Mexican Marina Crackdown, and the Ripple Effect

Hotel Coral Marina. Photo by Adam Stuckey

On November 29, 2013, more than 100 local bureaucrats swooped down on 12 marinas in Mexico to conduct surprise compliance checks on 1,647 boats. Apparently, the newly created General Audit of Foreign Trade Administration wanted to confirm that every boat was following protocol by carrying a Temporary Importation Permit (TIP). They also wanted to check and make sure various other boat data, including the type, make and model, the engine serial number, the hull number and the Hull Identification Number were accurate. Ultimately, the officials—who reportedly brought along contingents of armed marines for their inspections—found 338 boats to be noncompliant (including many without anyone on board) and impounded them. As of this week, nearly three months later, 90 percent of those boats are still being held.

Perhaps the most enraging aspect of the fiasco is that many of the impounded boats are, as it turns out, compliant. Many impounded boats had TIPs, but did not have skippers on board when the officials arrived, and were therefore unable to show their paperwork. Even if they hadn’t had updated paperwork, Mexican law states that once sailors learn they are required to have a TIP, they have 20 days to attain one. Yet, upon learning of their oversight, Mexican officials said they could still require between 45 and 120 days to liberate the boats from impoundment. 

For sailors with boats stuck in Mexico, the situation is unfortunate. But for Mexico and its tourism economy, the ripples caused by their legal actions may be even less fortunate as both the cruising and racing communities react.

For sailors who frequently visit Mexico, a dark cloud has been cast over their favorite vacation spot. For racers who participate in regattas between the United States and Mexico, plans are changing. The Corona del Mar to Cabo Race, for example, has been postponed because there were only four entries. The Newport to Ensenada Race, which used to bring in over 600 boats, now has only about 100 entries. The San Diego to Puerto Vallarta Race is still on, but with fewer than 40 boats entered, and the San Diego Cabillo Ocean Series has altered its layout, moving all of the courses out of Mexican waters. (To be fair, factors like a struggling economy play into these low entry numbers, but the Mexican government certainly isn’t helping itself.)

On the country’s east coast, where no boats have been impounded though the laws are technically the same, sailing tourism has not been as badly affected. The Regata del Sol al Sol, from St. Petersburg, Florida, to Isla de Mujeres is still set for April 25, 2014, and registration is filling up. The regatta chairman is also sending periodic updates to skippers, keeping them in the know about the situation, and cluing them in on ways in which they can successfully adhere to customs laws and avoid fines or impoundment.

If, after all this, you’re still itching to visit Mexico, here’s how to keep your boat the hands of that country’s occasionally overzealous bureaucrats: First, know that the TIP requirement is not new: it’s just newly being enforced. Whether you’re entering from the West or East Coast, check into customs as soon as you can (Ensenada on the west coast, Isla Mujeres on the east coast), and work with marina management to get an immigration permit ($25), Document of Arrival (Free) and Temporary Import Permit ($50). It would be wise to have a Spanish-speaking member on board for these procedures. Other than that, realize you’re taking a risk. For Mexico’s sake, let’s hope foreign sailors still believe cruising there is a risk worth taking. 

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8 comments on “Mexican Marina Crackdown, and the Ripple Effect

  1. Captain Tom

    It is hard to believe that with the booming mexican economy these idiots are running off thousands of US dollars in revenue.

    I for one will avoid entering Mexicn waters, taking my personal and charter guests to other more friendly ports of call.

    The aggrivation factor has exceeded any rewards derived from visiting any Mexican destination. 

  2. geoffrogg

    I have my Wauquiez Pretorien in OPEQUIMAR, Puerto Vallarta where 16 boats similarily impounded over the peak Christmas-New Year period were subsequently released having all papers in order. Each of us now have to pay some US$700 for our share in OPEQUIMAR's costs incurred in defending the vessels in their professional care for which of course we already pay a monthly dry or wet storage fee. The actions of the authorities were crass, incompetent and entirely arbitrary.

    This is but one example of an otherwise beautiful country's incompetence in legal matters of all types. There is no redress and you always have to foot the bill for clearing up intended or unintended unjustified actions of poorly trained authorities.

  3. WestoftheMoon

    This is a sad situation especially for those whose boats have been impounded. But perhaps we should remember the unfortunate treatment that legal immigrants sometimes receive from US Immigration bureaucrats before we start name calling. Would that the world were more perfect.

  4. bordershoppers

    The Mexican official have done the same thing that the US Coast guard or any US goverment agency would have done.

    The rules are simple and whoever is there should be fined as they would be in the US.

    Its cheap and they are happy to have you in the country as I have for many years.

    The Marina San Carlos acually heped the owners to  file asap to have their boats in compliance.

    For the sailors that dropped out of the race your giving mexico a bad rap because of your ignorance.

    Mexico on the Sea of Cortez is still incredible and super fun



  5. firstlast

    First, Dealing with the facts….If correct only 20% of the boats inspected were placed in (temporary) impound for being out of compliance or compliance to existing procedures could not be determined (Owner absence).  Military personnel, with long guns, were present during the inspection proceedings.   The number of boats impounded is not great.  These boats were placed in temporary impound, not seized.  Temporary impound allows the owners to demostrate or begin proceedings to come into compliance.  It should be noted that the Mexico legal system follows Napoleanic law, not English law.  the differance is "GUILTY until proven innocent".  (Go to France if you want to check it out).  If 80% of the boats were in compliance, these events do not hint of  "revenue enhancement" on a large scale.  In the past the EU had a similar problem until the temporary importation of vessels was harmonized.  Pleasure yachts did not know if they had to pay VAT from one EU country to another.  The presence of military personnel:  Considering the opportunity to transport or sell illegal drugs and illegal arms via seagoing craft, it is prudent to have sufficiently armed personnel present.  Other articles reporting the inspections indicated everyone was polite and non threatening.  Although this article is directed to the sailing community, the inspections involved many more power boats.

  6. firstlast

    I do not doubt your experience.  But, my  one experience with the Mexican legal system was positive.  I was jailed, had an administrative hearing and was found guilty. (Plea bargain..I did not want to spend time in prison waiting for trial, plus the cost of legal fees) I was treated politely,I was never handcuffed, was never searched…gave up my possessions voluntarily…was fed twice..substantial food but absolutely tasteless…my holding cell was cleaned by an orderly.  A translator and lawyer were provided free of charge and the American Embassy was in constant contact with me.  What I want to emphasize is that not at any time was there a hint of mordida. There was no fine or court cost levied.   All of this took ten hours.  This experience was so good I never want to do it again, because it may not be the same again.   And by the way, I have been issued a Residente Temporal visa three times, even with a local background check.   

  7. rickamday

    This information is old and outdated, and has mostly been remedied about 30 days ago.  Please follow up asap with an article about how this has been mostly resolved.  Cruising Outpost and The Log here in Southern California have been all over this.  Thanks!


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