Three passengers on a sailboat enjoying sailing on Lake Superior.

Lake Superior | Destination Ontario

What you need to know before sailing to Ontario

Three passengers on a sailboat enjoying sailing on Lake Superior.

Lake Superior | Destination Ontario

Four of the five Great Lakes border Ontario with access to the North Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence Seaway, a popular route with avid sailors.

Because Ontario shares the shores of Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario with the U.S., there are several ports from which to cross the border and sail into Canada.

Here is what you need to know before sailing into Ontario, Canada.

Canada/U.S. water crossing

Both Canada and the United States police their water borders as they do with their land borders.

There are specific rules and procedures that must be followed when crossing into each country’s respective waters. Be prepared so your border crossings go smoothly and without issue.

When you cross into Canadian waters, you must report to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) for inspection, even if you are not planning to dock, anchor or enter a canal or river.

Arriving at a Canadian marina

Upon arrival at a marina in Canada, you’ll need to report to the CBSA marine reporting site.

You must also call the Telephone Reporting Centre (TRC) at 1-888-226-7277 (1-888-CAN-PASS) using the phone system reserved for this use. This will allow you to obtain your clearance.

At this stage, only the captain, who holds the master licence and certification may leave the vessel to do the reporting. No other passengers or goods can exit the vessel until the clearance is received. 

Sailing through Canadian waters

If you are entering Canadian waters but not landing on Canadian soil, you must still report to the CBSA marine reporting site. However, you can use your cell phone to call in from the water.

If you decide to land on Canadian soil later, you must report again to the CBSA marine reporting site and call the TRC using the reserved phone to obtain clearance. Once again, only the individual holding the master certification may leave the vessel to do the reporting. No other passengers or goods can exit the vessel until the clearance is received.

If you are on one of the Great Lakes and will be weaving in and out of Canadian waters, you must call the TRC upon entering Canadian waters for the first time to obtain clearance. You need only report once. 

TRC questions

When you contact the TRC, keep your answers short and truthful and be prepared to answer questions relating to:

  • the purpose of your trip
  • information about yourself and the passengers on your vessel
  • any goods being declared

The CBSA officer will decide if further inspection is required following the questions.

If this is not required, you will receive a clearance number. This clearance number is your approval to enter Canada. Write the number down and enter it into your vessel’s log. You will need this number throughout your stay in Canada.

If further inspection is required, the person in command will be instructed to ensure all passengers and goods stay on the vessel while the inspection team arrives. 

Documents for U.S. citizens and permanent residents

U.S. citizens or permanent residents require a passport or approved alternative identification to enter Canada by water.

U.S. citizens can use their NEXUS card as proof of identification when entering Canada by land, water or air. To use NEXUS, all passengers on the vessel must have their own card. If you are a U.S. citizen and have a Free and Secure Trade (FAST) card, it is accepted as proof of identification by land or water only. Otherwise, entry must be done in person at a designated port of entry.

U.S. permanent residents with a FAST or NEXUS card must still travel with a passport and proof of permanent residence.

Documentation for international travellers

International travellers entering Canada must carry accepted identification and visa (if necessary).

If you are required to travel with a valid visa to enter Canada, this still applies when landing in Canada via water. However, if you are visa-exempt but still require an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) to board an aircraft, you do not need an eTA for land or water border crossings.

Get the complete list of visa-exempt travellers.

A valid passport is highly recommended as it is the only universally accepted travel identification document for international travel

Travelling with children

As with land crossings, minor children of parents who share custody should travel with copies of the legal custody agreement documents.

The parent should also have a dated consent letter from the other custodial parent allowing for the child to leave the country. Ensure the letter has names, addresses and contact information where the parent or guardian can be reached. Always on alert for missing children, the CBSA will ask for detailed information about minors sailing with you.

Last updated: July 2, 2024

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