NMMA warns Cuba cruisers to ‘manage expectations’

Posted on Written by Reagan Haynes
Gaviota Varadero Marina — a new marina built and owned by the Cuban government — is 98 percent unoccupied. Many marinas in Cuba are in disrepair and amenities are difficult to come by.

Gaviota Varadero Marina — a new marina built and owned by the Cuban government — is 98 percent unoccupied. Many marinas in Cuba are in disrepair and amenities are difficult to come by.

U.S. boaters have the official go-ahead to travel to Cuba, but government authorization is just the first step for the “pioneers” who are opting to make the journey after a half-century embargo.

“It’s not as easy as hopping on your boat and saying, ‘OK, I’m going to Cuba, and I’ll be back tomorrow,’ ” said Julie Balzano, export development director for the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “There are still things they need to do so they can be legally and logistically prepared.”

Balzano was one of four panel members addressing the Florida Yacht Brokers Association last week in a seminar on Cuba. The discussion drew about 140 audience members who wanted to hear about Cuba, its infrastructure and the legalities of traveling to the island nation.

“One thing we talked about on the panel is getting to Cuba, and the fact they can do so by boat is one thing, but we wanted the audience to manage expectations and what they’ll find when they get there,” Balzano told Trade Only Today.

“Most marinas will be old and in need of repair. Provisions are difficult,” she said. “Boats should go fully provisioned. Travelers will find gasoline and diesel. If a boat breaks down you can find mechanics, but you can’t find the parts.”

Many U.S. citizens do not understand they can only use cash in Cuba and cannot use their cellphones. Water, electrical and sewage systems are decades old. Boat owners also need to check with insurance and mortgage companies because they may need to modify their policies to cover travel to Cuba, she said.

Putting boats on par with other forms of travel is something the National Marine Manufacturers Association has pushed for — and as of Sept. 21, any U.S. citizen can travel to Cuba by boat and stay for as long as 14 days. Travelers have to obtain the necessary license to travel, receive a permit from the Coast Guard and get the proper visa and travel license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Cuban-born US citizens who entered US after 1970 can’t enter Cuba without a Cuban passport and can’t go out on a boat.

“A lot of what we’re seeing is these beautiful pictures of beautiful buildings and vintage cars,” Balzano said of the media around Cuba. “You hear less about the decades-old sewage system and telecommunication infrastructure. You can’t use your cellphone there as Americans, we can’t use credit cards. For U.S. citizens, it’s just cash. Satellite phones are not allowed, and most boats travel with satellite phones.

“That hasn’t been addressed yet because this is evolving so quickly,” Balzano added. “These are all considerations that people, the pioneers, who will be the first to travel by boat, need to make. They really need to do their due diligence.”

This report was updated to clarify travel stipulations for boaters going to Cuba.


9 comments on “NMMA warns Cuba cruisers to ‘manage expectations’

  1. Paul Madden

    More misinformation. “as of Sept. 21, any person can travel to Cuba by boat and stay for as long as 14 days. Travelers have to obtain the necessary license to travel, coordinate with the Coast Guard and get the proper visa and travel license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control.”

    “any person” excludes any US Citizen who was born in Cuba. And “any person” must qualify under 12 visa categories AND they must conform with the visa requirements, or they can face criminal prosecution. This also goes for crew who have separate legal requirements.

    “coordinate with the Coast Guard”. No, you actually need a specific US Coast Guard Permit to enter Cuban Territorial Waters. Here is current language from the USCG website:

    “Failure to comply with the Coast Guard, Commerce, Treasury, or other Federal government regulations regarding travel to Cuba will subject violators to federal criminal prosecution, as well as possible administrative proceedings by the Department of Commerce and Department of Treasury. Penalties for violations of these Federal statutes and regulations can result in fines, imprisonment, vessel seizure and forfeiture, and denial of future export privileges.”

    “If you do not have all of the appropriate permits and licenses required by the Department of Commerce and the Department of Treasury, and you make a voyage into Cuban territorial waters, you are subjecting yourself to any and all of these sanctions. You are hereby advised that, in compliance with direction from the President, the U.S. Coast Guard will be stringently monitoring maritime traffic to and from Cuba in order to ensure that vessels subject to U.S. jurisdiction have complied with all applicable licensing requirements, laws, and regulations, and will take aggressive enforcement actions if those conditions are not met.”

  2. Sandy Wills

    Traveling to Cube is, by definition, international travel, as is also travel to Canada, Mexico, or the Bahamas. Every vessel traveling internationally with a marine radio of any type or vessel-specific dedicated satellite subscription phone services is required by law to carry a Ship Station License and should be using an internationally accessible MMSI, both of which are issued only by FCC. 1-877-480-3201

  3. Douglass G, Norvell Ph.D.

    Ms. Balzano is wrong in her assessment of repair facilities in Cuba.

    The Groupo Industrial de Asstilleros de Cuba has 12 boatyard that are ISO certified. Parts can be obtained from other countries by express package sevices and there is a Volvo Penta dealer in Cuba.

