Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Small Vessel Reporting System (SVRS)

West End/Soper's Hole, Tortola, BVI to Hansen Bay, St. John, USVI.

(Update 4/11/17:  Note on St. Martin & updating SVRS when you get a new passport)

There are a few more things to consider before departing the US besides just making sure your passport is up to date.  (However, these things can also be accomplished while in Puerto Rico or USVI, if you're willing to brave government bureaucracy in island time).  This blog is based on our experiences in the Virgin Islands.

We needed to clear customs after departing the BVI's and upon arriving in St John, USVI.  That would usually mean a stop in Cruz Bay.  However, before we left the US, we enrolled in the voluntary and free SVRS program.  This has allowed us to arrive at ports that aren't necessarily Ports of Entry ie. from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Real, Puerto Rico (POE is Mayaguez) and St. Croix to the south side of Vieques, Puerto Rico (duty-free US port to US port.  Customs office is on the north side of the island).  Of course, they can still require us to come into the office which, hopefully, is just a cab ride.  Each person must apply for an SVRS number.  Our boat is under the Captain's SVRS number and I add my SVRS number as a passenger.  Create float plan.  Activate float plan!    Easy peasy.

NOTE:  Friends on s/v Kailiani attempted to clear into Coral Bay, St. John, USVI from St. Martin and were told they needed to come into the office and present their St. Martin departure form.  It might be worth a phone call to the St. John customs office before you depart St. Martin.  We went from St. Kitts & Nevis to St. Croix so we don't have first-hand information on St. John from the south.

"As part of U.S. Customs & Border Protection comprehensive effort to improve security at our nation’s borders while enhancing legitimate travel, including private boaters, CBP implemented the Small Vessel Reporting System (SVRS). SVRS is a voluntary effort that will allow eligible, frequent pleasure boat operators and passengers, who are U.S. citizens, nationals or lawful permanent residents; ... . SVRS offers facilitated customs and immigration clearance for recreational low-risk boaters at time of arrival. This program will satisfy the boat operator’s legal requirement to report to a port-of-entry for face-to-face inspection in accordance with 8 CFR 235.1, but boaters must still phone in their arrival to satisfy 19 USC 1433."

"CBP reserves the right to board and inspect any small pleasure vessel and its occupants arriving from any foreign port or place and will conduct random inspections of SVRS participants."

Become a Participant:

Here's how to apply:
  • Go to the website above and read the requirements.
  • Fill out the online application
  • Schedule face-to-face interview (waived for Trusted Travelers)

We were both GOES (US Customs Trusted Traveler or Global Online Enrollment System) and didn't have to do the face-to-face interview for SVRS (but there is a fee & face-to-face interview for GOES).  Global is handy to have if you will be flying home during hurricane season.  It gets us in the TSA "Pre" line (enter Trusted Traveler # when booking your reservation).

NOTE:  A friend renewed his passport and on their next SVRS arrival, customs required him to report in person at the port of entry.  The Captain didn't experience this, but he's GOES.

If your boat is 30 feet or longer, don't forget that you are required to purchase a DTOPS decal for $27.50 every year. (We're hearing you just need the number).

This site works best with...

Float plan tips:
Once you're enrolled, you are required to go to their website and set up a password.  I also recommend setting up your vessel and getting acquainted early.  The website can be a pill!
  • If you're having problems, it's probably your browser.  I recommend a laptop to start--yes, it can be done on an Mac (Chrome or Firefox with cookies & pop-ups enabled. Internet Explorer--please tell you've given up on this outdated browser.  I don't recommend Safari because cookies are usually defaulted to off).  

NOTE:  Even on an iPad, I recommend having two browsers (see the blog, slow-internet-andor-using-less-data). It wasn't too long ago that all government websites required Internet Explorer, for example.
  • "Passengers" also need a SVRS number (there's no "crew" option)
  • Don't forget to ACTIVATE YOUR FLOAT PLAN 
  • If you're stuck, try scrolling down to the bottom of the screen for a "Next" button

An example of the display issues with the website...scroll down for more options

Step-by-Step Directions
I can usually fill out a form on a website without reading the directions, but I had to read "The Float Plan Guide" twice & it still didn't activate my first Float Plan, so here we go:

Log in with Captain's SVRS number.

(Add Vessel if you haven't already.  "My Vessel Registrations").  

SVRS home page

Click "My Float Plans"

Scrolling down reveals Navigation buttons

Scroll to the bottom, and select "New Float Plan" button

Registered Vessels page

The first page should be Registered Vessels.  Click "Select" next to your boat name then scroll down to bottom for "Next" button.

SVRS Passengers page

SVRS Passengers:  Type crew member/passenger SVRS number then "Add New SVRS Passenger" button.  Scroll down for "Next" button.

Non-SVRS Passengers page

Add non-SVRS passengers (they will have to visit a customs port of entry for an interview).  Scroll down for "Next" button.

Itinerary page

Itinerary probably says "No itinerary data entered" so click "Add/Update Itinerary" button.

