Skagway boaters caught in Catch 22

It's a Catch-22 worthy of Joseph Heller himself, whose famous novel coined the phrase. Yukoners who moor their boats in Skagway’s harbour year-round are being told they must sail to Prince Rupert and back at least once a year in order to keep their vessels legal.

It’s a Catch-22 worthy of Joseph Heller himself, whose famous novel coined the phrase.

Yukoners who moor their boats in Skagway’s harbour year-round are being told they must sail to Prince Rupert and back at least once a year in order to keep their vessels legal.

Or, well, maybe.

Yukon boaters say they don’t actually know what they’re supposed to do. Confusion arose after a public meeting in May where Skagway Port Director Mary Nagy said that the owners of foreign vessels must have official permission to enter the U.S. For boaters who moor their boats year-round, they must leave the country once a year in order to get the proper form to request re-entry into the country.

In the case of Skagway’s isolated port, that means sailing down the coast to Prince Rupert, almost 1,000 kilometres round trip.

“The only way that they can go foreign is to make that 400-mile trip to Prince Rupert, which is costly as well as a safety concern for these people just trying to go this length of trip,” explained Skagway harbourmaster Matt O’Boyle

“To do a round trip to Prince Rupert and back for a lot of these vessels that travel at maybe eight knots, it’s a good month-long trip,” O’Boyle said.

The changes affect about 50 Canadian boats that are moored year-round in Skagway, he said.

For boaters with vessels small enough to haul with a trailer, they can simply haul their boats seven kilometres up the mountain to the Canada-U.S. border.

The confusion has left many Yukoners fearful of bringing their boats to Skagway.

“Before we even put our boat in, we have to get some answers,” said Donna Swales, a boater who has been sailing out of Skagway for 30 years.

“I don’t want to even take it across the border. There were so many conflicting stories, and I think the lady from the border patrol didn’t have her facts straight,” Swales said.

She said in her 30 years sailing from Skagway, she and her husband have never encountered bureaucracy like this.

“We don’t know whether we need a cruising permit or not. We just want to make sure we can get our boat back into Canada with no problem,” she said.

“We did register it in the States last year, because that’s what we were told we should be doing. But now we’re told, ‘No, you don’t have to do that.’ Until we can get it cleared, we don’t want to take our boat over there,” she said.

Calls to Nagy’s office were directed to her superior, Jeff Lisius in Anchorage. He said he couldn’t comment because he’s waiting for clarification from his bosses at Customs and Border Protection.

Harbourmaster O’Boyle also said that these regulations have been on the books for years, but they were never enforced with this much vigilance.

“This is something that shocked us here at the beginning of the season,” O’Boyle said.

“It’s something that Skagway has been working on quite extensively. We have been in a lot of meetings and stuff with CBP to get some information from them on the regulations. The mayor has had meetings with the governor as well,” he said.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com

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