  4. Wally Moran

    What is it about Cuba that creates all these ‘instant’ experts, generally people who have never travelled there? I’ve seen very few articles that aren’t, to a greater or lesser degree, inaccurate based on my own observations while in country on several occasions – the most recent being six weeks ago.
    Here are the facts – an American travelling to Cuba must qualify under one of the 12 license categories – certainly not all of them as someone above implied. That’s not hard to do, so essentially, any American can now go to Cuba.
    As of September 21, an American flagged boat can travel to Cuba provided each of the crew and guests qualifies under one of the 12 categories, and the boat has the USCG form 3300. There are no other requirements. The form takes about two weeks to process, according to Rosa Garrison of the USCG.
    Radios? I’ve yet to have Cuban customs or their Guard ask me for a radio license, or indeed, anything other than the ship’s usual papers.
    Telephones? Any GSM celphone can be used provided it is unlocked and you have an Etecsa sim card – which a local will have to purchase for you, foreigners cannot buy one in Cuba. The price of a SIM card as of June 2015 was $30 CUC but you also need to buy a minimum of $10 CUC of air time at the time of purchase. Local airtime rates are $.35cuc/min from 0700 to 2300 and from 2301 to 0659 the rate is $.15/min. Calls to Canada and the USA are $1.59/min anytime. Local text is $.10 per text and international text is $1.00.
    The marinas are not ‘old and in need of repair’…they are generally just not maintained at the standard we are used to. Think two star rather than four or five star. For example, in Gaviota, the showers? As of late August, there were six open stalls for the entire marina, although I would HOPE that will change as construction continues. There was no supermarket at the marina, nor anywhere near it, just the usual small tienda.
    There are currently 600 slips available, with plans to expand to 1000 as of the end of 2015 according to the marina’s manager. Maximum slip size will be about 200 feet – I could stand correction on this, I don’t have my notes at hand – and the slips are all in the European style of mooring to a ball, and tying off stern to the dock. Not something many Americans are familiar with.
    As for cash vs credit cards, even Canadians and Europeans travel with cash, as very few places have credit card facilities – generally the larger hotels in Havana and Varadero.
    And if you want a decades old sewage system that regularly spews out sewage, try Fort Lauderdale.

  5. Douglass G, Norvell Ph.D.

    Ms. Balzano is dead wrong in her statement that U.S. boats going to Cuba will be “pioneers”.
    In 1998 and 1999 400 U.S. boats traveled from Tampa Bay to Havana participating in the Havana Cup Regatta (See the article by Doran Cushing in the St. Petersburg Times on June 7th 2000. Neither Ms. Balzano, nor Mr. Haynes seem troubled by the facts.

  6. Wally Moran

    For heaven’s sake, there are and have been US boats in Cuba all along. Only those who haven’t been to Cuba and visited its marinas are unaware of this fact. I regularly see American registered vessels in Hemingway, with several having been there the last half dozen years – everything from 26 foot outboards to megayachts approaching 100 feet.
    And I missed the remark about sat phones – the Guarda, particularly in Hemingway, might have you seal your sat phone in a locker, but underway outside of the marina, you can use it without restriction. And I’ve seen them used at the docks in various Cuban marinas.
    While the security on the docks is quite good, things such as this aren’t particularly watched over.
    How about this: those of you commenting who have never been to Cuba restrict yourselves to questions that those of us who have been there can answer authoritatively for you? Sorry if that sounds overly cocky but I’m truly tired of reading the massive amounts of misinformation about Cuba in American media.

  7. Christopher P Baker

    Thoughtful comments from Paul and Wally to clarify the misinformation presented in the article, so I won’t repeat. I will add that I first sailed to Cuba in 1996 when I shipped my BMW motorcycle there from Key West as a professional journalist (see http://bit.ly/1W2e6QM), have visited Cuba more than 100 times, and regular visit the various marinas to review services for my MOON CUBA travel guidebook (http://moon.com/books/moon-cuba/). If you meet the regulatory requirements correctly defined by Paul and Wally then you should buy a copy of MOON CUBA to give you the low-down on marinas, marina services, and all other practicalities for exploring Cuba. Oh, and I lead guided motorcycle tours in Cuba under the “people-to-people” license (http://christopherpbaker.com/cuba-motorcycle-tours). See you there!

  8. Peter Swanson

    On the subject of satphones in Cuba: They’re illegal. The fact that enforcement is spotty doesn’t mean that you won’t be the one that gets arrested. A correspondent of mine tried to make a call on shore with one recently and was told by a Minint officer to immediately go back to their boat. Personally I would advise against doing anything in Cuba that draws the attention of the secret police. David Gross, an American AID agent, spent several years in prison for trying to distribute satcom devices to Cubans, and was released only when Obama and Castro negotiated normalization of relations.
    As far as the NMMA advocating for the opening of Cuba to boaters, they were late to the table, and it shows.

  9. Neil Davies

    Wally – thanks for your great and accurate posts on this. I am currently in the process of trying to get a USCG permit to enter Cuban Waters. I have been working on it for 3 weeks now through Rosa Garrison of USCG. I think the problem is that USCG has not caught up with the legal changes (relaxation) that occurred in September. The purpose for my trip is participation in the PYC to Havana sailing race which is covered as an athletic event under the General Permits you refer to. More info at http://www.cubarace2015.com

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