To make it easier for boaters returning (to Florida*) from foreign locations, Homeland Security established the “Small Vessel Reporting System” and “Local Boater Option” programs which have been refined since their inception. Basically the boater, with boat ownership and citizenship information in hand, goes to Customs prior to leaving the U.S. There the boater is interviewed, and if the interview is successful, is issued an LBO number. Make sure all known crew attend the interview with their documents as well. They, too, will receive numbers.
Before leaving the U.S. The captain files a float plan with the Small Vessel Reporting System — this is not a come find me float plan — it is a Customs float plan. Once the data is entered correctly, a Float Plan Number will be issued. The float plan can be updated online after the number is issued from anywhere in the world. It must be activated online no more than 24 before departure.
On return to the U.S. from the anchorage or dock, before going ashore, one calls Customs. They will ask a variable set of familiar questions including the Float Plan number. They will ask if there have been any deviations form the Float Plan — not the original but the latest version updated before arrival.
Depending on the answers given and other considerations known only to Customs one will either be cleared in and given a clearance number, or one may be directed to visit Customs in person according to instructions given at the time.
We have used this system twice now and in both cases were given a number and a cheerful welcome home. We did our initial LBO interview with the Customs office in St Augustine and returned to the U.S. via Fort Pierce.
*We have been told the system is not in operation in other States as it was designed around Florida-Bahama traffic volume.