How to Import a Boat into the U.S.

How to Import a Boat into the U.S.

Trade Talk Blog


re you ready to expand your boundaries and explore new waters in the United States with a boat of your own? Making the transition from dreaming about owning a boat to actually owning one is not as difficult as you might think. And whether you’re importing a boat from abroad or across state lines within the U.S., following certain steps helps ensure your boat makes its journey safely and legally.

This blog post will provide an overview of everything involved in importing a boat into the U.S., uncovering everything from taxes to procedures to documentation needed—all while setting yourself up for successful boat importation. Keep reading to learn more.

Importing a boat into the U.S. for personal use

The first step in importing a boat for personal use is proving your vessel’s ownership. This is typically done by providing a bill of sale from either the manufacturer or the current owner. The bill of sale must include information such as the make and model of the vessel, as well as its serial number and year of manufacture. It should also include any titles and registration papers confirming ownership to show that you have legal title to the vessel. Additionally, it’s important to ensure that any lienholders have been paid off in full before attempting to prove ownership with a bill of sale.

Once proof of ownership has been established, it is necessary to demonstrate compliance with EPA standards for emissions and water safety regulations for the vessel to be eligible for importation into U.S. waters. Proof that the boat conforms to EPA standards can be achieved by filling in ​​Engine Declaration Form 3520-21. If the boat was purchased in Canada, there is a chance it may already comply with EPA standards. However, that needs to be verified with an EPA emissions compliance label. It is also possible to acquire a letter of compliance from the U.S. representative of the boat manufacturer.

How much is the import duty on a boat?

If you’re importing a boat for personal use, the below duty rates apply:

  • Motorboats and sailboats: 1.5%
  • Outboard motorboats: 1%
  • Inflatable boats: 2.4%
  • Canoes: no duty rates
  • Other boats and vessels without a sail or motor: 2.7%

Remember that tariff rates are constantly changing, so we advise you to stay updated with the most recent import duty percentages on boats by visiting Chapter 89 of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS).

Are there other taxes levied on boats?

No, there are no additional taxes on boats other than the above mentioned duties. Sales tax and GST/HST/PST apply to the purchase process when you purchase the boat. For example, when purchasing a vessel in Canada, you are required to pay the appropriate GST at the time and will not pay the U.S. sales tax when importing it.

Moreover, some states apply a personal property tax on boats, but this is a state-level tax, not a federal one. Before importing your boat, determine if the state you enter imposes personal property taxes.

Importing a boat on a trailer

Importing a boat on a trailer will require a little extra effort from your end. Because trailers are considered motor vehicles, you will need a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and a completed DOT form HS-7 to import your boat on a trailer, stating the make, model, and year of your boat trailer on the form.

Import procedures for arriving by boat

Any non-commercial vessels must be reported upon entry to the U.S., whether via port or across the border, if:

  • The vessel is arriving from a foreign port or place
  • It is a foreign vessel arriving from any port or place in the U.S.
  • It is a U.S. vessel carrying foreign merchandise that has not been declared and processed yet

To announce the arrival of vessels, the boat’s operator reports entry to the nearest CBP facility through a phone call, the CBP app, or in person at the closest center. CBP will sometimes require formal entry, in which case you must complete a CBP Form 1300 within 48 hours of your boat’s arrival.

The required documentation for foreign vessels

All foreign vessels must acquire a CBP cruising license to cruise in U.S. waters. Boat owners should register the vessel to avoid paying additional duties when moving between ports. The CBP cruising license is only valid for one year, and you are also required to file a Notice of Arrival with the National Vessel Movement Center with the U.S. Coast Guard.

CBP cruising licenses are available through the CBP Port Director and are only available for small non-commercial vessels and pleasure boats.

Working with a Customs Broker

The import process for boats can sometimes be confusing due to the layers of rules and regulations.

A licensed customs broker will help ensure your boat conforms to standards and regulations, that you complete the required forms correctly, and that the entire import process passes easily. Consider hiring a broker to sail through the requirements for importing a boat without fear of violations or fines.


Importing a boat into the United States is not as difficult as you might think, but several things still need to be considered. The first step is to determine if the vessel meets all of the import requirements the U.S. Coast Guard set forth. Once that has been established, the next thing to do is choose a customs broker who can help with all the paperwork and ensure everything is done correctly. And finally, it’s important to pay close attention to timelines and deadlines throughout the process to avoid penalties or delays. Following these simple steps, importing a boat into the U.S. can be relatively straightforward.

How GHY Can Help You Import Your Boat

At GHY, we help hundreds of importers bring their boats into the United States every year without any hassle. From checking your boat’s admissibility to preparing and filing your documentation, we’ll take the work off your shoulders. Book a meeting with one of our Trade Experts and we’ll take it from there.


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