular basis. If you need help with these matters, the Howard S. Reeder team is here to offer guidance. Don’t hesitate to contact us today.

Howard S Reeder Inc