Bringing A Boat To Mexico

By Nicole Palya Wood

Lessons learned from boats seized in Mexico. Make sure all your paperwork is in order, your permits are displayed, and that you comply with all local laws when bringing your boat south of the border.

Photo of Marina San Carlos in Sonora, MexicoMarina San Carlos in Sonora, Mexico, was one of the marinas where boats were "seized."

In late November 2013, BoatUS began receiving calls that more than 300 U.S.-owned recreational boats had been "seized" in 11 ports along the Baja coast, on the Sea of Cortez, and on Mexico's east coast down to Acapulco. Mexican authorities from Hacienda AGACE (the Mexican internal-revenue service), who executed the raids, issued tickets or seized boats that did not have their Temporary Import Permits (TIPs) or hull identification numbers (HINs) visible. The TIPs are not a new requirement, cost between $50-70, and are valid for 10 years.

Most of these boats were not in violation of any laws. But the boat owners were back in the United States for Thanksgiving, and not present when the raids occurred. As a result, they were unable to produce the needed paperwork and prove ownership or compliance. Although most marinas were able to contact affected boat owners, in some cases, boaters were not notified about the seizures. The Mexican authorities said they were checking foreign-flagged vessels for TIP compliance and to ensure that the boats were not stolen. Witnesses reported that these inspections were conducted by armed uniformed officials and that boat owners were left with little information about clearing their vessels. The 337 boats were either seized, or left at the marina under quarantine and prohibited from leaving.

"There seemed to be two levels of seizure," said Latitude 38 publisher Richard Spindler of Mill Valley, California, whose own boat, Profligate, a 63-foot catamaran, was seized. "The lower level, which was called a precautionary embargo, where in some cases you could actually go out for a sail, and the higher level where your vessel was taped off and prohibited from leaving the slip." Spindler has been bringing his boat to Mexico without incident for 30 years, and says the government has been making it "easier and easier for boaters to enjoy themselves," making the November action even more bizarre to him.

According to Tere Grossman, owner of Marina San Carlos in Sonora, Mexico, "The biggest problem was that the Temporary Import Permit (TIP) form didn't have a place for the name of the boat, so the inspectors had to locate the Hull Identification Number (HIN) or any other number that was on the TIP, on the actual boat the day of the inspection. In many cases," added Grossman, "they couldn't find the numbers, so the boat was temporarily impounded. We're now working on a new TIP form and decal with the Mexican IRS." This should help new permit applicants and the inspectors. Witnesses reported that the officials conducting the inspections were unaware that older sailboats manufactured before 1972 (as well as some built in Europe) are not required to have (HINs).

Photo of highlighted hull identification numberSince the initial action, U.S. boat owners cruising in Mexico have been taking extra precautions. Onboard Dave and Melissa DeLong's Hunter Passage 450, the owners highlighted their HIN with tape to make their vessel's number easier to find; they were never inspected or seized.

The Mexican Treasury told the Associated Press that they have up to four months from the date of seizure, by law, to decide whether to release the boats to their rightful owners or sell the vessels at auction. However, at press time in April, that time expired. "Things are getting resolved a lot slower that we anticipated," continued Grossman. "From 338 boats originally impounded, as of April 2014 there are 28 still with problems. Only 14 belong to Americans. But the Mexican Marina Owners Association has hired a lawyer, and she's been working on having all foreign boats released. Most of the Mexican boat owners hired their own lawyers."

In Washington D.C., "As soon as our BoatUS Government Affairs department received the first call, we talked to the U.S. Department of State's Mexico Desk, as well as briefed our contacts at the U.S. House Coast Guard Subcommittee," said David Kennedy of our BoatUS Government Affairs team. "We needed to make sure the appropriate authorities knew what was happening down there." Since last fall, BoatUS has continued to push for information.

For so many Gulf Coast and California boaters, as well as longer-term cruisers, a trip to these ports is a popular and routine trip, or an enticing place to leave a boat for a period of time while flying back to the states. While progress is being made to slowly clear the remaining boats, it's a reminder about the care one must take when traveling abroad. Our best advice: check and double-check the customs and immigration regulations in each country you plan to visit, make sure you have all the correct documentation, and be sure to designate someone to check on your boat if you plan to leave it for any period of time. For information on requirements for bringing a boat into Mexico, visit 

Nicole Palya Wood is a former member of our BoatUS Government Affairs team.

— Published: June/July 2014

BoatUS Magazine Is A Benefit Of BoatUS Membership

Membership Also Provides:

  • Subscription to the print version of BoatUS Magazine
  • 4% back on purchases from West Marine stores or online at
  • Discounts on fuel, transient slips, repairs and more at over 1,000 businesses
  • Deals on cruises, charters, car rentals, hotel stays and more ...
  • All For Only $24 A Year!

Join Today!