What You Need to Know Before Sailing to Ontario

Three passengers on a sailboat enjoying sailing on Lake Superior

Image location: Lake Superior

Make Ontario’s stunning waterways your next sailing adventure. With a quarter of a million square kilometres of water and 17,000 kilometres of coastline, the Great Lakes will beckon you to visit and offer enough opportunities to come back again, and again.

Four of the five Great Lakes border the province of Ontario with access to the North Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence Seaway. And 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.

Not only is Ontario a beautiful place to sail - it’s also easy to sail to. Here is what you need to know before sailing into Ontario, Canada.

Canada / U.S. Water Crossing


Albeit water-based, the Great Lakes are a well-policed boundary between the two countries and are treated the same as land border crossings. Both Canada and the U.S. have rules and procedures when crossing into their respective waters. Be prepared in advance so that your crossings are done smoothly and without issue.

Entering Canada from the U.S.

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

  1. ArriveCAN is the official free, secure and mandatory platform to provide your information to the Government of Canada when you enter the country. All travellers, including those crossing into Canada by a marine vessel, must use ArriveCAN before or upon entering Canadian waters. Before you sail, make allowances for Wi-Fi availability or disruptions as you may be denied entry if you are unable to submit your info on ArriveCAN. Once you submit your information on ArriveCAN, a receipt will be emailed to you. It is very easy to use, make sure you have your own identification and all of your passenger’s identification ready to enter into the system. As the primary traveller, you may provide information for your spouse or common-law partner, your children under 18 and any other adult of whom you may be a legal guardian. You can provide info for up to eight travellers. You must enter travel details, vaccination information and travel history.

    If you are a foreign national travelling with a Canadian for discretionary purposes, you should complete individual submission on ArriveCAN. If you are travelling with a group of foreign nationals with mixed vaccination statuses, you will not be allowed entry into Canada.
     
  2. Check in advance for the most up-to-date requirements in place due to COVID-19.
     
  3. 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) 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.
     
  4. 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 later to land in Canada, you must report again to the CBSA marine reporting site, and then call the TRC at 1-888-226-7277 using the reserved telephone for this use 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 are allowed to exit the vessel until the clearance is received.
     
  5. 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.
     

When you contact the TRC, be prepared to answer the following series of questions. Keep your answers short and truthful. You’ll be asked for:

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

Following the questions, the CBSA officer will decide if further inspection is required. 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 (or ship’s log).  You will need this number throughout your stay in Canada. 

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

Documents Required for U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents


You do not need a passport to enter Canada by water if you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Ensure you have proof of citizenship which can be passport, a birth certificate, a certificate of citizenship or naturalization, a U.S. Permanent Resident Card or a Certificate of Indian Status as well as a photo ID. 

The Trusted Travellers Program

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.

Travelling with Children

As with land crossings, children of parents who share custody should travel with copies of the legal custody agreement documents. The parent of the child should also have a dated consent letter from the other custodial parent allowing for the minor child to leave the county. 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.

Documents Required for Other International Travellers


All international travellers must carry the accepted identification and a valid visa (if necessary) to enter Canada. Like all borders, there are documentation requirements, so this means that if you are required to travel with a valid visa to enter Canada, this still applies when landing in Canada via water.  What is different is that 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.

Note:  As always, a valid passport is highly recommended as it is the only universally accepted travel identification document for international travel.

Last updated: May 6, 2022

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