A potential problem.  Pop-ups not displaying correctly

You now have a pop-up window.  This is an area of the website that gets problematic (see pic above). If the screen is blank check pop-up blocker is disabled & cookies enabled.  If that doesn't work, you may need to try a different browser.

Tips for this section:  
  • Just do starred or required field.  (It will help eliminate errors)
  • Country drop-down list may be confusing ie. BVI's are Virgin Islands, British.  Puerto Rico is under Virgin Islands (US Minor outlying islands won't let you select "US Arrival Location")
  • Don't stress the "address".  Type "location" instead ie. Hansen Bay
  • State/Province & Postal Code look required but may be greyed out (difficult to see) in USVI/PR
  • US Arrival Location:  In PR & USVI, you select "San Juan" (sector) then you will get the PR/USVI drop-down list (seriously, hours wasted on THAT float plan!)

Itinerary, Step 1 of 3

Step 1 of 3 Enter Departure info (see tips) & scroll down for "Next" button.

Itinerary, Step 1 of 3 example

Itinerary, Step 2 of 3

Step 2 of 3 Enter Destination info (see tips above for US Arrival Location) & scroll down for "Next" button.

Itinerary, Step 3 of 3

Step 3 of 3 Finish. Review info & scroll down to "Save to Float Plan" button.

Itinerary shows at top.

The new itinerary should show at the top of the pop-up screen.  
My pop-up screen remains open, so scroll down to "Close" (fingers crossed). 
"Are you sure you want to exit?"  

Itinerary page with new itinerary

Back on Float Plan Itinerary page, you should see your new itinerary, so scroll down to "Next" button.

Are you kidding me?

(When I tried to enter a new float plan so I could take notes and screen shots, the website went wanky.  It happens.  Save, save, save and take a break.  Seriously.  Start this process a few days before you're scheduled arrival!  There have been more than a few frantic texts amongst cruiser friends while trying to file a Float Plan.)

Other Float Plan Data page

If you have a Cruising License Number, enter it here.  Scroll down & hit "Next" button

Now you should have "Float Plan Wizard Final Review"!

If everything looks correct then you must select "FINISH" button at the bottom.

Complete!  Almost...
This should bring you to the "Complete!  Float plan added/updated".  Take note of your float plan number in your boat log (or take a screen shot).

There will also be a link for "Activate this float plan now".
You can edit from here, but with the troubles I've had with the website, I recommend to GO AHEAD & ACTIVATE.  The website is not reliable and if you can't get back in, it was all for knot!  Customs is flexible with arrival times but won't be happy if you didn't activate.

Upon arrival, fly your "Q" flag (you never know who is watching) and call immediately.  Tell them you are SVRS.  (We've heard from fellow cruisers about issues if you don't have cell service & whether you can leave the boat to make the call?  I don't know the answer to that.  Have a plan.)

NOTE:  The screen shots above came from my iPad!  For the first time, I was able to get through the whole process using the Safari browser (Settings, Safari, Block Pop-ups OFF, Block Cookies ALWAYS ALLOW).  That's a first.

When you finish all that, get out there and go sailing!

Please share you're corrections, problems or tips with me below.


  1. Tim had to renew his passport this past summer and we were unaware that when you renew your passport you have to go back in for a new interview. If we had known, we would have gone in before we left for the Bahamas, but when we checked in they accepted mine but told him he had to come in. Just be sure when you renew your passport to schedule an appointment to have it updated.

    SV Kintala

  2. Thanks, Deb. Good point. We renewed The Captain's passport without issue, but we are Global Trusted Travelers.

  3. The website mentions that you should activate the float plan 24 hours or less before leaving the "originating departure location". This seems problematic for a couple of reasons: 1) If my return is only a couple of hours of travel then the review time for the CBP officer could be pretty slim; and 2) what if I'm in a location without Wifi?

    1. Hi Allen, I apologize for the delay. (Ironically, terrible wifi!). First, I couldn't find where it says you should activate within 24 hours of departure? Do you recall where it was? My thoughts on that are: I have DEFINITELY activated farther in advance than that EVERY time because--their website sucks (ie. unreliable), unreliable wifi, and I don't trust myself or the wifi to allow me to activate a saved float plan. Secondly, I don't get the impression an officer reviews the float plan prior to arrival. When you call, they put you on hold to "pull it up" which usually takes several minutes. I get the impression, that is when it is reviewed (either, "You're fine" or "You'll have to come in"). In DR, I emailed asking for advice on a problem. It took 48 hours to get a response (received after we arrived in PR!). From BVI to St. John, I thought, "Well, they'll call if I can't do that." They didn't. We were fine. Perhaps my aviation background has skewed my interpretation of the rules. I'm not an expert, just sharing our experience. Of course, the best thing to do would be to call & ask. However, every customs office has a different interpretation of the rules (but don't tell them that. They get really aggravated!). I HAVE been told, "Don't refile the float plan if you're late--we can still call it up" (it clogs the system to keep refiling). I do believe, "Sorry. I just wanted to make sure it was DONE!" is better than, "I'm pretty sure I hit activate. The wifi was terrible, though."