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Will Canada Reopen to Boaters?

Set to open its borders to fully vaccinated U.S. residents next month, our neighbor to the north could be facing a strike by Canadian border guards and customs officials. Plus, the Great Lakes welcomes a newly designated marine sanctuary.

If you’re not a dealership or marina in a region that borders our northern neighbors, the prospect of the Canadian border reopening probably doesn’t mean much. But for thousands of boating customers who annually cruise into Canadian waters — whether in the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes or Northeast — the announcement that Canada will allow fully vaccinated U.S. residents into the country starting Aug. 9 after a 16-month ban comes as great news.

But don’t cast off lines, yet. Canadian border guards and customs officials just voted to go on strike if the border reopens. The Public Service Alliance of Canada and the country’s Customs and Immigration Union said in a joint statement that strike action could begin as soon as Aug. 6 after 8,500 members voted in favor of the action.

On the other hand, a spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency said 90 percent of the front-line border services officers have been identified as "essential" so they’ll continue to work.

Boaters arriving at a Canadian port are required to check in with customs officers, obtain a cruising clearance and all vessels are subject to inspection. Only the captain can leave the boat to contact a customs officer in person or by land phone. A strike would slow down commercial traffic at the land borders, the unions claim, as well as impact international mail and collection of duties and taxes. While there is no specific mention of its impact on arriving recreational boaters, it seems obvious.

Canada has kept strict prohibitions on travel throughout the pandemic, even travel between its provinces. Indeed, Americans were fined if spotted near any British Columbia tourist locations while on a permitted drive from Washington to Alaska. If the border opens, some there have already dubbed it the “great Pacific Northwest reunion.”

"Thanks to the rising vaccination rates and declining Covid-19 cases, we are able to move forward with adjusted border measures," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a news conference. The relaxation depends on Canada's Covid rates remaining favorable. Some 50 percent of Canadian residents are fully vaccinated, and 75 percent have had one shot, government officials said.

Boaters on the Great Lakes particularly enjoy access to Canadian ports. After all, Canada’s southern border lies on four of the five lakes. Many boaters, including my family, would regularly make summer cruises to spectacular destinations, like Toronto on Lake Ontario, the North Channel on Lake Huron, Pelee Island in Lake Erie or a short ride across the Detroit River to Windsor, to note a few examples.

Overall, while contract disputes are involved, the hope is there won’t be more delay in opening the border to cruising boatowners whose boating pleasure and use is increased by access to our northern neighbors.

From Boat Graveyard to Sanctuary

One might be surprised to learn that the Great Lakes hold countless shipwrecks. Recently, nearly 1,000 square miles of Lake Michigan along the Wisconsin shore have become protected waters.

These waters are a shipwreck graveyard containing 36 known vessels, and likely more: researchers believe there could be as many as 60 waiting to be discovered in that area.

Accordingly, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration has designated the area the “Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary,” citing shipwrecks of “exceptional historical, archeological and recreational value.”

The cold, fresh waters of Lake Michigan act as the perfect preservative. While saltwater decays sunken ship parts and corrode metals, freshwater simply doesn’t. The designation simply prohibits damaging of removing any sanctuary resources or anchoring onto a shipwreck. It adds another dimension for recreation boaters who also enjoy SCUBA diving activities. 

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