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.